Ann McGlynn

If we would have said no, we wouldn’t have:

Experienced a 19-year-old find her niche, use her skills and contribute to our community by taking care of community gardens.

Witnessed a 17-year-old sit down next to a newcomer to church and quietly welcome her in Swahili.

Cheered when a 12-year-old landed the backflip she worked so hard on.

Been in the bleachers for a 10-year-old’s super fun baseball games.

Celebrated when an 8-year-old graduated from her English Language Learner coursework.

Danced with a 5-year-old at her preschool Valentine’s dance.

Felt pride when a single mom with six kids learned how to go to the bank on her own.

But we said yes. Thank goodness we said yes to them. And thank goodness they said yes to us.

The "we" in this case are some people from St. Paul Lutheran Church in Davenport and beyond that I still can’t believe I have the good fortune to know — a team of people who love a family in our community unconditionally and whole-heartedly.

The "them" in this case are a really incredible refugee family who fled horrific violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After many years in a Ugandan refugee camp, they were resettled here in the Quad Cities, three years ago September, through World Relief Moline. They each brought one backpack.

Their arrival on Tuesday evening, Sept. 20, 2016, is a distinct marker in my life: There’s before seven strangers walked off a plane and into our lives at the Quad City International Airport — and after.

The first photo we took that night marks that moment in my Google Photos. The number of photos we’ve taken since? I wouldn’t even dare count.

We’ve celebrated birthdays and Christmases and Halloweens and new jobs and school accomplishments and new friends and summer fun and roller skating and bike riding and a million other things that would fill this space 1,000 times over.

We’ve been through medical challenges and deaths and misunderstandings and disappointing behaviors and middle-of-the-night emergencies and systems that are hard as hell to navigate.

And by we — I really mean all of us, together. There’s no more us and them. There’s just us.

As you could probably guess, the conditions at our southern border grieve me to my core. I am a mom to two beautiful teenage sons. The thought of them huddled in a detention center, traumatized and afraid, sleeping on cement floors, hungry and sick, without me, is beyond anything I can comprehend.

The thought of six refugee kids I know — and the other refugees I also now have the joy to know — in the same conditions? It makes me sick to even briefly think about it.

The fact that my government runs this torture makes it even worse. The effects of the trauma these kids, and adults, are experiencing while in our custody will last for generations.

Make no mistake — the people who are coming to our southern border and seeking asylum are refugees. Safety is a fundamental human right, and they are fleeing violence, death, abject poverty and persecution.

What I can offer to end this human rights crisis is flawed and limited. I can give money to the organizations fighting for children and adults held on the border. I can voice my opinion to my senators (Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, are you really listening?). I can protest and share what I believe with others.

However, something else I can do is less flawed and limited: Ensure as many refugees as possible who are resettled here in the Quad Cities feel safe, cared for and connected. Refugees can all use a friend, or many friends, who are willing to navigate this new place together.

Simply put — in the Quad Cities, we can ensure there’s no more us and them. There’s just us — and we’re all better when we’re all thriving.

Last week, my 16-year-old son had a baseball game at Brady Street Stadium in Davenport. The 17-year-old I mentioned at the top of this piece asked if she could go to see him play. We sat and ate popcorn and popsicles and watched a double-header that didn’t go so well.

She asked if she could get a picture with my son afterwards. I wasn’t sure he would want to, given the status of the games. But as soon as he saw her, and she asked for a picture, his face lit up.

It’s the most recent photo in my camera roll, 1,014 days after that first photo of her family at the Quad City International Airport.

Thank goodness we all said yes.

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Ann McGlynn is director of communication at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, and founder of Tapestry Farms, which supports refugees. Voices of the Quad-Cities, which features the work of local writers, appears on Tuesdays.