Monday, October 6, 2014

What Would Happen

Yesterday was a weird day. I work in an institutional kitchen and a horrible smell was coming out of the AC/Heating unit. Not good. I turned it off and called our maintenance man who took off a grate to tell me, The motors burned out.

Just great.

I saw an inscription on a panel inside the wall and it piqued my curiosity. This morning our handyman looked into the hole in the wall at the motor and was astonished. He’d written the name Joseph Garang and a phone number on the panel years and years ago. But that wasn’t what was so amazing—he told me, I just got a call two weeks ago from Lual Pach Pach a friend of Jospeh Garang's.

In 2000 and 2001 Ted had been involved in sponsoring some young men from Sudan, Lost Boys who came over from refugee camps. They were and are a close-knit group. Maybe because they lost most of their families during the civil wars in Sudan and now all they had was each other. Ted helped them out with food, clothes, and housing until they could get established and begin building a life here in America. Joseph Garang one of the Lost Boys introduced Ted to a fellow refugee named Lual Pach Pach who was still back in Nairobi. He needed some help.

9/11 put a stop to the Lost Boy flights and asylum became a lot more complicated after the World Trade Towers attack. Joseph wanted someone to sponsor his education.

As I’m hearing this story from Ted this morning, I couldn’t help but think, That sounds risky. Like the emails I get from Nigerian princes who just need for me to transfer money into their bank accounts. These are the kind of people who can suck you dry, mainly because they think we’re all rich. And, maybe we are compared to their abject poverty. Nevertheless, I know Ted and he doesn’t have a lot of money. He does ascapping on the side and recycling of printer toner cartridges. But he promised Joseph he would send $50 a month, not indefinitely but for a while. Ted helped him through high school and then with college. He graduated and got a job at a bank in Nairobi. Eventually he wrote Ted not to send any more money.

Then two weeks ago he phoned and told Ted he wanted to meet him. He intended to send him a plane ticket, take time off work, and arrange everything so that Ted could come to Kenya. I’m sure Ted never imagined how this story would end. And here we were by the guts of the burned out motor talking about how funny life is. Fourteen years ago the idea of sending so much money to a stranger upon the recommendation of several other refugees must have sounded crazyy. What would happen?

What would happen if we got personally involved? What might happen if we get ripped off, waste time, or get overwhelmed by someone else’s problem? There were a million ways this story could have ended.

While I was in Sweden a church in TranĂ¥s met to discuss the problem of Roma people begging in the streets. Suddenly Sweden is facing an influx of Roma and public panhandling. I wondered: What if this church did what Ted did—sponsored a family, took care of the kids education, made sure they saw doctors? Just one family. It would not make a huge difference, but would be an investment toward some future goal.

What could happen?

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