By Sister Kathlyn Mulcahy, OP
The Holy Family Knocking at Our Door
“Do you have a room available?” The call may come from a social worker, child advocate, pastor, or even the police. Someone has arrived on a bus or maybe she is aging out of an Office of Refugee Resettlement center for unaccompanied child immigrants, and they need a place to stay. But it is more than just a roof over their heads; they need a safe place where they can recover from traumatic experiences in their country of origin and along the journey, an opportunity to rebuild trust and hope, a new beginning in their adopted country. They come often with no more than the clothes they are wearing—but carrying in their hearts a dream for a better, brighter future. Those of you who are parents—or grandparents, aunts or uncles, or even teachers—will know what it is to hold dreams for a better future for the next generation. That is the treasured hope of so many of the women at Bethany House. They have risked everything to make that dream a possibility.
The Kindness of Strangers
After a long and treacherous journey from South America, the family of three women (two sisters and a friend) and a 6-year-old finally crossed the border. “There is no room for you to stay here,” they were told. Then, given a scrap of paper with the address of a church in Chicago, they were put on a bus. They arrived at the bus station in Chicago and found a kind taxi driver who took them to the address on the paper. He risked not getting paid because he understood they were in need. Someone at the Presbyterian church paid the taxi driver, but no one knew these women were coming. They sent out a message to Chicago Religious Leadership Network (CRLN, an ecumenical group of churches and other organizations), in which I participate. (Do you catch a glimpse of God in the kindness of the taxi driver and whoever paid him? In the trust of the women venturing into the unknown to provide new hope to a younger sibling and daughter? In the pastor who dropped what she was doing to find a place for this family?)
A week later, another woman and her 20-month-old daughter arrived at the same church. This time, at least someone called ahead to alert the pastor that they were on a bus. Bethany House had a room ready when they arrived.
A woman and her daughter were sent from Texas by bus to a shelter in Florida. The shelter was full when they arrived, so they were put on another bus to Chicago--and told to find someone to help them there. They found police officers--very kind police officers--at the Chicago bus station and asked for help. The officers bought them lunch and a change of clothes (they had been on buses for nearly a week), and someone at the station remembered reading about Bethany House and called to see if we had room.
The most recent arrival at Bethany House came to the U.S. as an unaccompanied child. She came to us when she "aged out" of the ORR shelter on her 18th birthday. A child advocate from the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights called to see if we could take her.
International Cooperation and Collaboration
We hear much in the news about wars and international tension. The international and intercultural collaboration at Bethany House could teach our political leaders a lesson. All the women are encouraged to study, mostly GED (high school equivalency) and ESL (English as a Second Language). When the women recently went to sign up for these classes at Truman College, they coordinated their schedules so that someone would be free to take care of the children while others study. “If you take Monday and Wednesday in-person classes, I can watch your child. I’ll do Tuesday and Thursday classes and you can watch my child.” Another cooks for the group while taking evening classes. There is a wonderful spirit of community and cooperation—a glimpse of the Spirit at work?
Cooperation and mutual support extend beyond scheduling. Our only English-speaker arrived from Sierra Leone when she was 8-months pregnant. The rest of the group decided to give her a baby shower. The language difference didn’t matter as they laughed and decorated and baked a cake, and then danced and laughed their way through creatively-adapted multi-lingual baby shower games. It was a shining example of the support and care they offer one another in the daily activities of life.
Have you caught a glimpse of God lately?
Sister Kathlyn is the executive director of Bethany House