Open Hearts - Open Home

There was little question once we heard of the plight of people around the world in desperate need of refuge, safety, and most urgently- temporary housing upon arrival to Sacramento.  Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services’ Refugee Resettlement Services’ Parish Liaison, Candace – spoke briefly after mass about the need for emergency housing for refugees while the agency located affordable apartments.  She inquired if parishioners could assist in some way; maybe they had an empty apartment which could be utilized or furniture folks wanted to donate or a bit of time to volunteer a few hours a week.  During her talk, my teenage son, Carlos, who was sitting beside me in the pew looked my way and gave a slight nod and seconds after, my husband turned his head and lifted his eyebrows. This call for help resonated with us, given my own story of being a political refugee and my memory of a family who offered to house us temporarily.  My son prompted us to ensure we were committed to following through. After mass, we walked to the back of the church, and submitted our name; however, our vision was not to offer volunteer hours, although this too is very needed, but rather our home.  We connected with the Refugee Resettlement Manager, Rocio, who quickly mobilized to provide us information. Before we knew it, we set an appointment for a visit to evaluate our home and the space we could offer for emergency housing.  We have a small in law quarters with a full bath but no kitchen. That was not a barrier. We would share our kitchen in our house and open our home and hearts to a family in need. 

A few days later, we found ourselves at a local live scan agency getting our background checks.  Our sons were running around helping to transform the back house from their teen cave to a family living space. We reached out to friends who graciously offered to provide items needed, not just for their arrival but things they would need to furnish an apartment.  We received confirmation that the family would be arriving in a few days.  Their home country was Iran but they were on refugee status in Turkey for 3 years, awaiting approval to arrive in the US as the vetting system is very rigorous.  We anxiously awaited their arrival.  The day and time had come; the family was on their way from the airport and would soon be approaching our street.  We ran outside and waited on the sidewalk, all the while, vigilantly checking the time.  The car finally approached, stopped and parallel parked in front of our home.  In a few moments, Mary (we will call her) opened the car door, slowly turned her body to get out of the car, lifted her head and glanced our way with the humblest and gentlest eyes.  She came out of the car and immediately extended her arms.  She approached me with such a sincere embrace, kissed me on both checks and said with an accent and loving, soft tone, “Thank you so much.”  I was so taken by her and her husband’s depth of gratitude, that I immediately teared up.  At that moment, we realized the incredible connection we have as human beings, that we are given this incredible gift called empathy and compassion- a gift which quickly transcends barriers. 

After the introductions, we showed our family around the house and helped them settle in. Their case worker, translator, friend and our family sat around discussing their 30-day plan. We were overwhelmed with emotion as we learned about the journey ahead of them. This family had just arrived from across the world with a few possessions to their name. They will have to quickly readjust to another culture and life, learn English, find housing, secure a job, develop a different skill if their license or vocation does not apply in the US and more than likely encounter discrimination… but they were so thankful.  They only focused on the opportunities, “When can we sign up for English classes? Is there employment assistance? How quickly can one find a job? Is there affordable apartments so we do not burden the Ramirez family?” They were so motivated, so solution focused, so resilient and so great full.

During our short time together, we showed them the Capitol, walked around the Farm to Folk festival and took them shopping for some necessities. We even gardened together in the back yard on a sunny afternoon.  We communicated and shared stories through lots of funny gestures and the help of our iPhone Farsi /English translator.  We were reminded that as people, we have so much more in common than differences. We share similar dreams, hopes, fears, losses; regardless of where we are born, what religion we are and the language we speak.  We shared several meals together- listening to music, talking and laughing as we tried to communicate. There was one meal however, which was different.  As we ate, there was an instance when we all strangely and simultaneously stopped talking and eating, and found ourselves silent.  We glanced at one another and our eyes swelled up with tears. There was a moment of intense connection, our hearts filled with emotion as we felt a profound sense of understanding and empathy for one another.  We felt their pain, loss and fear and they too felt our emotions which had surfaced during that moment.  It is a reminder how sitting with others and breaking bread, does bring us together- we are sharing life.  This honor and experience confirms that we have an intrinsic need and responsibility to not stand on the side lines watching the plight of others, to not fear those we do not yet know.  That putting our thoughts, words and faith into action has such a high return on investment- emotionally, spiritually and socially.  It takes more energy to contemplate our desire to help than actually doing it.  Trust me, we are so much better off because of it!  The day “our” family left, we were saddened! They had touched us so deeply.  As we parted, they said, with assistance from the Farsi translator, “We have no way to pay you for your kindness and generosity, but we promise that one day, we will help someone the way you helped us.” It is beautiful testament about how kindness and compassion promotes more kindness and compassion!   

Three days later, I received this text which I will leave unedited, “Hi carol how are you? Sorry if I didn’t call because you know we can’t talk english. thank you for everything you did and your family did for us. we never will forget! we will contact you when our english is better. Your family are always in our heart.”  This message brought us all to tears once more… Maybe you have room in your heart or home to help change lives…yours and someone else’s!

Submitted by: Carol, Raul, Carlos, Elias and Andres Ramirez