By Joe Cuda, FC 17 Syracuse
Last weekend we ventured outside the Syracuse city lights to a place on the edge of Green Lake State Park called Alverna Heights. There we spent the time intentionally delving into our service site experiences. We pondered and prayed, we shared and we listened. We went away so we could come back stronger, renewed and ready for more.
It was only while retreating that I realized so much has happened at my site: CYO Refugee Resettlement. So much continues to happen; it’s been over five months now and it’s not just the things I’ve done or witnessed but also the changes occurring within me. As I like to mysteriously say, “Something’s happening.” I can’t explain what or pinpoint it. It’s apparent but unclear. It’s just the faith that God is working in many ways inside and outside of me. I wonder what he is doing. I wonder what God whispers.
At the retreat, I can think more freely about the things I’ve done. Memories, faces and emotions flooded my brain. The hundreds of refugees from a dozen countries; I’ve met so many of them. Their lives have collided with my own. I think about one refugee from the Congo I’ve met and his kind, gentle demeanor that made him a community leader in his refugee camp. We were able to get him a good job in a dentist’s office. I got to know another refugee from Somalia when I took him to the DMV. He’s 22 years old like me and spent his whole life in the camps until his parents and twelve siblings finally arrived in the U.S. last August.
I think about how so often all I can do is say hello and smile to our refugees. Conversations can sometimes be limited. Maybe my purpose is to just welcome them. To notice them. It could be something God particularly trusts in me to do. And what a privilege that really is. My face, my actions, my care…what will the refugees remember? What will they take from me? Or give to me?
I remembered that time one refugee from Afghanistan invited me into his home and gave me cookies and juice. How I sat on his sofa in the middle of his sparsely furnished living room and talked to his kids about school and snow days. How he simply, sincerely offered what little he had and I received his favor. I always want the refugees to know their dignity but he helped me realize my own.
Or that time I was driving the big van and my Burmese passenger couldn’t open the door to get out because she didn’t know how. She had no English, and all I could do was frantically point while she struggled to figure out which handle it was. It was only a crazy couple minutes but it felt much longer. I remember how my patience was strained but how she smiled and shook her head. When she walked away, I let out a sigh and took a deep breath. I couldn’t shake how difficult it must be for her navigating this new world in Syracuse, NY.
Then I think about the daily grind of everyday, when my frustrations and tiredness can drown out the whispers of God. The refugee center can be fast paced and busy. It’s a place where one encounter can quickly be followed by another until the day evolves into a blurry mix of faces and conversations. These days I can be tempted to live on autopilot. I’m used to the questions our refugees ask. I know what they need a lot of the time. It seems I often say the same things over and over. But so be it! Everyone I’m serving deserves my all. If it only be a smiling face and a caring voice, if that’s what I’m called to do, may God give me the grace to do it.
On Saturday night of the retreat, Blake, Marie and I decided to take a hike through the woods. There was not a sound to be heard except for our shoes crunching through the snow. The trees and hills were revealed by the moonlight reflecting off the glittering snow. It was serene and eerie. We all paused on the trail once and just stood there listening and watching. I looked up at the branches silhouetted against the softly lit sky. Stars abounded. Clouds drifted. I marveled.
The Service Retreat reminded me that there is truth and mystery behind every encounter, moment and experience. God is in everyone and everything. I can be blinded sometimes to the amazing insights hidden within the work I am doing. The routine can cloud the richness of each experience. I can be less sensitive to the extraordinary within the ordinary. But it is through faith and reflection that I can trust God is at work. And I can find joy and meaning in what is happening. I am doing something good. Good things are happening. His whispers in the wind or in my heart, I know God makes it so.