What Does ‘S-T-R-I-P-P-E-R’ Spell?

Ever-Increasing Light

Sabbaths, Feasts, and More

Marking Jewish Themes with Devotion

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25;35-36).

We didn’t plan on inviting a refugee to live with us. It just seemed like the right thing to do at the moment. Sometimes acts of kindness are unintentional; they are just a gut response to a need. And sometimes the simple and loving response to someone in need seems so very small in a world of hurting people, still it is very significant.

We met Constantine on the streets of Belgrade in 1986. He had fled the stranglehold of Romanian Communism with his brother. Seeking freedom and asylum in the USA, Constantine planned their escape for six months. Disguised in factory worker uniforms, they set out for the banks of the Danube River on Good Friday traveling across the country by bus, train, and on foot while endeavoring to blend in with the day-to-day workforce. At night and in the rain, they stealthily crossed the wide river in a small rubber raft they had cleverly concealed earlier in a wine carrier. All of this happened under the ever-watchful eye of Eastern European police and guards. By some miracle, God blinded seeing eyes.

By Easter morning, they crossed into freedom and found sanctuary in a village home on the border of Serbia (Yugoslavia then). Later they were taken by local police to Belgrade and fined for leaving their own country without the proper papers. Their punishment was six weeks in prison. They served their time, and they were free but without a home, finances, friends, or family. Their official status became “refugee.”

No one plans on becoming a refugee. This status is the lowest of all as far as world citizenship; but the hope for freedom, liberty, and a better life drives some to risk everything to gain this vulnerable and lowly mark. Others risk because of famine or war or injustice. Whatever the reasons, refugees arrive in their new homeland broken, weary, and in need of a generous dose kindness.

Many US citizens have had relatives who arrived in this country with the same status. And Americans are tender toward immigrants and refugees because their stories hit close to home. I love this about our countrymen — the open arms and hearts of receiving foreigners or the “poor, wretched, longing to be free.”

But back to Constantine. Our meeting on the streets of Belgrade was so brief and yet divine. Wayne and I were leading a short-term missions trip through Eastern Europe. We ran into Constantine and felt unusually drawn to him. He said he was a refugee with plans to come to America, but he knew no one there. I remember his face beamed with hope. He was so eager to begin again even if it meant at the very bottom of the ladder rung.

We fell in love with him from the start and exchanged numbers. After six months, Constantine came to live with us for one year. God graced us to embrace him as part of our family. He made himself as small as a mouse and rarely expressed a need or want. He willingly helped out and diligently looked for employment.

Although Constantine spoke good English before he came, he was learning new language twists from American and Texas culture — so he had plenty yet to still learn. We were also novices at living with someone from Eastern Europe and knew nothing of his mother tongue. We had some humorous conversations trying to communicate.

Each day Constantine scoured the want ads looking for employment. Once he was reading an ad and asked, “What does “s-t-r-i-p-p-e-r” spell? Wayne and I looked at each other and Wayne answered, “That’s probably not a job for you.” As it turned out, it was a paint stripper. We all enjoyed a good belly laugh as we explained to him what we thought it meant!

Later I thought to myself that Constantine certainly had been “stripped” while trying to make a better life. The real stripper had been the injustice and smothering of a totalitarian government that was so severe it drove him to risk his life to escape it.

After some trial and error and diligent searching, Constantine found a job and then another! He saved money and bought a car. He really became independent. It was 12 months to the day when he loaded up his vehicle and drove away to make it on his own.

Back in Romania, Constantine had graduated college and became an engineer. His education and professional background did not transfer to the states, so he went back to school and got a bachelor’s degree in business management which landed him a great job overseeing nutritional planning for a city school district in Austin.

Somewhere along the line, he met another Romanian living in Austin and married. Now that Communism has fallen, the two of them make annual trips to Romania. In fact, Constantin has now retired from his job for the school district. He and his wife bought a summer home and retreat there four months per year. In his Romanian home, Constantine gladly flies both an American flag and a Texas flag. He also has two leather saddles from Texas which he proudly displays in his living room.

What a success story.

Not all incoming refugees’ stories are like Constantine’s. I think he is a remarkable achiever and hard worker, and I know God watched out for him and brought him to our home. I feel privileged and honored to have played a tiny part in his immigration process — to have made a difference in one person’s life, to have offered sanctuary and solace.

Right now Americans are up in arms because of the possibility of banning high-risk immigration for a brief time in order to make our country safer from countries where extreme Islamic faith rules. I don’t pretend to know the answers. I only know that it is biblical and right to bring the stranger and foreigner into your home and care for them. It is humane.

But whose responsibility is this — the federal government, the state, the church, the charities? I wonder if half of the people screaming that we are bigots for closing our doors for a time would consider doing something personally to help a refugee?

I am not judging, only presenting the question.

If the refugee crisis is important to you, and you want to help, then don’t wait on the arms of Uncle Sam to catch, aid, and soothe the neglected and downtrodden of humanity. Do something yourself. Today. Send money. Pray. Find out about the refugee programs in your city or church and how you can participate. You can change a life forever by your decision to take action.

For more study…

II Corinthians 2:3-8, Isaiah 16:3-4, Exodus 22:21

Work it into daily life…

Instead of railing against the government, take action.

  1. Pray for all authority for it is ordained by God.
  2. Petition your congressmen and government officials by email and letters to make changes.
  3. Prepare portions from your income to share or a place in your home to comfort the foreigner.
  4. Preach against, resist, and expose bigotry and racism wherever you find it. Make good use of your station in life to elevate others.

©Bonnie Saul Wilks


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