When you’re alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go… downtown* ?
Or where do you go? Do you have a refuge, a porch or park or coffee shop or creekside where you feel safe and comfortable and can breathe more easily as you sort out and refresh to meet life’s challenges? A spacious and historic house at 210 Main Street in Lumpkin GA stands as a refuge for immigrants detained at nearby Stewart Detention Center and the family members and friends who visit them. El Refugio house,** with its comfortable beds and good meals and friends with listening hearts, offers this hospitality, gratefully received by folks who have driven great distances to see their beloveds. The riches i receive volunteering with this ministry are, by all measures, too great to be counted.
Nearly every man i have visited embodies three traits: 1) They are moving through troubled times with resilience and patience. “It’s okay to take a while. Every challenge is a blessing. Every dark situation has a bright light at the end.” 2) They take responsibility for mistakes made, forgiving themselves and others and maturing as wiser men. 3) They are growing in faith, strengthened for their hard journeys by a force of love from beyond, to which they witness with a variety of expressions from different traditions.
I want to tell you about Kent Awer. Most often when talking about the men we visit at Stewart we don’t use names or specifics about their circumstances. But Kent wants you to know his name and hear his story. He will soon be deported to Barbados, his birth country. “Being deported isn’t the worst thing I’ve faced,” he says. An articulate motivational speaker, he will continue sharing his experiences to help others avoid “certain aspects of my path…” And this man has plans! In the short hour we spent sharing our lives–for he was interested in mine as well–energy and inspiration sparked between us. I believe you will be cheered and impressed by Kent’s remarkable story.
A crucial element of another guy’s story is that his American-born fiance has promised to follow him with their children to his native west African country if he is deported. He fled political violence there; his father was either killed by or disappeared because of political enmities and he believes he will be executed if he returns. This incredibly positive, disciplined, creative, talented, devoutly Muslim young man holds a green card, had a good job, and wants nothing more than to raise his kids in a safe and democratic society to which he can contribute. He is confident that he will soon be released to his family; i pray that will be the case.
On my initial visit to Stewart five years ago, i accompanied a woman and her little ones to see their father for the first time since he had been arrested and detained a month earlier. At the second he appeared behind the window of the visiting booth they all broke into radiant smiles. Five seconds later, they were in tears, except the baby. That scene epitomizes the height and depth of the visitation experience. I thankyouthankyouthankyou gracious God, that i am part of El Refugio, especially in these times.
*Hear the nostalgic rhythms and see the sweet simplicity of Petula Clark’s original recording of Downtown by Tony Hatch
**See how El Refugio Ministry came to have this beautiful house at Lumpkin or Leave It!
Friends, please leave a comment if you have one. Perhaps answer the question, where do you find refuge?