Years ago a friend, the Presbyterian poet Ann Weems, wrote this powerful poem to be mindful of today.
Into the wild and painful cold of the starless winter night came the refugees, slowly making their way to the border.
The man, stooped from age or anxiety, hurried his small family through the wind.
Bearded and dark, his skin rough and cracked from the cold, his frame looming large in spite of the slumped shoulders.
He looked like a man who could take care of whatever came at them from the dark.
Unless, of course, there were too many of them.
One man he could handle, two, even, but a border patrol, they wouldn’t have a chance.
His eyes, black and alert, darted from side to side, then over his shoulder, then back again forward.
Had they been seen?
Had they been heard?
Every rustle of the wind, every sigh from the child, sent terror though his chest.
Was this the way?
Even the stars had been unkind, had hidden themselves in the ink of night so that the man could not read their way.
Only the wind, was it enough?
Only the wind and his innate sense of direction.
What kind of cruel judgment that would be, to wander in circles through the night?
Or to safely make their way to the border, only to find the authorities waiting for them?
He glanced at the young woman, his bride.
No more than a child herself, she nuzzled the newborn, kissing his neck.
She looked up, caught his eye, and smiled.
Oh how the homelessness had taken its toll on her!
Her eyes were red, Her young face was lined, her lovely hair matted from inattention.
Her clothes stained from milk and baby, her hands chapped from the raw wind of winter.
She’d hardly had time to recover from childbirth when word had come that they were hunted, and they fled with only a little bread and the remaining wine, and a very small portion of cheese.
Suddenly, the child began to make small noises, the man drew his breath in sharply: the woman quietly put the child to breast.
Fear, long dread-filled moments.
Huddled, the family stood still in the long silence.
At last the man breathed deeply again, reassured they had not been heard.
And into the night continued.
Mary, Joseph, and the Babe
While some people are less welcoming, we rejoice that many churches, business owners, doctors, schoolteachers, and many individuals are showing compassion to strangers in need.
Jesus, a refugee as a child, commanded his followers to welcome the stranger and that we will be judged in the end by our care of others (Matthew 2:13-25; 25:31-46). We rejoice in how two Afghan immigrant families have been warmly supported during the past two years and new visitors from other lands are welcomed today.
We are grateful for fellow Americans who remember we have been a nation of immigrants and are enriched by immigrants who have come here over the generations.
Bruce Gillette is the Parish Associate Pastor of the First Presbyterian Union Church in Owego; his ancestors include Jonathan Gillett (a French Huguenot pastor who came to the Massachusetts Bay Colony fleeing religious persecution in 1630 and Bridget O’Byrne, an Irish peasant escaping the Great Potato Famine in Ireland, 1850).