Listening to people has become a lost art. Hearing people’s stories and understanding their experiences teaches us more about the world, and ultimately more about God. Empathy allows us to build bridges of understanding between people from drastically different backgrounds, and ultimately, when we take the time to listen, we realize that most of us really want the same things in life. So, when the women at Parkway Fellowship went to help and share tea with the women at Prestige Learning Institute, I was not surprised that despite their different cultures, they were able to find things in common. The refugee women, many who are Muslim, were open to sharing their stories of loss.
Jennifer Fields was one woman who went. She shares honestly that she had never been interested in other cultures, and since the beginning of terrorist attacks in America and the heightened awareness of immigration from Middle-Eastern countries, she has been quite closed-minded toward those who don’t speak English and dress differently. Jennifer, like many people, had a lot of fear in regards to Muslim people.
However, that changed for her when she sat at the table with women from Afghanistan, Guatemala and Bangladesh. She happened to sit next to a woman who began to cry because she was so homesick and knew very little English. Though communication wasn’t easy, they were able to understand each other’s pain. Jennifer lives here in Texas without her family, and so she felt her loneliness. She says, “That moment was the moment my mind changed and I began to see these women as real human beings and not just a statistical news report. “
Laura Townsend was another woman who went to just simply love on these women who have lost so much. She shared that at first it did seem quite awkward. It was hard to sit and have tea when we didn’t even speak the same language. However, towards the end of tea, one woman and Laura just happened to lock eyes, and the woman headed straight over to Laura. She wanted to share her story. The woman began to tell of how her husband had worked with the American Security Forces in Afghanistan, and it was no longer safe for them there. Her family had to leave, and she, her husband, and her young children were granted asylum in America. However, she has children that were older, and they were not immediately granted the same status here. They have to do their own paperwork. And so the woman began to tell Laura all about her family; how one daughter is about to get married and she will not be able to attend and how another is about to have her first grandchild. This was when those bridges of understanding began to be built. Having children of her own, Laura could sympathize with a woman who was cut off completely from the life of her grown children and soon to be grandchildren.
Jennifer, Laura and many of the other woman learned that though we seem to be so drastically different, we all long for similar things. A mother desires to see her daughter married. A grandmother longs to hold her grandchild, and being away from home is lonesome. Listening to other people’s stories and understanding their experiences helps us to see the faces behind the statistic or the new article, and instead to see the person that God created them to be.