Bear with me for a moment. This won’t take long.
Close your eyes. Imagine your hometown, wherever that may be. The spot where, this very night, you will rest your head, or the place to which you most long to return.
Think about your main drag. Everybody has one. For us, it’s Scottsville Road.
Okay. Got it?
Now imagine that road, no matter how populous or remote, has been bombed to smithereens.
Or, perhaps much harder to wrap our minds around, think about this:
What if we all got up tomorrow morning and some people we don’t know in a building somewhere across the globe have, for reasons we may not comprehend or ever even know, decided to rip our special place asunder.
It has hereby been declared to those on the east side of 231, or Main Street, or I-65, or Route 66, or the Mississippi: you will forever have to remain here.
Those on the west, there you will stay.
No comingling. No sharing of language, of faith, of resources, of centuries-old customs, memories, mores, and loves.
How do we think that would land in the home of the free and the brave? I’d say not.
Maybe in a few months, years, weeks or even days, people with guns come and hunt you down because you’re on the wrong side of that line. There’s coal or oil under the land that has been in your family for three generations and they want it.
Maybe there’s access to fresh water, or a seaport, or a railroad, or a gigantic reservoir.
Maybe there’s the wrong kind of church, or no church at all.
Maybe they just want it because they want it.
You have two choices: stay and risk death (or worse), to yourself, your children, your precious wee ones and the delicate elders. Or flee, desperate just to stay alive.
You don’t want to leave. I don’t want to leave. It’s my special place. It’s in my blood and bone.
But to save my blood and bone, and that of every person I love, leave I must.
An arbitrary post-WWII decision such as this, many years before he was born, launched Albert Mbanfu on his own journey from Cameroon to Atlanta, and ultimately, to Bowling Green, where he has worked for eight years as the Executive Director of the International Center of Kentucky.
Right now, this is where he spends countless hours each day working to prepare a home for the several hundred Afghan refugees who are somewhere, on military bases across the globe, preparing to come here.
To our little spot, to this land we love so much.
Mr. Mbanfu is a boots-on-the-ground hardworking man who understands what it takes to help people get started in a new place.
And he knows the pain of leaving his homeland behind. Of saying goodbye to his elderly father, the Reverend Peter Fangha, a Baptist minister.
He reveres and misses his father every single day, and he has not seen him in six years due to violence in his own home country that would threaten them both if he were to return.
He knows the guilt of a family left behind, of a loss so painful it haunts him to this day, a loss he would have done everything in his power to prevent, had he just been able to stay home.
But he doesn’t look back.
Instead he answers the phone, he goes on the hunt, he works the boardrooms and the churches and the federal agencies, and the national news organizations, gaining attention and finding resources for the travellers who are heading this way.
Only this time “the situation is very fluid, and it changes throughout the hour”. Federal aid will be late in arrival and homes must be secured, furnishings provided, rent and deposits paid.
A plea is made. People in the community do step up.
But there are “some people who call with very nasty language and no number/anonymous. The threats, the abuse. We are used to it. But it’s only one percent who are nasty.”
For Mr. Mbanfu, “there are two things that cause them to behave that way. One is ignorance, and one is just bad faith. [He’s] experienced both.”
He takes the calls, every single one, no matter how bad they may be. He answers the questions. Sometimes, after much time and work, it ends better than it began.
A recent thirty-minute conversation with a particularly aggressive voice on the line concluded with an ally, when the man offered to bring childrens’ clothing to the center. Albert thanked him, for the offer and for the call. One mind changed: victory.
Worldwide less than ONE percent of all 80 million displaced refugees are resettled: that is less than one percent resettled in all nations (not just the U.S.). Which means over NINETY-NINE percent will live out their days in a camp or refugee settlement.
Albert is one of the less than one percent. So are the two hundred Afghans coming to make their home with us.
Close your eyes again. Think about your special place. The main drag. Whatever it is that makes it special, no matter how small.
Imagine never seeing it again, for as long as you live. Imagine your children never knowing their grandparents, the place you grew up, the smell of the air, the sound of the birds in the evening.
Then choose to be one of those who reach out a hand. One of those who say, “Welcome.”