Once upon a time
my Grandma Longenecker and Aunt Ruthie
welcomed strangers into their home.
They hosted Phuong Le from Viet Nam, their first refugee “daughter.”
After Grandma died my aunt carried on the tradition
opening her door to refugees fleeing oppression.
Vietnamese, African, Serbian families
found food and shelter in her home.
A True Story
Once a Serbian widow with a young son came to her door, destitute. They had absolutely nothing. The child’s only toy was a stick – Imagine! Only a stick to play with.
The widow was Muslim. She slept in my Grandma’s bedroom and kept an east window open day and night for her prayers.
I never met the woman whose last name was Zisalihovic. My sister Jean met her though and has recounted this story to me.
What I Know for Sure
My aunt probably did not press her ear to the bedroom door to hear the widow’s prayers. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have stomped in bellowing, “Stop, this is a Christian household. You cannot pray to Allah.”
But I am certain she would have invited her and her son to Bossler Mennonite Church where they would be welcomed, even if the mother wore a burka instead of a prayer veiling. They would have heard about the true meaning of Christmas, a message of love and grace.
Lutheran Social Services, who facilitated the effort to shelter refugees, gave my aunt a porcelain plate to honor her efforts. This gesture reminds us during this season that regardless of race or religion, everyone needs a home.
Think About It
The Holy Family were, in fact, refugees fleeing to Egypt to escape King Herod’s murder of baby boys.
Inscription: Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus fled oppression, even as millions of people have done throughout history. The Holy Family was able to go home again, but other refugees have had to start life over in new lands. Giving them a helping hand affirms the inestimable value of human lives.
Good morning, Marian! Your post is a good reminder that being loving and kind can be attributed to some religious beliefs, but that it also goes beyond them. There are many people who call themselves Christians and wrap themselves in a blanket of piety, but who do not seem to comprehend the words and lessons of Jesus. This inflexibility is true of people of other faiths, too, and zealots, religious or political, are the same, no matter what they believe. Your grandmother and aunt were good people who understood that love embraces all, and that we need to help others, even if they have different beliefs and cultures.
I’ve seen many FB memes about the Holy Family being refugees, but probably the people who need that reminder do not see them.
I have friends who sheltered a refugee years ago–from El Salvador (I think)?
Hypocrites are everywhere and because they are loud you can hear them from miles away. But I believe good has power over evil the same way love outshines hate. I’m so glad I had sincere examples of love and inclusion in these family models.
Thanks once again for starting our conversation here, Merril. I’d like to know more about your friends’ refugee.
A good reminder thanks Marian that the Holy family were indeed refugees. I do know this, but I’m pleased to re-cognise the timeless/eternal story, the dynamics of which continue in our contemporary lives even though the time and place change…
No I have not had personal experience of caring for refugees. I see on the news for example Medicine without Borders, and there are so many new and old stories of those have helped refugees in one way or the other .. this is what love looks like … extending a hand when and where we can. Thank you for this lovely post.
You are welcome, Susan. Thank you for mentioning organization devoted to humanitarian efforts like Medicine without Borders. The Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse are two other examples of many reputable gencies that do the “un-glorious” work of helping in disasters and with those you are chronically poor. Always good to hear from South Africa, where you must be enjoying warm weather these days.
Wonderful story and reminder at Christmas.
Thanks, Arlene. The plate signifies Christmas but the message applies to all people in every season.
How wonderful and kind hearted of your grandma and aunt to help refugees in their time of need! If only the world stopped being so selfish and more people helped one another we would be so much happier as a planet! A world without wars and the need to flee your own country would be even better! You have reason to be proud of your family and roots. 👍
Yes, I am thankful and proud of these noble examples, Fatima. I definitely long for your wish for a “world without wars and the need to flee your own country would be even better.” It appears you didn’t have trouble posting this week; I guess the goofy gremlins online have disappeared. Yay!
Yes, that’s what I thought: it must have been a glitch. Glad it’s sorted!
My parents hosted all manner of international students for Christmas holidays, and even two Koreans who spent a semester or year with us (different years) learning about U.S. farming and the poultry industry. These experiences were definitely culture-widening times for our family; we enjoyed most of it. Sometimes we were frustrated with communicating across cultural and language.
I’m very impressed that your grandma and aunt took in actual refugees; this plate is a beautiful though disturbing reminder of how many today are displaced and not enjoying the gift of a home and family, especially at this season of the year. Thanks for posting this and the lovely plate.
Rubbing shoulders with other cultures is the best way to dispel prejudice and hate as your parents’ example illustrates. When our children were in their early teens, we hooked into Mennonite Your Way so they would have exposure to other cultures. I wish we could have done more.
Thanks once again for adding your parents’ model of love in action to the conversation here, Melodie.
Beautiful story, Marian. I wouldn’t expect anything other than the generosity and love demonstrated by your aunt and grandmother.
You have read my blog for quite a while now, so you know their tendencies to care and share. They had a good Samaritan’s view of the world and practiced it all their lives. I appreciate my heritage and your acknowledging it here. Thanks, Jill.
A wonderful post about the generosity of your family members and about being true Christians. As an employment counsellor, I worked with refugees assisting them to find employment. A rewarding experience. I love the Bing & Grondahl Porcelain plate and your aunt´s poem about love. Perfect. Have a blessed Christmas with your family Marian. <3
Yes, I believe I do remember about your work as an employment counsellor, but I didn’t recall that you worked with refugees – wonderful! I am glad the post resonated with you, including the plate and Aunt Ruithe’s handwritten quote. A blessed Christmas to you too, Darlene, as you spread goodwill in Spain!
I love this post, Marian, and want to share it with others. If we all did this, what a wonderful world it would be. And Merril is right. Every religious tradition at its best calls upon its members to sacrifice for the sake of Love. And secular people sometimes shame all of us. You made me deeply grateful for my own. And more committed to keep telling the stories.
For some reason, seeing your face and comment (English prof connection?) made me think of Longfellow’s lyrics for I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. I didn’t realize until I searched for it on YouTube that he wrote these stanzas after his wife’s death in a house fire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2nk77EOgapg
The 3rd stanza is especially affecting in these troubled days.
My mother was influential in a different way. She with my father helped rescue young women in inner city Chicago from a life of drugs and promiscuity. Just last month, one of them (my friend Gloria) opened a well-reviewed restaurant with Puerto Rican cuisine, Treasures of the Caribbean.
You have a large platform for telling good stories, Shirley. Thanks for sharing mine this week!
Beautiful story! I know my blogging friend Sue (from Travel Tales of Life) and her community took care of a Sirian family, that has totally integrated in Canada now. I’d like to believe that if my husband and I would have a “real” home/house/neighborhood we would do more for people and dogs.
Because I’m a curious sort, you tempted me to check out Dave and Sue’s blog. Ha! Here it is for other readers to check out: https://traveltalesoflife.com
Liesbet, you and your hubby are in a season of life with the energy and urge to travel. Because you have the intention to serve others, you’ll have the opportunity at some point when you may be more settled. Thanks again for reading and commenting here, Liesbet.
You are probably right, Marian. If we ever settle. 🙂 Here is the link to the last blog post on Sue’s blog about “their” Syrian refugees: https://traveltalesoflife.com/syrian-refugees-to-canada-one-year-later/ I think she wrote four blogs about the subject.
Thanks – I’ll check them out!
Marian — You’re absolutely right in that, “… regardless of race or religion, everyone needs a home.” And it’s every person’s responsibility to share in making it happen. What a wonderful post. Thank you.
Thanks, Laurie. We both love making connections with people of all sorts. Inclusion is the name of the game for me too!
Marian, your questions at the end of your post resonated with me. That part of the Christmas story of the holy family living as refugees has always resonated with me. if you have read my blog posts: http://ens-intransit.blogspot.com/ you will know that when I was 3 months old our family together with many other Mennonites who had made their home there for 150 years were forced to flee to Poland and Germany where we spent three years before spending another five years in Paraguay under the most primitive conditions. We came to Canada in 1952. My husband is a child refugee as well, and we have spent our lives helping others who have been forced to travel this path.
Our last effort has been to be on a sponsoring team from our church (Jubilee Mennonite) and resettling a young Rohingyan family. (See my February 2017 blog post.) They have been here two years now, and our next project is to help the wife’s parents and brother to come to Canada. They will be overjoyed to see each other again!
I applaud all that you and your husband have do to smooth the difficult path refugees must travel. Your own experience with persecution and resettlement has definitely given you insight and empathy as your blogposts reveal. I did not remember the details about about the Rohingyan family. May God bless you in your efforts to re-unite their family members. Aunt Ruthie was never able to get Phuong to reunite with her mother. Thank you for sharing all this, Elfrieda.
What a beautiful story, Marian, a powerful reminder that, in the end, love prevails. The more I hear about your family, the more I love them!
As one of my special manuscript readers, you know the details of my family life and know that we have feet of clay. But, you are right, in the end love prevails.
This season I am missing my mother and aunt, since they are the most recently deceased. The photos and artifacts that surround me in our home offer some comfort. So does writing about them. Thanks so much, Kathy!
Your grandmother and aunt are what we need more of in today’s fractured and intolerant world. All people need a place of safety and acceptance. There are far too many so-called Christians and other ‘faiths’ who will not put themselves into the situation of those in need to see them as no different from themselves.
It’s all a question of choice, isn’t it, Linda. We can choose to be selfish and greedy or caring and generous. As the world seems to become more hostile and less tolerant, I feel the urge to let my little light shine. I sense you have the same impulse, Linda. Thanks for reading and commenting here.
What a beautiful story Marian, good pause and think here. Your lineage of women were certainly smart folk. We all come from somewhere, and we are all God’s children. I have to wonder if anyone in this day and age really thinks about the Holy Family as refugees. Excellent post! Happy holidays my friend. 🙂 x
I’m glad this story resonated with you, including the idea of the Holy Family as refugees. The first reader above mentioned she has seen multiple references to this idea on Facebook. Actually, I haven’t noticed any. Maybe I’m not “friends” with those who share – ha! Happy holidays to you too, my friend.
It seems your latest book has had a good launch. I’m waiting for the arrival of my copy, which Amazon has said is on its way. 🙂
I think your family are quite amazing to welcome people less fortunate into their lives .
Lately I have watched footage on tv of the struggles of refugees from al over the world and my heart goes out to them . But instead of feeing sad , and then wondering what to do for supper, your family went a whole walk around the block and helped …REALLY helped and made a difference to the world. It’s an inspiration to us all isn’t it Marian .👏👏
It’s an inspiration to me too. When all this was going on, I lived far away from the homeplace, taking care of a husband and children . . . and wondering what to do for supper – ha! Still, I have their example and do what I can to help others.
The latest group to be displaced are the Syrians. I am certain if Ruthie were alive and well, a Syrian family would probably be staying in Grandma’s room. It had lovely mahogany furtniture with a bay window. These people would have thought they landed in luxury.
As always, you are kind to comment here. Thank you, Cherry! xo
I shared this post today with the man who runs our Street Connection ministry. They provide food and clothing to the homeless downtown 5 times a month. He’s recovering from surgery and unable to go, but he really appreciated the reminder. I did too! Blessings Marian!
Thanks for sharing with inspiration from a man who certainly has his finger on the pulse of help for the homeless. Blessings to you too, Jenn.
Oh, Marian. I weep sweet tears. I’ve thought of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus as refuges who wouldn’t be allowed in our country now. I’ve thought of how we turn away or fear people with a different color skin. Your feminine ancestors carried and acted on the most human of values. I feel their influence in you.
In Mexico, MO, in the 1950s, my mother who was born in Ohio did the unthinkable and visited “the other side of the railroad tracks” with gifts for babies and Christmas gifts for the unfortunate descendants of slaves who struggled to be treated as human in that world. She took me with her and taught me a lot. My dearest friends are of Indian and Middle Eastern descent, but they considered themselves assimilated immigrants until recently.
The world is now more hostile to them and airport checks more invasive than they used to be, but luckily New York State is outspoken about supporting immigrants. I’ve helped support the Tibetan refuge community in my area, but never taken anyone in my home, and I’ve collected money to support a women’s group in Nepal for about 20 years so they can learn better agriculture practices, how to keep business records, and the importance of sending their children to school. But sharing your home to refuges like your aunt and grandma? I’m in awe at their generosity and wide-open compassionate hearts.
Your veins too pulse with the rich blood of helpfulness. Like the Good Samaritan you notice and respond to the needy while many look the other way. I rejoiced reading the story of your mother in Missouri teaching by example how to care about others regardless of skin color or socio-economic status. And those Nepalese women – wow! American dollars can do much to enable these dear souls develop their own resources.
Last year I began donating through Samaritan’s Purse Christmas gifts with the names of our grandchildren attached. Why? They are children of affluence and we must open their eyes to the awesome needs in the world. Last year we together donated a goat and this year seedlings and fruit trees, gifts (like your own with Nepalese women) that keep on giving.
Thank you for your stories, Elaine. And thank you for your blog post this week, a reminder that it’s okay to slow down. Right now I feel a nap coming on . . . ah!
What a lovely, loving message! In this day and age, we all need to open up our hearts and homes.
My sense of justice has certainly been challenged this year with stories of hate crimes and discord in the world. I’m glad I always find peace, joy, and beauty on your blog, Fiona.
Marian I love this story and the goodness and kindness so generously out poured by your Grandmother and Aunt regardless of religious affiliation. What wonderful role models in a world so needing of embracing of humanity.
You definitely picked up on my intent, Sue. What I found in Grandma’s attic and in conversations with my sisters about my aunt certainly salved my soul in a world filled with so much violence this year. Yes, they are wonderful role models and I don’t take them for granted.Thank you for recognizing this.
Again, so happy to meet you and your husband this week.
Hoping we chat more and more. Wishing you the very best through the holidays.
Marian, It is so wonderful to see the pictures of Aunt Fannie and Ruthie, and to hear how they always helped others, it brings back so many happy memories of the homestead, and of course, Fritz was on there. We sure will miss them especially at this time of the season. I will never forget all the wonderful times we all shared together there. I just always loved all those fern baskets she had threw out the house, it always felt like home there. Love and Happy Holidays to you and your family, will keep in touch. Love, MaryAnn Rowland
Yes, I am having a hard time this season. Ruthie was with us last Christmas but gone now – the homestead has changed hands and the furniture sold, except for what family members now have.
I appreciate having a “Martin” connection here. You can picture the inside of the house, the furniture, and the fern and flower baskets hanging from the bay windows especially and know much of the family history including the sharing nature of both my aunt and grandma. Thank you so much, Mary Ann!
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY HEALTHY NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOURS, We have a lot of happy memories to keep us going, but know what you mean. This is actually the first Christmas that I have felt like celebrating since Mom died in 1999 and Dad in 2005, and Bob in 2009. I guess it is the boys this year, it is so hard especially at the Holidays as we always spent them all together. I just couldn’t get into the mood before. But I know they wouldn’t want us to be sad, just the opposite. LOVE to you and yours, MarAnn
In your sadness and grief, I’m glad you have come to a place where you can find some peace. It’s hard, especially during the holiday time. But your parents and Bob would want you to celebrate now and cherish memories you shared with them. I’m so glad we connected again here – and best wishes for the best solution to your health problem, Mary Ann.
Just got the good news today, I am on the list down at John Hopkins back on the top of the list. Thank you, I am so glad we have connected again too. Just love all your articles, pray your Holidays will be the same some day, know it is so very hard but like you said they wouldn’t want us to be unhappy. Just looking at their smiles on the pictures comforted me more. Love to you and yours, MaryAnn
What a thrill to hear your placement on the list at Johns Hopkins: top notch! You’ll have a new lease on life now. I’m so happy for you. I’m glad too you enjoyed the smiles on our loved ones once again. It is comforting to know they are in heaven now and free from pain and with a clear mind.
Have a wonderful holiday season and a happy and healthier new year!
Thankful for your wonderful and moving story, Marian…….
Thanks, Jack. I’m sharing a story etched in the lifetime legacy of my Aunt Ruthie. 🙂