Being a Christian is a lot like being a Virginia Tech fan. I always feel like I am rooting for the right team, but over the years there have been a lot of unanswered prayers. The difference is that in life, the defeats are real, the injuries are sometimes lasting and the disappointments are far more consequential than any given game or season. In both cases, a victory is all the more sweet because you know what it is to experience loss.
Tonight I saw a victory. In life, that is. Nadeem Khokhar first introduced himself to me by saying that he had just fled from Pakistan. He was a Christian. A co-worker had decided to become a Christian after some conversations that he initiated with Nadeem. When the man converted, Muslim extremists came and told them both that they needed to convert back to Islam or suffer harm. The man fled to Canada and Nadeem to the United States leaving behind his wife and children. When I met him at our church’s front door, it was week one of his life in America. That was four years ago. Since then Nadeem’s life has been one long stream of taking his place in line after line. He has waited for asylum hearings that were scheduled and postponed. He has waited for advice from attorneys, places to stay, hearings to be held, news from his family, phone calls, Skype calls, and interviews.
I have seen him patiently and prayerfully wait for God to do something so that his wife and three children could join him rather than move from relative to relative in a home country that was no longer as safe or tolerant of Christians as it once had been.
By the grace of God, during that time, he did not wait alone. He joined the church and the people of Floris UMC took him in. He attended Bible studies. A men’s group became a band of brothers. One of them flew to a hearing in Chicago with him. People helped with transportation and expenses, invited him to their homes and helped pass the time as he waited. At one point everybody got involved. I’m not sure where we would have been if Congressman Frank Wolf and his staff had not helped guide Nadeem when the immigration process seemed almost inexplicable. The church was the church in 100 different ways.
Say what you want about the church, I know there are a lot of disappointing chapters locally and historically. Go ahead and remind me of the role of the church in the Crusades, as though my ancestors were all French knights. We are sinners in need of redemption. But let me say that when the church is the church, there is nothing like it. I have seen thoughtfulness beyond measure. Sacrifice and diligence. The church, when we all get focused on where the Spirit is leading us, is simply a beautiful thing.
Tonight about 50 of us gathered by baggage claim 11 at Dulles Airport. Fifty of us milling around, not knowing what to do with ourselves, with silly grins on our faces, anxious and excited because the waiting was over. Many of the people who had waited with Nadeem for four years were there. We waited together for that last hour when his wife, two daughters and son walked through the doors. Seeing Nadeem embrace each one, this cherished family he had not seen for four years, was one of the most touching things I have observed in a very long time. And we sang Happy Birthday. Because coincidentally, it was his birthday. It was the best birthday ever.
A friend approached me and said, Tom, this is what the church is all about. This is what it is supposed to be. I agreed. A reunited family finding new freedoms in a new land surrounded by the beloved community of the church. What a wonderful thing to share the moment when the prayers of a faithful man and his friends are all finally answered.