It's Monday night. United Flight 1242 departs Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport 25 minutes late for its nightly hop to Dallas/Fort Worth. On board are several individuals making their first commute between the two Texas cities—and one man who never thought he would.
Four years ago, his wife had made a similar voyage. Having fled their village in war-torn Sudan, Dyan was separated from Alik and their children in the refugee camps of northern Africa. Any written evidence of their marriage had been destroyed in the chaos of the conflict. Alik was processed as a single mother, and Dyan was sent to the bottom of the resettlement list as a single man. So it was, Alik arrived in Fort Worth pregnant with their third child and not knowing when or if she would ever see Dyan again.
Meanwhile, two moms from The Village Church in Fort Worth were looking for a way for their families to put feet to their Christian faith. They signed up to volunteer with Catholic Charities, one of the larger refugee resettlement agencies in Texas. The coordinator said, “I’ve got just the family for you.” And with that, Molly and Mary Claire were matched with Alik and her family. After a brief season of trying to get to know one another, Molly and Mary Claire wound up in the delivery room as Alik gave birth to her son. The bond that was created in that moment changed everything. Molly and Mary Claire recruited their church home group to come on board in loving and caring for Alik and her three children, but they realized what Alik and the kids really needed was their husband and daddy.
Though Alik could occasionally talk to him by phone, Dyan was stuck in the refugee camp in Egypt. As far as all the agencies were concerned he was a single man from Sudan, and that demographic doesn’t get picked for resettlement in the United States. Alik’s case worker told her she could submit the paperwork, but there just wasn’t much hope for a reunion.
As the Airbus 319 wings over Bryan-College Station, Mary Claire and Molly meet Kerby at Alik’s apartment. She and the kids are dressed in their Sunday best. There’s a joyous tension in the air. They all clamber into the Catholic Charities’ van and head toward the airport. As the relationship between the three moms deepened, Molly and Mary Claire began getting to know Alik’s neighbors and friends—other refugees from countries around the world. Alik’s apartment complex felt like its own little United Nations. The women decided to expand their love and reach out to all the residents. First there was the attempted community garden. It sounded like such a great idea, but it just didn’t work. Then came the cook outs in the courtyard. That worked! They began to get their whole church involved in a Christmas gift drive, mini-day camps during the summer and Spring Break, a winter coat drive and full-on American Thanksgiving dinner delivery. The North Hill was born.
Still Alik longed to be reunited with Dyan. Molly and Mary Claire did everything they could think of to help. They met with social workers. They called Congressmen and Congresswomen, spoke with immigration attorneys. They submitted paperwork followed by paperwork. Kerby, a friend from church employed at the agency, helped them navigate the filings. Working in the system, Kerby was able to keep tabs on the process. Her assistance was invaluable. And yet all along the way, they were told, “It’ll be a miracle if this happens.”
Kerby guides the van into the parking garage at Terminal C. The nervous energy is palpable. Alik, her 8-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter, and the 3 -year-old son who has never seen his father face to face walk across the crosswalk, past the ticket counters and into the airport baggage claim. Flightstats.com shows the plane 84 miles and 35 minutes away.
The wait is forever, and yet it goes by quickly. The plane is on the ground. Faces are pressed against the window to the secure area where the passengers are. Where is he? People begin streaming by. Did he make the connection in Houston? Is he on this plane; in this airport? Or will hope be dashed once again? Tears. It’s him! Tap the window, wave; he sees them; he sees her. He stops, but only for a second. He’s got to get through that frosted glass door.
The boys dash past the security attendant and tackle their dad as he comes through the door. The eight-year-old bear hugs the man he hasn’t seen since he was four. The three-year-old reaches up for the father he’s never met as Dyan grabs him, picks him up and pulls him into a father’s embrace. Staggering Dyan makes his way the next twenty feet to where Alik is standing, supported by Mary Claire and Molly, tears streaming down her face. It’s real. He’s here.
Weeping they reach for each other and feel the touch they’ve both missed for four years. Then he lets go. He falls to his knees. He bows his head and then lifts his hands and looks up. His lips giving thanks to God for the grace of this moment he was afraid to hope for.
Dyan is home.