“Comment faire?” he asked, meaning, “how do I do this?”
Abdoul is an e x t r e m e l y c a p a b l e , talented, figure-it-out type of person, so when he did not know how to cut the chocolate birthday cake that our generous hostess, Armelle, set in front of him, I wondered if he was just needing attention. I admit I am a bit jaded, but I can confess and repent just as quickly as I form those thoughts. Which I did. I repented as soon as Abdoul told us that this was the very first time anyone has ever celebrated his birthday, and his very first birthday cake; he’s 21 years old.
In fact, coming from such diverse backgrounds with so little in common, each of the other young men around the table could relate to never having had a birthday celebration. They come from remote villages, from hand-to-mouth survival sometimes, where mothers milk cows by hand, where brothers tend sheep that graze beside the front door, where chocolate cakes and parties do not exist.
As we sat around Armelle and Louis’ large dining table, one other commonality started to surface in the conversation: The American Church in Paris. The name kept coming up in answer to Armelle and Louis’ questions, and it started to emerge that APC has clearly been so instrumental in this unlikely group of friends. So we explained 100 Nights of Warmth, where Peter said “yes to volunteering,” and once in a while he would spend the night on an inflatable mattress, getting to know some of the young men finding warmth, shower facilities, and a safe bed in the church gym. We explained about the various events and programs at APC that allow them not only to join, but also to teach and contribute.
“Comment faire?” has become a question that Louis and Armelle ask each time we see each other. How can we help even more? How can we spread the word? Comment faire pour leur trouver un emploi ? Comment faire pour aider davantage les réfugiés à Paris ? And it doesn’t take long before we are strategizing our forward steps. One step, and in our hearts we’ve all agreed, is to find a locale that will become a space of welcome. We envision a laundry room, showers, and a barber’s chair... all small elements to restore basic human dignity for our new friends. We envision events and fundraisers in this space.
So while we search for our space, we continue to build a community of friends who, if it had not been for extreme adversity, would probably never have met in this world. We build a welcoming culture among us, pleasantly quirky and sometimes affectionately weird. We have meals and celebrate milestones. We listen and pray silently as we listen. We dance. And we hug. Yes, we hug. In fact it is Abdoul who makes certain of it. As we were all saying goodbye on the street, Gerald reached to shake Abdoul’s hand, and Abdoul said, “pas comme ça.” Gerald asked, “Comment faire?” and Abdoul opened his arms and said with warmth “On s’embrace!” and he pulled Gerald into a brotherly embrace before going their separate ways.
This June 29 Peter is organizing a soccer tournament with refugees and locals. We still don't know how many will be there. Pray that the weather is kind and that much love is given. In July Peter with a team from Quebec, amongst other things, will cook a large meal for about 80 minors who are asylum seekers. We'll also have a party with a purpose to share among friends. If you'd like to give and help us financially with events like this, please email us. Merci!!!!