It all came back as I warmed syrup and mixed the batter to make Norwegian pancakes for my grandson, Basil. It seemed as good a time as any to tell him the story that happened almost fifty years ago. With so much bad news, why not a story with a happy ending?
The unexpected call came to my parents from their friends, the Smiths. They were desperate to find a place for two families fleeing a small country with a big problem. Vietnam. The refugees were pastors, co-workers with the Smiths.
Hanging a No Vacancy sign outside 103 Bethel Spring Dale in Greensboro, North Carolina would’ve made sense. My parents lived in a small three bedroom house with limited resources. But they also had a son who’d served in Vietnam and a long friendship with the Smith family. Still, only God knows why they said, yes!
Sometimes I have to remind myself, Faith’s not about making sense.
And so two Vietnamese families arrived with nothing much but their love for Jesus, trust in their missionary friends and hope for something better for their children in this land of opportunity. They were heavy on faith but light on English. So the missionaries stayed to translate, while the neighbors watched from a distance.
Someone captured how my parents shared their limited resources. They stitched a sampler that hung in the kitchen: “Small Houses Filled with Love Have Elastic Walls.” Jesus seemed to love hanging out with folks with more faith than sense or cents. Sometimes God tapped others to drop off bags of rice on the front steps, other times God showed up with strength for the day, and hope for tomorrow.
So what does this have to do with pancakes? We were not what you’d call culturally sensitive but love’s a universal language. Thank God! For example, Mama did what she always did for breakfast, when she wanted to welcome or impress. She made Norwegian pancakes, plus she was more into telling than asking. The morning after they’d arrived, Mama delivered her best for the newest members of our family. Norwegian pancakes for one and all. The Vietnamese smiled and nodded until she brought out the syrup and demonstrated how we do it. After some translation, an international incident was avoided through the addition of soy sauce with a side of laughter.
Well, Basil and I stuck with syrup for our pancakes but I hope both of us remember Love welcomes, listens and adapts. I know life’s complicated. We’re in the middle of the muddle of a global pandemic, economic crisis and a social movement for racial equality in this land where we espouse “liberty and justice for all.” If only we could simply switch syrup for soy sauce to demonstrate” I hear you,” “I care,” “We can do this together.”
Thinking about the Vietnamese reminded me that before I went to college, it was through missionaries, folks in the military and National Geographic magazines, I mostly learned about people and needs beyond my own. Most of my suffering came second hand, but listening, reading and observing still taught. Pictures and words enlarged my worldview. Stories revealed the value of being teachable, faithful, trustworthy, grateful and willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Some encouraged me through their testimonies to be generous, sing and pray, especially when life seemed hopeless.
For instance, one night, with Mama at the piano, the Vietnamese began singing a song we sang in our church, Hiding in Thee. They knew about hiding to escape. I only knew the words, still we sang as one.
“How oft in the conflict, when pressed by the foe,
I have fled to my Refuge and breathed out my woes;
How often, when trials like sea billows roll
Have I hidden in Thee, O thou rock of my soul.”
That was a long time ago. The two families adjusted, worked hard and found purpose and blessings for them and their children in this country. The pastors, like my parents, aged, died and left for heaven, where they’re no longer “pressed by the foe.” But I’m counting on their prayers as we “breathe out our woes” and seek refuge in Jesus when “trials like sea billows roll.” Most of us will suffer mostly second hand as we learn the stories, see the faces of racial injustice, learn statistics of Covid-19 deaths and economic disparity. Still, whether first or second hand, I hope and pray we’ll resist fear-based inclinations to protect self and stuff by posting No Vacancy signs from our houses or hearts, even if all we do is listen, offer soy sauce, and sing along until we get it.
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