Hurrying through the store after a long day at work a few months ago, friendship was the last thing on my mind.  I grabbed milk and a few other necessities and found my way to checkout, eager to get home to my husband and two small children.  As I unloaded my cart, I noticed the lady in line in front of me. She was buying milk, too. Her long flowy pants and tunic and the pink hijab covering her head made her stand out in our small suburban grocery store.  She was trying to use WIC, but the kind of milk she wanted wasn’t covered (WIC is the government’s food and nutrition program for mothers of young children). Her thickly accented English faltered as she tried to express her confusion, and the young cashier was looking frazzled.

I was tired and feeling grumpy, and debated collecting my items and hustling to the next lane.  

But in the preceding months I had been volunteering at an ESL class for refugee women, and this lady reminded me of my friends there.  Only a few weeks earlier I had been in a similar situation with a lady from class, trying to use WIC to buy milk, both of us struggling to understand which specific brands and varieties she was allowed to purchase with her credits.  Imagining my own kids asking for their cups of milk at bedtime, I was suddenly compelled toward the lady in front of me, when my feet had been ready to walk away. I caught her eye and joked about how complicated WIC can be. She was surprised but welcomed my intrusion.  I helped mediate the exchange with the cashier, who mercifully overrode the computer system so that she could get the milk she had chosen.

Befriending a refugee mom in a grocery store

I learned that she was an immigrant and new to our area, though she had been in the US for a few months. She was pregnant, and told me that she had not been able to find prenatal care here. I told her about a local organization that I thought might help her.  Before we left with our milk jugs, we exchanged phone numbers and she asked me to come to her home to talk about finding a doctor. The next day, while my kids were at preschool, I went back to the store and wandered the aisles nervously for a few minutes, finally selecting a small potted plant and a box of fig cookies. I drove to my new friend’s home and knocked on her door, carrying these gifts in a plastic grocery bag.

sharing flowers with immigrants

Our friendship began to grow. A few evenings, we went to the DMV where she practiced parallel parking (with very uncertain help from me!) and three point turns.  I ached with her when she failed her first driver’s test, and rejoiced when she texted to tell me that she had finally passed. We found an OB/GYN practice that would accept her (a clinic for underprivileged women that was founded by a physician who attends my church) and I went with her to her first appointment.  Her older son started the school year with a new pair of glasses thanks to another doctor from my church. My sister helped her get to an appointment soon after her baby was born.

Walking through these life events with my friend and her precious family has been a unbelievable blessing.  

She is cheerful and generous, always filling my pantry with something new and delicious. She greets me with gracious hospitality. I have been surprised to find that I am more accepted and at home with her than I often am with people whose background and faith I share. She is beautiful, kind, and loves to laugh. She pours happiness into my cup right along with the tea she insists on making at every visit.

Turkish tea hospitality from refugees

We chat about our kids while she lets me hold her baby and serves amazing food. I’ve learned from her about culture and language, received much needed cooking lessons in her kitchen, marveled at the ways she cultivates beauty in her home. We’ve had long talks about the things we believe and disagreed to the point of frustration.  Somehow, we keep loving anyway.

This friendship is challenging, and I’m having to stretch and learn because of it.  

I may be the one who is “from here”, but my new friend is the one teaching me how to make exuberant welcome. She has inspired me to choose words that are as bold and direct as hers are when we discuss who Jesus is and what is true about him. When I’m with her, I am required to take account of the ways that God’s image and heaps of common grace abound in the life of someone who does not look, think, act, dress, or speak like me. I have become acquainted with the heart-rending ache of longing for someone with whom I feel at home to find her true home in Jesus, to discover the unending welcome for which she is always searching.

Recently, I introduced my friend to my husband for the first time.  She and I were both near tears as she explained to him how glad she is for our friendship — in the beautifully creative way of speaking yielded by her limited English, she told him, “God for me sent her!” This is true for me, too. God sent this friend for me, and I am so grateful!

As our friendship unfolds, I marvel that it started with an unlikely conversation in a grocery store. It continues to grow through very normal “mom things” like play dates, Costco trips, and shared recipes and cups of tea.  I’m usually nervous before we get together, knowing how inadequate and unprepared I am to meet all her needs or answer every one of her questions. However, maybe the point is not to feel adequate, but just to show up and bring what you have.

Reach out and befriend a refugee mom

Maybe faithful friendship can look like knocking on a new door with a lot of uncertainty and a box of cookies in a plastic bag. I’m learning that God uses imperfect people doing ordinary things–even tired moms buying milk–in unexpected ways, and that following Him can be an adventurous journey, even though each step itself may feel small, difficult, or repetitive.  It is a breathtaking privilege that He allows us to discover such beautiful people and cherished friends along the way.

Laura Hornby is a neighbor, wife, and mom in Greenville, SC.You can find her on Instagram @lauraghornby and Twitter @lghornby_1215.

All photos used under a Creative Commons license. Special thanks to Teakwood for the Milk Aisle photo & Henri Bergius for the Turkish Tea photo.

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