A Heartfelt Gift
By: Rachel Davis
The elderly woman placed the rosary in my hand and closed my fingers around it. I remember the almost physical feeling of protest rising up inside of me. I couldn’t possibly take it. She had so few material possessions. This rosary might have been sentimental to her and one of the few things she took with her when fleeing Iraq. But I knew that to resist such a gesture could be offensive and disrespectful. So, even though it pained me, I accepted it with deep gratitude.
I’d first met her the day prior when a colleague and I spent the day visiting several homes of Iraqi refugees living in Jordan through a project Wellspring supports. The project provides food coupons for refugee families from Iraq. With these coupons, families can purchase groceries and other basic needs. The team leaders go into the homes and build relationships with the families. We accompanied one of the leaders for the day and visited five different families.
Their stories were beyond hard; they were unimaginable. Toward the end of the fourth visit, I remember feeling tangible hopelessness and compassion fatigue. It was too much to keep hearing. And then I thought of the refugees and their need to share. The sense of injustice was real, and they needed someone to hear. Unlike some scenarios I encounter where individuals are rightfully guarded with their stories, these families seemed to want to share. So I silently prayed for strength to bear witness to their pain–to be fully present, to sit with them, hear whatever they needed to share, and pray with them.
The woman who gave me the rosary was a grandmother in one of the families. She had been living in Iraq with her family where her son-in-law owned a bakery. While I don’t know the details of their lives beyond that, I imagined them living a simple yet happy life. During our visit, her son-in-law looked at his wife fondly, showing tenderness for one another.
Their family is a Christian family, which made them a target for ISIS in Iraq. One day they heard that ISIS was coming to their village. They were given a few hours to flee or they knew the unimaginable would happen to them. They, too, had heard the countless stories. So they did the only thing they could: they left everything they owned and fled to Jordan. They left their home, his bakery, the lives they had built. They left knowing they would likely never get to come back.
They arrived in Jordan with nothing. The local churches found them a place to stay, helped provide food, and visited them in their very simple home. They cannot work, as they are in Jordan as a transition stage as refugees. They are awaiting review by the UN to find out where and when they will be resettled.
This family has been in Jordan for two months…waiting. Waiting to see when and where they will go. Some people wait up to two or three years.
I saw the grandmother and her daughter again at a church service the Wellspring-supported project holds weekly for the Iraqi refugees. Our eyes found one another in a crowd of 500 and the mutual joy in seeing one another again was so special. My colleague and I headed in their direction to greet and hug them. That was when she placed the rosary in my hand.
Sometimes, the privilege I hold weighs deeply on me. I wanted to give the rosary back to her and instead give her money to meet their needs. But while I could have given her money, it was not appropriate–nor was it the best way to help her. Yet sometimes the knowledge of knowing that I could do it weighs on me. Throughout years of working in the humanitarian field, I have struggled with the “why”.
Why do I get to live the life I do? Why was I born into a family where love abounds? Why is my life so drenched in privilege? Why does this woman, also a believer, have a story that looks so different from mine?
I may have to wait until eternity to get the full answers to those questions, but for now I pray daily to be a good steward of the incredible gift of not only the material things in life, but also the deeper, more valuable things such as these stories. I want to bear witness and honor them. I have been entrusted with something precious in each story I have heard, and when I look at that rosary, I will remember her. I will think of her and her heartfelt gift.