It was eighty-five years ago. A teenage boy, Adolf, and his older brother, Christian, saw a land in the distance. The spray from the Atlantic Ocean drizzled on their youthful, Norwegian faces. Then they saw her: The Statue of Liberty. New York City was a long boat ride from Stavanger and their journey was just beginning. After Ellis Island, the next stops were places like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and eventually northwest Iowa.
Adolf was my grandpa. I’m proud to say that I am the grandson of an immigrant. Every May 17th, grandpa would proudly fly the Norwegian flag. The other 364 days it was the American flag. He was an American and proud of it. He fought for the Americans during World War II. He worked hard as a construction worker and house painter. He paid his taxes, volunteered his time and energy, and made my hometown a better place.
This morning, one of his great-grandsons, Benjamin, and I met a family from the Middle East at Eppley Airfield. They were coming as refugees from a place that was not safe for them. The young family got off the plane. The dad, the mom, a four-year-old son, and a six-month-old son spoke as much English as I do Arabic. All their possessions were packed in three suitcases.
The next stop was their apartment. It was fully furnished and had everything from a refrigerator full of food to a pantry with cleaning supplies to closets with clothes in them. The women and other donors from The Water’s Edge did all this. Jesus said: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35) This is what he was talking about.
I took the four-year-old to his room. He was so excited. He jumped on his bed. He played with some toys. He opened a book and smiled. His world got a lot bigger this morning. His little brother will be on the other side of the room. A crib was set-up for him. Diapers and clothes were in the closet. Jesus said: “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me.” (Matthew 9:37) This is what he was talking about.
Benjamin and I didn’t stay too long. Their journey from Lebanon, a small country immediately west of war-torn Syria, was long. After they learned things like locking the outside door and running a thermostat – we said our goodbyes for the day. The couple didn’t know how to say thank you in English and that was fine. They didn’t need to. Their tears and smiles gave their gratitude away.
The Water’s Edge has done some pretty cool things in our first decade. If we put them on a list it would be beyond amazing. Benjamin and I were the ones who got to see the faces, but every volunteer and every donor who made this possible—they are the real heroes. You gave and served and loved with no strings attached. Jesus said, “Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
WE Family – You did it again! I’m beyond blessed to be your pastor.