Updated: May 25, 2020
Fatimah (not her real name) stops by our nonprofit office to fill out an employment application form.
“Where are you from?” I ask. Questions like that have gotten me into trouble in the past. Hopefully, not today.
Fatimah smiles nervously, “I really don’t know where I am from.” She answers as a matter of fact.
I laugh, not sure what the punchline would be. Every adult I know calls someplace home.
“Seriously Pastor, I don’t know where I am from.” She asserts. Then, she tells me her story. “You see, my father is from Burundi. My mother is from Rwanda. My parents lived in Rwanda with their four children until the early 1990s when the Rwandan genocide happened.”
“My family fled to Congo Kinshasa and lived there for a while. In 2001, however, tribal hostilities broke out in the Congo. My family again escaped to a refugee camp in Kenya. This was where I was born, in a refugee camp in Kenya.” Now teary-eyed, Fatimah wraps her arms around her shoulders and says quietly, “I am a refugee camp child.” She brushes the notion off and continues her story.
“We arrived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, four years ago as refugees from Kenya. So, tell me pastor, where am I from? Burundi, Rwanda, Congo or Kenya?”
I know I must choose my response wisely. I would not want to add to this woman’s sorrow by telling her she is from everywhere, or worse still that she is from nowhere.
“Well Fatimah, you are here now,” I affirm with the wisdom of King Solomon. “You now live in Grand Rapids and are a resident here. So, it is OK to tell people you are from Grand Rapids, Michigan!” Eureka, problem solved!
Fatimah smiles wryly, “Are you sure Pastor? Am I really from Grand Rapids? People were nice to us when we first came. Now, I don’t think they want us here.”
"People were nice to us when we first came. Now, I don’t think they want us here.”
I have had time to reflect on my conversation with Fatimah. Sadly, we live in an imperfect world where some people treat others as strangers or foreigners. There is great comfort in knowing that our situation is only temporary. In contrast to the worldly ostracism we experience now, is the heavenly welcome that awaits those who put their trust in God through Christ. I like Apostle Paul's description of the loving fellowship that exists in God's household:
"For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (Eph. 2:18 – 22).
Wow! What a privilege to be a citizen of such a loving community! Now, if someone should ask me, "Where are you from?" I might just to tell them, "I am a child of God's Kingdom!"
Picture: Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya (Photographer: Hubert Hayaud/The Guardian).