The Syrian families living in Indianapolis have only one request of Gov. Mike Pence.
Meet with us and learn our stories.
That was the message the refugee families expressed to their Hoosier neighbors gathered at Epworth United Methodist Church Friday evening. The gathering was created in partnership with the Syrian American Council of Indiana.
“Tonight is an opportunity to welcome them with traditional Hoosier hospitality,” said Dr. Bill Hoopes, senior pastor at Epworth UMC.
One of the families present has been in Indianapolis for over a year now. They spoke of the overwhelming welcome they received once finally here and the support they continue to receive to this day.
“Ironically when I talk to my extended family in Syria and I tell them about the welcome and love in my second home here, they are surprised of the amount of love and caring from people I have never known before. But I tell them it’s true, the hospitality is overwhelming.”
Another family, who arrived just a few months ago, expressed similar sentiments as well as gratitude for the safety, security and sanctuary being in America provides.
“Since we arrived here I have felt the warmth and the love. I feel for the first time that my own children will have future. They go to school and our life is slowly going back to normality. And I thank God for the blessing and the opportunity for a second chance in life.”
The father of the family that just arrived 5 days ago told the crowd he was just now beginning to feel settled — like he had finally found a place where he can rest and rebuild a life.
“It has been wonderful. It’s only been five days, but I can feel that I can restart right now. I would like to thank the American people and their generosity. I would like to thank Indiana for their love and their hospitality and caring.”
Nora Basha, member of the Syrian American Council – Indiana chapter, reminded attendees that refugees fled their country and their homes in fear for their families and to get away from the terror inflicted by ISIS.
“In many ways, refugees fear ISIS the most,” said Basha in a press conference held just prior to the vigil and fellowship meeting.
A Hoosier family that knows better than anyone the pain ISIS can inflict spoke in support of the refugees here in Indianapolis. Ed and Paula Kassig lost their only son to terrorism. ISIS murdered Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig last year. Their message Friday evening wasn’t about their son, but rather humanity as a whole — how we, as a people, have all of the same wants and needs, hopes and dreams for our families. They encouraged everyone to reach out to those in need, sponsor a family and help build a brighter future for someone else.
Epworth is the Kassigs’ home church. Following Peter’s death, the congregation has worked to develop relationships with the Al Huda Mosque in Fishers and the Syrian American Council, continuing the spirit of love and compassion he had for the Syrian people.
That spirit of compassion and friendship was evident in the room. In a nearby pew, two young girls drew pictures and wrote letters, enjoying the time together. Raghad, a young Syrian girl whose family arrived in Indiana last year, smiled brightly as she played and talked with her friend Maddie and Maddie’s family. The girls had greeted each other with squeals of delight before the program began and were inseparable throughout the evening. They knew each other from school and had become friends despite different cultures and languages. After the program Raghad led Maddie and her family to introduce them to her own parents.
Together, Muslims, Christians and others in attendance lit candles to spread the light of hope, peace and love. The crowd prayed together — in English and Arabic — for God of hope and mercy to hear the cries of the people of Syria, bring healing to those suffering from the violence and comfort to those mourning the dead. The prayer also asked for the world’s nations to have compassion and take in refugees and for God to strengthen the resolve of those committed to peace.
Then in spirit of true Hoosier hospitality, people talked and enjoyed each other’s company over food prepared by the Syrian refugee families.
The Syrian American Council had asked for Gov. Pence to meet with the Syrian families in Indiana and listen to their stories in an effort to encourage him to reconsider his position on Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana. An invitation to Friday’s gathering was extended to the governor, but his office stated he had a previous engagement. Attorney General Greg Zoeller made an appearance but left long before events got started.
Despite a cool reception from the statehouse, the Syrian families felt the warm welcome from their neighbors. And according to Pastor Hoopes, events like this one will continue in the coming months to further encourage peace and understanding in our community.