From Republic of the Congo to Appleton, Wisc.

From Republic of the Congo to Appleton, Wisc.

Written on 12/23/2019

Department:
Author: Laurie Pluimer

I watched her lightly step down the stairs wearing my old skirt and sweater, discards from my surplus of clothes. Each callus and crack on her bare feet told a story of hard work and determination. Her flawless skin made me suddenly self-conscious about my pale, freckled complexion. Her two toddlers danced around the living room with cookies, mindless of crumbs underfoot. I smiled at them as they laughed and spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. One boy, one girl, they mirrored my own two children, though younger and with far more physical prowess. I felt instantly bonded to this woman as a mother, a wife, and a fellow believer on this spring day with the sun beaming through spotless windows.

Agatha came to Appleton, Wisc., as a refugee this past winter. Like the many other refugees in my city, she had been displaced from her homeland, her language, her culture. Sitting in her sparsely decorated living room, I marveled at her ability to continually put one foot in front of the other after her tumultuous pregnancy and relocation. I watched her gather up bags of breast milk and herd her little ones upstairs, where their father slept after working the night shift. We were heading to St. Elizabeth Hospital to visit her twin sons, born prematurely.

I first met Agatha at a Congolese worship service at my church. Many Congolese refugees gather there each Sunday to worship in their own language while communing with others who are learning this American way of life in the community I call home. At the tender age of 24, Agatha has already lived through more grief and trauma than I can fathom. She is beautiful and delicately strong, soft-spoken and humble—qualities to which I failingly aspire. That day I was humbled to be allowed into her home, her life, her journey.

After my training with World Relief Fox Valley, I had initially been hesitant to drive Agatha to the hospital. I knew that by doing things for her or giving things to her, I was not helping. Rather, I learned, I was boosting my own ego and feeding my “superhero” hunger. What Agatha truly needed was to do things for herself. She needed to become a fully capable citizen, caring for her own needs and finding her own way.

So it was with some reservation that I was in Agatha’s home, offering her a ride to the hospital to nourish her babies. But on the way, I found it was my own soul that was nourished. Agatha knew every road and turn. She perfectly instructed me on the best route to take, where to park, what door to enter, and where to wait while she entered the locked neonatal intensive care unit. We communicated despite the language barrier. Agatha was already a fully capable woman, and I was along for the ride.

At my church we are learning the art of helping our Congolese friends without handicapping them. It is indeed an art, and one must step lightly. It takes finesse, proper training, and certainly prayer. Above all, it comes with great blessing. For in this partnership we are finding friendship, kinship, and the body of Christ.

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