Europe is full of them. Italy is full of them, these unexpected guests. Europe’s refugees. Some of them legal. Many illegal. But when they come to our door we help them. Sure, they’ve broken the law if they’re here illegally. But does that mean we should let them go hungry?
But try to look past that for a moment, at the desperation that drove them to it. Reduced to selling door-to-door or in store parking lots things which few need or want. (We have so many dish towels that we stopped buying from them and just give them a bit of money.)
But it was one such unexpected guest that most sticks out in memory.
We invited him in, per our custom. But he was afraid, so shocked that anyone would invite him in. “Put down your bag and rest a moment,” we told him, as he looked around in bewilderment.
It was his tears when we invited him to stay for lunch, which astounded us though. “Never, since I left my homeland,” he said, “has anyone shown me such kindness. Why? Why do you treat me so well?”
And that’s a question we love, because it allows us to share with them an even greater love!
He shared his story while we ate, sad and almost unbelievable. Unlike those buried at sea, he survived to recount his voyage aboard a boat too small for the great number it carried. Men and women of all ages, and even children and expectant mothers. Crammed on deck to bake in the sun or shiver in the rain, in spite of paying dearly for the trip.
An educated young man. Now forced to go door-to-door, selling his meager wares, reduced to almost begging. Why? What is it that drives him, and others like him, to this?
Our unexpected guest that day was simply trying to pay his rent. Fearful that he and his family would end up on the street. Unable to find work after losing his job, he just wanted to survive. Others need money for family back in the homeland.
Each story different, but with one common thread. Life in the home country was bad. Even this is better than what they left. Here at least they hope for a chance. A chance to live. A chance for a better life, and one of dignity.
So no, we don’t care that they’re illegal.
Because we wonder: which makes the greater wrong? Their illegality, or the social injustice, war, or corruption that caused them to flee their homeland?
And what is our responsibility in it?
We can’t right all these wrongs, nor will anything we do greatly change this young man’s situation. But we can do a little, and that little we will do. Our door will always be open, an extra plate placed. Our hand will extend in friendship. That much we know is right.
But please use wisdom in inviting strangers into your home, especially if you’re alone.
Would you place an extra plate on the table? Or what ways do you have for reaching out to those in need?