Shukri is 24 years old, Somalian, living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. She has spent most of her life in this refugee camp.
Shukri decided to apply for refugee status when she was in her teens. The process was started, and she waited….
In the mean time, she met a man, got married, had children. All of her children were born in the refugee camp in Ethiopia.
After years of waiting, Shukri was approved for resettlement as a refugee to America. Imagine her excitement. After what must have felt like a lifetime of waiting, the entire lifetime of her children and then some, she was leaving the refugee camp and coming to America.
Unfortunately, she was not married when she applied for refugee status, and her husband’s file and hers were not connected. She and her children would have to travel to America alone.
Half a world away in Phoenix, Arizona, a team of people were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Shukri. We had been praying for the refugee family that we would sponsor having no idea what to expect or how any of this would work. When we learned that this was a single mom and 3 children, I began praying for her travels. My sister had lived internationally for many years, and I remember that during all of her journeys with her heavy baggage packed full with everything needed to live for the next year, we would pray that God would place angels throughout her trip to assist her. Traveling alone is no fun: baggage, customs, taxis, exhaustion. I remember the first time we sent her off to Korea alone. I remember the tears and the loneliness (for both of us). But I also remember that at each point in her journey God provided someone to assist her – without fail. And so I began to pray for Shukri. She wouldn’t be traveling with lots of baggage, but 3 children! Oh my! What on earth do you do with a 1 year old, a 3 year old, and a 5 year old on a journey that would take several days on multiple airplanes through multiple airports? How could she possibly do this alone?
When Shukri stepped off the plane, she was easy to identify. Young woman, two little ones clinging to her side and a baby strapped to her back. She was clothed as you would expect an African Muslim woman to be in a long dress with her head covered with a burka. Even through the long dress, you could see she was very thin and malnourished. Her head was down as if she didn’t even dare to look around and soak in her new environment.
As the case manager approached her and the children, we noticed something. Shukri was not alone. There was another family with her. Another Somali family, Abdirisek and Zamzam with their 18 month old daughter had walked off the plane with her. This family was all smiles; it was evident that they were very happy to have arrived in America. As we talked to the case manager, we learned that this second family had traveled from Ethiopia with Shukri. While they had family in the area, they would be living in the same apartment complex as Shukri. As I learned these details, I just had to smile at God and how He answers prayer. From the very start of her journey, Shukri had help. There were 3 adults to care for 4 children. There were traveling companions to help her get through airports and customs. While she had left her husband behind, God had made sure she was not alone.
One of the women in our sponsor team, Candy, is a tea drinker and knows that tea is something of a comfort food. She researched out the type of tea that was most likely consumed in the region of the world that Shukri was from and bought all the tea leaves and spices to be able to make it for her. When we left Shukri at the apartment that night, Candy brewed Shukri a pot of tea, so she could have a taste of home as she settled in.
The next day, Steve and I headed back over to the apartments to check in on Shukri and see how she was doing. Bunk beds had been delivered that morning so I put sheets on the beds and attempted to show Shukri how to fold and unfold the pack n play. We decided to run to the store to get some fruit. When we returned, the case manager and translator were there trying to give Shukri an orientation to the kitchen, showing her how to use the stove to cook. Poor Abdisilem, the baby, was not happy with the cooking lesson and was screaming. I offered to take him outside and was granted permission to hold this sweet boy. We went outside where he continued to scream, not wanting this tall white lady at all. He wanted his mama!! It wasn’t long before Shukri came out, gathered her children and hurried them back upstairs where she knew they were safe. Steve and I talked to the case manager for a few moments, and as we turned to leave I realized that I had left my purse upstairs in the apartment. I ran up and as I peeked through the window saw the most precious site. The meager meal that had been prepared during the cooking lesson was being served. This little family was sitting in a circle on the kitchen floor, just as if it were the dirt floor in Ethiopia that they left just days before. And there in the middle of the circle was the tea pot, that precious thoughtful gift from one tea loving mom to another.
Life in America had begun…
LOVE, Melissa Hubler