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.


A laced-curtained window to the left, similar to the one mirrored in the reflection, stayed open while the Serbian woman lived there.


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.

The Holy Family Fleeing to Egypt


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.


Taped caption: Received May 2, 1996 from Lutheran Social Services – Salt of the Earth Award – Alexandria, VA                   Bing & Grondahl Porcelain



Ruth M. Longenecker handwritten note: Quote from St. Augustine  “What does love look like?”



Have you thought about Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus as refugees?
Do you have personal experience with caring for refugees/immigrants? Or stories from others?