A little over a week ago, Dan and I dropped our son Paul off at Dulles Airport, gave him a hug and reminded him one more time to stay safe. The next day, Paul arrived in Beruit, Lebanon where he will be living and studying for the next three and a half months. This feels like a big step for him and for me--I've never been separated for this long from any of my kids. Who will be there for him if he gets into trouble? Strangers.
Like most people who were paying even a little bit of attention to the news in the 1980's, Beruit brings to mind war, rubble and attacks on Americans. It took me a while to get these images out of my head when Paul told me that he want to enroll in an intensive Arabic program at the Lebanese American University this fall. Paul's Arabic teacher recommended the program and his college approved it, so that helped. Then I found out that I kind of know the family of another student who is enrolled in the program this fall. That made me feel even better. I felt like I was stringing together a series of relationships that would help me to connect to where Paul was going.
But those relationships remain few and tenuous. If Paul had decided to study in London or Paris or Beijing for a semester, I know I would be flooded with the names of friends-of-friends who live in those cities. People who would be happy to host Paul for dinner if he was feeling homesick. People I could call on in the case of emergency. But I have yet to hear from someone with a good friend from college or a distant cousin living in Lebanon.
So saying good-bye to Paul was an act of faith--not just in him (and I do have faith in him) or in God (who loves Paul even more than I do) but in total and complete strangers. If he gets in trouble and needs help, I trust that there will be a person of good will who will help him.
This felt not-quite-right to me until it occurred to me that I'm on the other side of this equation as well. I'm a stranger who, in a few month's time, will be offering assistance to a family who is traveling to a country where they know absolutely no one. I'm part of a team who will soon be helping to resettle a refugee family to Howard County, Maryland.
Our congregation has been taking steps in this direction all year. We've been praying for refugees for several years, even since the thousands of refugees leaving Syria made the world-wide crisis impossible for us to ignore. But there's a funny thing about prayer--our pleas to God to assist people in trouble often come right back at us. "I want to help", we sense God responding, "through you." One of our community members, Don Link, stood up in front of our church at the beginning of the year and announced that he couldn't ignore God's call any longer. He needed to do something to help refugees--and he invited anyone in the community who felt the same call to join him. Over 20 people responded right away and many others have come alongside the leadership team. When we began talking to our neighbors in the community and to the leaders of other congregations, we received even more promises to help with funds and other resources.
This past week, as our "Seeking Refuge" team ended its meeting, Don invited us to join him in prayer for the family we are going to welcome. We don't know who they are yet. We don't know how many people will be in that family or even what their country of origin will be. They are complete strangers to us, and we to them. But we are already connected to them, already looking forward to meeting them, already planning ways we might help them.
I hope they know that. I hope they, like me, have faith in the kindness of strangers.