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Lois's Story: The Sixteen-Hour Welcome to America

Blissfully exhausted after ten days of teaching in Nairobi, I kept to myself on the five-and-a-half hour flight to Doha, Qatar, thinking of home and looking forward to seeing my husband.

After transferring to the sixteen-hour flight from Doha to Dallas, however, it soon became clear that this next flight would prove anything but boring. After some initial friendly chit chat, I discovered that the young Syrian couple seated next to me had won the immigration lottery after a two-year application and were planning to make Dallas their home! Out of fifty states, they had settled on Dallas, Texas (after a little dispute over a preference for Philly by one side of the marriage) due to some connections with Syrians in Dallas and the prospect of good jobs to fit their skillsets.

Throughout the long flight, which essentially consisted of an overnight conversation as the sun chased us westward, Roula, Ammar, and I discussed all they had been through in seeing their country destroyed due to the terrible Syrian War, friends they had lost to death or emigration, the children they had left behind who would wait for their parents to send for them when better established, and their hope of a better future in the U.S.

I told them about our work with refugees in Springfield, Missouri, how since 2017 we had the privilege of welcoming new friends, specifically from various African countries, from Burma, and from the Ukraine. I told them how honored I was to be the first one to welcome them to the U.S., and that when we landed, I would connect them with a friend in Dallas who I felt sure would welcome them.

We ate, we slept, we looked out the window, we listened to screaming babies, and we watched movies and the trip map over Europe as we curved around the earth. We talked about our families and our lives. I showed them my home in Springfield, Missouri on the trip map as we flew over the Midwest after coming west from Greenland then south over Canada on our way to Dallas. We got up and stretched. We sighed and waited…

Finally, as the plane landed, I looked over at them from my window seat with weary but happy eyes and said, “Welcome home!” They grinned back heartily with a smile that revealed their excitement and anticipation but no doubt hid their many questions: After the Airbnb, where will we live? How will it go with our documentation? How long before we will we get good jobs? Will people welcome us? Dallas is so big; how will we learn our way around? How will it be with everyone back home without us there? When will we see our family again? Will we make good friends? Thankfully, their English is great, and they have good job skills ready to offer once their paperwork is settled. We exchanged contact information, and once in the airport, I gave my new female friend a big hug (and kiss on both cheeks) and a hand-over-my-heart farewell to my new male friend.

Even before we left the tarmac, I had a WhatsApp chat going with my Dallas pastor friend and her daughter, who immediately welcomed them and extended an invitation to have coffee and a week later to dinner. Now, a month later, they have enjoyed a wonderful meal together in my friend’s home, are working on jobs and housing, and on adjusting to their new life in America.

May we follow in the footsteps of my Dallas friends, who without question picked up where I could not since I live in a different city. May we engage those different than us—as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman at the well. May we be willing to make a difference, just by extending a warm welcome and helping hand.

Welcome, friends. I am glad you are here.

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Lois E. Olena, DMin, is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, and former Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Jewish Studies at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. She currently serves as a freelance editor/ writing consultant, adjunct professor, and doctoral advisor.Her passion for justice has grown over the decades in advocating for racial justice, justice for women and children, and the resettlement of refugees. Lois has two daughters and has been happily married to Doug since 1980.

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