Unlikely friendship leads refugee family to Christ
BANGKOK, Thailand (BP) -- Abid Hussain walked into my life more than two years ago. He was dejected, fearful and unhealthy. In broken English he described leaving his home country with his family and coming to Bangkok. Their problems began when his wife converted from Islam to his own Hindu religion. The penalty -- not just for her but for the entire family -- was death by beheading.
"I've gone to many places, but no one will help us," Abid told me. "I used to be rich and owned a factory; now we have nothing. I have nothing to give my children to eat."
I'd heard that story before and had grown hard. I begrudgingly gave him some money and sent him on his way. I hoped not to face this again. After all, couldn't he get help from the Hindu community? Why would he come to a Christian for money?
The next month, he came again -- and every month after that.
Sometimes he brought one of his four children with him. He said he couldn't bring the entire family. They were not accepted as refugees by the United Nations yet, so there was always the threat of being picked up by police and taken to jail. Thailand is one of several countries in the world that does not recognize or protect refugees, so they were always on the lookout for the police.
After a few more visits by Abid, I decided it was time to check out his story. A co-worker and I went to visit his family with an armful of food.
Abid was definitely telling the truth.
We climbed a staircase as steep as a stepladder for four floors just to get to him. They lived in an attic storage room on the roof. This family of six slept on a cement floor with one little pad as their mattress. They had a pot or two, a small gas tank and a few toothbrushes. One wall of the room was simply a chain-link fence -- allowing the rain, pollution and mosquitoes in year round.
They were excited to see us and Abid's wife, Shabnam, offered a prime spot on the floor. She had signs of isolation, fear and pain written all over her face as she showed us photographs from their former country. Her old kitchen was stocked with equipment Martha Stewart would have envied. Their formal gardens reminded me of Williamsburg.
"We left everything to come to ... to this?" she blurted out. "What will happen to my children? They have not been to school in three years. They don't have a book to read and can't even go out to play for fear of being picked up. We have no country, no clothes and no future. It is better for us to die."
I realized that the food we brought was so insignificant. Their problems were so great -- far greater than we could solve. All we could do was pray.
Abid continued to come at the end of each month for a little money. We'd occasionally take food to them, but nothing seemed to change in their lives until a friend of mine from their home country visited me.
His own family fled the country five years ago because they were Christians and had been accused of "converting Muslims." My friend is an enthusiastic Christian, happy to share Christ with anyone. I was thrilled to have someone who could actually talk with Abid in his own language. There was a problem, though: It was the middle of the month and not when Abid normally came. I had no way to contact him except to pray the Lord would send him to me.
Not even three hours later, Abid walked into the office. My friend and Abid talked for over an hour about the good news of hope that Abid and his family so desperately needed to hear.
"The reason Christians have been helping you is because they have been helped by Jesus as well," my friend told Abid. "They love you, but God loves you so much more."
Abid was so grateful to hear these words in his language and said he wanted to follow Christ. Of course, my cynicism took over and though my face smiled in gratitude, I wondered if the truth had really touched his soul.
A month or so later, our church went out to deliver food to refugees. When we stopped at Abid's, we were greeted not by the normal fearful sufferers but by a family smiling and laughing.
They had moved into a much nicer room. It was still cement block and just one room, but it was bigger and had all four walls. This was exciting, but something else seemed different.
"We are all Christians now," Abid's wife explained. "I have read the Bible through two times in the past three months. I LOVE this book."
The next day my friend returned to town. We went directly to Abid's. For four hours, the entire family, from the 5-year-old daughter to the 40-year-old father, told us of the changes Jesus made in their lives. We even had church.
For the first time I saw the family as they truly are -- not a family of beggars seeking a handout or some extra clothes or blankets but as my equals, new brothers and sisters serving the same Lord as I.
The mother who had left everything behind shared, "In my old country, my family lived in a beautiful mansion. We had everything we could ever need. But it is worth giving up everything to give my children a religion of love and hope."
EDITOR'S NOTE -- The Hussains received refugee status by the UN and are now living in their new host country, the United States -- in Mobile, Ala. Before leaving Bangkok they decided to be baptized as a family. They wanted to start their new lives with the boldest statement they could think of -- declaring to the world that they are followers of Christ.