By: Tara Malouf
I sat at Panera and the tears threatened to come. They rose up to the edge of my eyelids and only silent deep breaths and a few long blinks could make them retreat. Instead of allowing those joy-filled drops to roll down my face, I gave my companions a hearty smile. I sat there with three men - 2 Christian American, 1 Muslim Afghan - in awe at the relationship that was forming in our couple of short hours together. Two weeks before, the Afghan, Azim, had asked me some questions when I visited his family at their home. He is trained in civil and mechanical engineering, worked for the Army Corps of Engineers for our military in Afghanistan, yet when he came to this country as a refugee seven months ago, the only job he could find was filling orders at a hardware store’s distribution center. It has been a long seven months for him and his family. He describes it as “dizzy” - trying to get his bearings in a new culture, grieving the separation from his extended family and country, trying to provide for his family, and working hard to learn new ways of living (and speaking)!
As I visited his family, my friend, Azim, began our conversation by asking me how he could find a place to volunteer as an engineer and the question puzzled me. As we dug deeper, I realized his intense longing to be back in a field of work that he loved and was trained in. Everyday at the hardware store’s distribution center is eating away at his hope. He doesn’t interact much with his co-workers, listens to Colorado Public Radio in an attempt to better his English, and is feeling the heaviness of a functional depression. (He gets up, goes to work, does what he needs to do, but feels lost and hopeless.) During our conversation, I realized two things: 1) Azim needs someone (or a network) in the industry who can guide him and 2) I am not that person! However, I told him I would ask at my church to see if there were any engineers who might be willing to be a “neighbor” and meet with him to help him figure out what could be the next steps for his career in America. I told him that I believed God is a big God and was praying that He would help us find such a person.
The following Sunday, as we gathered for worship, I asked Pastor Katie if she knew anyone who was an engineer who might be willing to help and she told me to email the request to her (which I did on Monday morning). To my surprise, by Tuesday morning, she was email introducing me to an engineer (Ed Trotter). By Wednesday, Ed and I had a 40 minute phone conversation - explaining the situation, asking questions, assessing whether or not he could help. At the end of the phone call, he made it clear he was willing to help. I reached out to Azim and we coordinated a meeting of Azim, Ed, David and me for Sunday morning.
So that’s how I ended up at Panera last Sunday. Azim talked about his life, his education, and his experience. Ed asked him questions, gave him information to begin navigating the hiring process in the US, and encouraged him...a lot! David offered to help Azim craft his resume into something hiring managers understand. And I sat back in awe, watching two American men bringing hope to the Afghan man. At the end of our meeting, I asked if I could pray for us and thank God for our time together, and we did. Later that evening, this is the text message I received from Azim:
“Good evening Tara. Thank you a lot for making today morning meeting with Ed and you. This makes more sense and hope and it is a shiny light in my dark path. Also your pray makes a big hope in me that I am not alone here. Thanks very much again from you and David. God bless you.”
My heart response? “No Azim, you are not alone here.” I hope he will always know that. I remembered our pastor preaching about the Good Samaritan a few Sundays ago and how that man came to the aid of one who was beaten up in life and was technically really different from himself. I hope, like that Samaritan, followers of Jesus will always choose to be neighbors to the “stranger” among us (whether we can see their wounds or not). I hope we will more and more grow to “treat others as we would want to be treated.” Moreover, I pray, as we walk in the way of Jesus, we “make a big hope” in the people around us.