Every once in a while, International Village--my church and the place I volunteer--hosts small group immersion retreats where we give visiting congregations a first-hand look at refugee life in the Twin Cities. This weekend we had a group from Superior, near Duluth, and it was quite a treat.
I had a heck of a time getting there, though. First, I putzed around the house for too long and got outside just in time to see the bus pull away from my stop. Oh phooey. I tried plan B--walk to the nearby Bethel Off-Campus Housing, catch the shuttle, make a loop to Rosedale and catch my bus by a different route, only to learn that the last shuttle to Rosedale before Christmas break had just left. Phooey again. Luckily, the van drivers took pity on me and got me to Rosedale anyway, so all was well in the world.
I actually recognized most of the people in this visiting church group. They were former classmates of mine from Northwestern, so we spent some time eating dinner and catching up. We watched a short video about the Bhutanese refugees (more on them in a later post), and then set off to a couple of apartment complexes up the road to meet them personally.
Bob Flonkerton (not his actual name), the director of International Village, along with his wife Felicity, have spent three years developing a close network of friendships with the Bhutanese and a few Karen (Burmese) families, meeting with them in their homes and helping them with mail, ESL, occasional small crises, and sometimes just talking and drinking tea. It must be difficult to regain a sense of trust after being driven from one's homeland, and the fact that Bob and Felicity have earned such close relationships with these families is a testament to how committed they are to the Bhutanese and their success here in America.
We split into group and went door-to-door dropping off Christmas cookies to the various Bhutanese and Karen families we knew. We did this for an hour, and while the people from Superior went back to their hotel for the bed, we finished the night at a Christmas party in the home of one of our Bhutanese friends who has acted as a cultural liaison at the drop-in center. Jeremy and Nancy, two other helpers at IV, were already there with their kids, and the kitchen was busy and full of people making fried pork and momo: boiled dumplings stuffed with fermented cabbage. The food was wonderful, as it always, and dinner was finished with some steaming cups of chia.
It was nice to unwind at the end of a hectic day. I don't know the community as well as Bob and Felicity, so most of the time I just sit and listen, and I learn a lot this way, and the stories are so interesting. I've never met a Bhutanese family I didn't like. I just wish that I lived closer to the neighborhood so I could get to know them better.