Alejandro's Driving Lessons: Reflections on Refugees and my Faith Formation

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Last Saturday I gave Alejandro a driving lesson. Alejandro is a 33 year old Venezuelan refugee who fled his homeland with Paola, his wife, after machete-wielding thugs threatened them bodily harm if they would not endorse the regime of their dictator, President Maduro.

They dropped everything and ran.

About a year ago, as Venezuela was beginning to deteriorate into violent chaos, I prayed this prayer: “Lord, my life is surrounded by wonderful Reformed folks from Dutch immigrant backgrounds. I’m grateful for this community, but you are gathering a Revelation 7:9 Kingdom from every tribe, people, language and nation. Please expand my borders.”

A couple months after uttering that prayer, I read Sandra VanOpstal’s illuminating book, The Next Worship, and also attended a workshop she led focusing on the diversity of God’s community. (Sandra is a hispanic CRC pastor in the Chicago area). I realized I had quite a few blind spots that the Lord needed to work on to prepare me for his Rev. 7 Kingdom. That original prayer continued to intensify, and I had no idea where it would lead.

We then learned that temporary housing was needed for recently arrived refugees in our area. Evelyn and I are empty-nesters with lots of room in our home, so it was a no-brainer. But we are both quite shy; we nervously contacted Micah House, a local refugee ministry here in Hamilton, Ontario, and offered our home. A few weeks later Alejandro and Paola moved in for three weeks, until they were ready to move into their own apartment.

Five minutes after they arrived we discovered that Alejandro was an irrepressible extrovert quite fluent in English, while Paola was more reserved and less fluent. He had been working as a computer engineer while she had served as a high school history teacher. We bonded quickly and easily.

We were deeply struck by what they were going through, leaving everything behind — loved ones, careers, church community, cultural familiarity — for a foreign land where they knew no one. One evening we brought our Ipad to the dinner table, pulled up Google Images, and invited them to show us the buildings, streets, places, and natural sights that meant a lot to them. I think Alejandro would have gone on for four hours if we had had the stamina.

After three weeks they moved to their own apartment, but we stayed in touch, celebrating with them their wedding anniversary and Paola’s birthday. “You are our Canadian mom and dad,” Alejandro declared, and my voice caught in my throat. I realized I should have said, “And you are part of the answer to a prayer I whispered a year ago.”

Last Saturday I gave him that hour long driving lesson. Hamilton is a city of half a million, and it turned out he had not done all that much driving back in Venezuela. “Do you want to try any of the freeways?” I asked. “No, maybe not,” he said, a bit too quickly. The car survived without a scratch, and I think my nerves did too.

The Lord is still working on my blind spots, and it looks like He’ll have lots of time. We expect to continue walking (and driving?) with Alejandro and Paola for a long time. Maybe all the way to Revelation 7: 9.

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Rev. 7: 9-10)

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Syd, I'm really moved by this. What an example of a mustard seed of faith entrusted to a good God who wants to "expand our borders" beyond what we can imagine!