In my column last month, I told of my friend’s plea for someone to house a Somali man who had just been granted asylum here in Omaha.
My friend’s ministry to the undocumented in prison had led her to befriend this man, who had been beaten and threatened by members of El Shabaab, a jihadist terrorist group based in Somalia. My friend offered her home to the man while he awaits another hearing on his asylum plea.
But she had a problem — her previously scheduled Christmas trip meant she needed to find some folks who would house him over the holidays.
As I reported, some friends of mine quickly agreed. They prepared a spare room in the basement and cleaned the extra bathroom. Their three-year-old daughter was particularly excited about the prospect of a guest. His Somali name was a tongue-tripper for English speakers, but little Fiona heard it and quickly interpreted it as “Apple Cart.”
And so, each day after the day he was scheduled to be released from jail, Fiona would anxiously revisit the guest room and ask, “When is Apple Cart coming?”
Sadly, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) threw roadblocks in the way, and Apple Cart remained in a downtown Omaha prison. The dad of the family visited him, and found him content. People from Third World countries are probably more accepting of the vagaries of legal systems than we Americans, and if you’re sitting in a Nebraskan prison at least you’re about as safe from El Shabaab as you can get.
But Fiona never got to host Apple Cart, which is a shame because even a three-year-old’s life trajectory might be influenced by an act of generosity toward someone who is decidedly on the margins — the “Other” seeking room at the inn.
Sister of Notre Dame Melannie Svoboda writes for Faith Alive, a daily devotional. Before Christmas, she recounted a story of another small child which illustrates much about our faith journeys.
Seems a very bad thunderstorm sent a little guy in tears to his parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night. His mom told him not to be afraid because God was with him.
“But I need someone with skin on!” replied the terrified toddler.
Don’t we all? Sister Svoboda’s point was that Christ was the one with “skin on” sent by God. But as much as I try to have a personal relationship with Jesus, I, like the terrified kid, need someone who actually has skin on right now.
That’s where the community of the faithful comes in. Think of how much we need each other, the example we set for each other when we open our homes to a stranger, the joy we feel in the laughter and encouragement of another. Think of how much we sometimes just need a hug. That’s skin on.
Maybe it would be a good time to reflect on the people who have been Christ to us. Maybe it would be a good time to be Christ to someone.
The world is full of people waiting to see Christ, as Fiona waited for Apple Cart. Christianity is not a theoretical practice. Christianity is body and blood. It has skin on.
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said it well: “for Christ plays in ten thousand places,/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”
May we each be blessed with community during 2017. May we see Christ in the features of each other’s faces.