Turning Mirrors into Windows
Bounding in the door with enthusiasm and creative energy, nine, eighth-grade girls from St. John’s Episcopal School in Dallas volunteered each week to serve and lead. On the backs of their matching T-Shirts identifying them as Service Leaders read: “Turning Mirrors into Windows." The simple phrase spoke volumes about what these bright young ladies did at Gateway of Grace.
When shrouded in fear, no one experiences love. But, pictured to the right, a student from St. John’s has gained the trust and friendship of a conservative Muslim young woman from Afghanistan. After weeks of relationship-building, sharing about their respective languages and cultures, laughing and eating together, “windows of opportunities were opened."
The current refugee students come from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Burma. The vast majority are women, and nearly all are young moms. Most have little to no education. Because of years of cultural and religious oppression, the women have lacked the courage to build relationships with those who are not like them - until now. Gateway of Grace is likely the only place these women have encountered intentional Christian community. It is doubtful they have Christian friends outside of Gateway of Grace.
These intentional encounters with Gateway teachers and St. John's students are also these women's first close-up experience with Christianity. The students exemplified Christian love - the only love that authentically overcomes differences, and as a result, refugees' fears. Week after week, the refugees begin to let down their defenses and open their hearts even as their minds are opened to a deeper understandinng of being women. Worth, dignity, purpose and love have been communicated and demonstrated to them by Gateway teachers and St. John's students.
“This has been so good for our students… even though they are different ages, good connections and rapport have been developed," said Alison Pascale, English program teacher and volunteer Director of the Gateway of Grace Educational Program. “I’ve also seen the American students be moved and changed by the interactions … they’ve grown in knowledge and compassion.”
Simple exercises such as “Head, Shoulders, Feet & Toes”, “Simon Says”, and games like “Charades” practiced in English all helped to build their language skills. The women also learned about food menus and money exchange. For the final day of this semester, the refugee women prepared a special lunch to express gratitude for all they had recieved. The meal featured cultural cuisine from their various countries.
Students and Gateway of Grace volunteers presented each refugee woman with a rose to express appreciation for their time together. Eyes lit up, smiles were contagious, the food was scrumptious and the heartfelt camaraderie was mutual.
A new refugee, visiting for the first time, was in the hallway last week toward the end of the day and said, “this is my first time today.” I smiled and said to the new student, “I heard lots of laughing today,” The student responded with visible cheer and pleasure, “I thought this was just going to be a class ...this was more like family getting together."