This morning I subbed as an aide for one of the World Relief English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) classes that meet in Wheaton. Refugees from well over a dozen countries come together with a single goal: to improve the language skills that will enable them to assimilate more into U.S. culture. Some want to go to college for the first time. Others hope to validate degrees they earned in their home countries that carry no weight here. Mothers come hoping to be able to communicate with their children’s teachers or even simply to talk with the clerk at the grocery store.
They all have stories; the U.N. doesn’t label just anyone a “refugee,” and it doesn’t relocate most —far from it—across the globe. There have to be reasons, good ones, considering that, if given a viable choice between returning home or going to the United States, almost all of these refugees would choose their homeland. But home—and the family still there—is not a realistic option.
Today, during the small chapel break that splits the class into two halves, several aides acted out the story of Joseph. I stood next to a young mother of two. We chatted before the skit began, and I learned her young boys’ names and ages. Her husband, who was a photographer at home, is now working part-time construction, hoping to get full-time, hoping, somehow, to return to the work he really enjoys.
The skit began and we watched as Joseph was thrown into the well and sold into slavery and his father was given the news of his death. “Joseph had many troubles in Egypt” was used to fast-forward the narrative to his interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams and his promotion to being the second in command. Then his brothers came looking for grain. Joseph had to turn aside to weep, but he did not tell them who he was. Then the brothers came again, this time bringing Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother, the only other child of Joseph’s beloved mother Rachel. Joseph hugged him and cried. He forgave his other brothers. The audience, filled with the small sounds of tea drinking and softly murmured comments before, was completely still now.
The woman who narrated the story looked out at the audience. “You have all been through hard times. Many of you are going through difficult times now. Remember that there is a God who is good. Hold onto what Joseph said: ‘You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.’ He is a good God. You can cling to that. He can work good out of what you are going through.”
Next to me I could hear the young mother crying. I’m sure many faces in front of me were wet as well.
I hugged the young mother, and we filed back to classes far more quietly than we had come in. One of the teachers and I made eye contact. “Somehow means a lot more in this context, doesn’t it?” she said.
Yes, it does.