The outside of the immigration building is a foreboding place, all cold concrete and few windows. The inside doesn’t offer much more with its stark walls and rows of plastic chairs connected and fixed to the tiled floor. There are serious men in mustaches and suits who hold the power to determine the future with a simple yes or no. The only decor present is a tacked-up sign stating now-outdated Covid precautions in Turkish, Arabic, and Farsi. Depending on the day, crowds of people line up to scan their fingerprints, a way for the government to keep track of its four million refugees.
On this particular day, my husband is here among the crowd, knees bouncing in one of those plastic chairs, waiting for one of those mustached men to call his name, signaling his turn to enter the office. Sitting along the wall are groups of newly arrived Afghans—some alone, some with their family. Men shuffle and reshuffle papers. Women hold infants wrapped in thick fleece blankets. Collective weariness bounces off the walls from those here for the same reason: trying to find safety and stability in the middle of unimaginable hardship.
Tensions are running high and there’s a commotion between a group in the room next door. Several voices rise in a wave of misunderstanding then settle moments later. Trying to calm his nerves, my husband focuses instead on the three small Afghan boys next to him. The youngest, not more than a toddler, pulls and pulls at his mother’s arm, trying to get her attention. The older two squirm in their seats and kick at each other’s shins. All three are fussy, no doubt tired of spending the morning sitting in an immigration office, or—maybe more so—tired from the confusion of wondering where home is.
Perhaps it was because my husband is also one of three brothers or perhaps he saw himself in the parents, worry furrowing at the father’s brow, uncertainty clouding the mother’s eyes. After all, he too carries the weight of displacement on his back. He too wonders where home is. But an idea sparks, and without overthinking it, he decides to take a chance at missing his name being called, and sprints across the street to a corner convenience store.
“I wish I had the power to do something more than that though,” he tells me that night, the family still on his mind. He describes the reaction from the parents as he handed over a plastic bag filled with snacks, relief stretching across their faces now that their squirmy children were preoccupied at last, and the shy smiles from the boys as they ripped open small bags of pretzels and cookies. He speaks to them in Farsi, his native language, and they respond in Dari, their native language.
“But it didn’t change anything,” my husband continues. And I understand where he’s coming from. Giving some snacks to three boys didn’t change their situation. It didn’t grant them asylum or give them a place to call home. It didn’t wipe away years of trauma or rebuild governments.
Do you also feel like your little portions can’t possibly be enough? Do you feel the ambiguous grief over the world right now, too? Oftentimes, this powerlessness to do anything big can act like a grip stopping us from doing anything at all.
“But what you did was still important.” I’m earnest in telling him this because he did it. He didn’t overthink the seemingly unremarkable. Despite carrying the same type of baggage as that family, bringing them snacks was a way to take up arms and fight back against the injustice they were all experiencing, even if he didn’t realize it in the moment.
There is something holy in taking that one small step and entering into another person’s story. It may not be as spectacular as enacting policies or granting visas but it is meaningful.
Quietly doing the next simple and necessary thing can be the light that pushes back the darkness for our neighbors. Sending flowers, offering a ride, writing an encouraging text, baking banana bread, saying I love you, bringing the snacks. It all matters. It is all holy.
These small things are the only things to do when we don’t know what to do. It may not feel like enough, but in the great magic and mystery of God, our little portions can be more than enough for someone else, as my husband unknowingly taught me that day.
And so, may the love of a God who sees all our stories transform us to see others. May we tune our hearts to our neighbors who could use a helping hand. May we step into their story—for there is no such thing as other people’s neighbors. Doing so declares God’s goodness and power even when everything around us says otherwise.
Shortly after the day at the immigration office, I came across a few lines of a prayer commonly attributed to Salvadorian Bishop Oscar Romero, who was martyred for his faith:
“We cannot do everything,
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”*
May we look for ways to be snack bringers today. One small step along the way, the next right thing—it is holy work.
*Read the rest of “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own” here.
Photo by Mariia Forest on Unsplash