The call came in a letter from LCWR (The Leadership Conference of Women Religious) looking for more volunteers to help with the resettling of Afghan families in San Antonio. The call to assist in refugee resettlement had come before, but I had not been able to respond because of other responsibilities. Perhaps like you, when I was not able to give in-person help, I gave myself to praying for those who answered the call. This time, I was able to respond with a “Yes” — and all the challenges of this call were swept away by your prayers.
I did not want to go alone. That prayer was answered when I heard that three other Sparkill Dominicans wanted to go to San Antonio — such an abundant overflowing response to prayer. Once at Our Lady of the Lake University and the Convent of the Sisters of Divine Providence, we settled into two lovely rooms in the Convent with Sisters Gloria Ann Fiedler and Debra Fuchs as our gracious hosts.
More abundant grace. Our first day at Catholic Charities found us in a warehouse sorting clothing and building chairs under the direction of Rey, a volunteer who invited us to lunch at her house, took us to visit with Afghan families in various apartments, and then donated her car for the two weeks so we could get to and from work sites — your prayers, pure and powerful, gave us grateful hearts.
We met Angie and Frank, two volunteers who sorted through the donations to Catholic Charities and helped us know what the Afghan families would find useful and in sizes that would fit. They also took us to the hotel where Afghan families were staying until they could move into an apartment. We took Walmart by storm, filling four carts with everything these families would need to sleep and live in an apartment, including three shopping carts of nourishing foods. My prayers were joined with yours as we waited 40 minutes just to check out, and another hour to find the apartment and deliver everything.
I felt your prayers during orientation meetings as interpreters explained the process with each new group. I prayed with you as we served breakfast and lunch and tended to the needs of those living in the hotel. I watched as Afghan teens helped with translating and families helped each other. Visiting with the Afghan men, we learned that they were brave soldiers who had wanted to defend their land and families from terrorists. They were proud to be part of a dream shared with American soldiers. There was such a bond of mission and trust among them.
We met shy and trusting Afghan women who always looked to our need for water or tea. We met the children — quiet, shy, obedient, helpful, resourceful. Above all, they were children who knew they were loved by their parents. We met learned men, leaders, who now had nothing; they were totally dependent on each other and on the American caseworkers who were achieving great results in an overwhelming task. I learned the value of body language (especially a smile, a wave, a handshake), while learning three important words: salem (“hello”), emza (“sign this”), and manana (“thank you”) — all made possible because you were at home praying for us.
We were so privileged to be part of something that was happening all over the United States — Afghan men separated from their wives and children, and families left behind in peril, deliberately sought by the Taliban in revenge for those who escaped. We were volunteers from different religious communities and different nationalities and races: Vietnamese, Korean, African, Mexican, Iraqi, Egyptian, Polish, Filipino, and American — a vision of the Universal Christ made visible by your prayers. We ate together, played together, worked together, and prayed together.
My experience in San Antonio was a grace and a blessing, and I give thanks to you. Your prayers were heard and answered — and I will never forget the power of your prayers. Now let us pray that we Americans will learn from our new Afghan friends. May my reflection fill you with hope.
– Sister Jeannine DeClue, OP
Sister Jeannine resides in St. Louisand serves as a volunteer at East Side Heart & Home Family Center.