Paris, 16 July 2012 – He is there, squatting on the kitchen floor and peeling potatoes, clearly feeling very much at home, as if he were back in the Afghan countryside. “Good evening! Had a good day?”Actually I’ve had a bad day and his welcoming smile makes me feel brighter; I’m glad of the ray of sunlight in my kitchen.
Later, he invites me to taste the meal he has prepared, proud to be able to offer something in return. And, he explains, he is happy not to have to queue in the cold, to struggle to keep his place in the line, just to get his dinner.
I belong to the Welcome network of JRS France, which means that I offer lodging to asylum seekers for six weeks at most. I had known JRS before, and I was aware of the problems that foreigners had finding accommodation in Paris. I could see more and more people roaming the streets and metro stations but what could I do? I wasn’t charged to resolve the world’s problems.
But then I was becoming involved in the Christian Life Community (CLC) and, suddenly, being baptised was more than just a social convention. It was time to move to action, to put into practice the ever more urgent call to be concrete about welcoming others, in my own home. The words, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”, came to my head, or “Today I will come to your home”.
I used to tell myself that, as a journalist, I was doing my utmost to give a voice to the poor, to denounce injustices. But I felt increasingly called to direct action so, after consulting my children, who encouraged me, I threw myself into this adventure.
Since then, young Afghans have come to stay, and I am discovering the reality in their country, the horrors of war and displacement, and the harsh journey of asylum seekers. I share their anguish as they wait for an answer from the authorities that will decide their future. I see their humiliation in having to stretch out their hands for food and clothes, to keep warm. Everything is a struggle.
I am also discovering the joy of receiving, of knowing that, for a while, my guest will not be hungry or cold. I am discovering the grace of smiling when they welcome me every evening. I admire their courage and hope, their faith in life. I am invited to taste the fruit of this encounter, ripe sweet fruit grown in my own home. I find much to be thankful for.