What do you miss most about Armenia?”
The abrupt and definitive response caught our small group off guard. A single word encapsulated scores of emotions—heartbreak, longing, despair, grief—and silenced the otherwise lively apartment.
Though the Tonoyan family was living in an asylum-seeker camp outside of Amsterdam, their meager living conditions were no match for their boundless hospitality. Whether it was the vast Armenian dinner or the vulnerability of their candor, in the span of an afternoon they had opened their doors and hearts to a group of complete strangers.
Ashot and Qristina, repressing tears, shared their fear of the uncertain future. Five years earlier, they and their three children Ani, Zhanna, and Narek were forced to flee their home outside of Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and seek asylum in the Netherlands. The government had still not made a decision on their case, and their lives remained in limbo as they waited to find out if they’d be forced to return to the danger that still exists in their homeland.
Long after we said our goodbyes, I would continue to ruminate on the Tonoyans and their circumstances.
A year and a half later, while preparing for a conference back in the Netherlands, I was lamenting the fact that I had no way to contact this amazing family. I didn’t even know if they were still in the country. But during my predictable pack-the-day-before-I-leave rush, I received an email from Ani, their eldest child:
How are you? Do you remember who I am? I am Ani, from Holland. One year ago, you have been visiting us. I lived with my family in a refugee camp in the Netherlands. Today I found a note. On that note was your email address. And I thought, I’ll send you a message, to ask, how you doing?
As soon as I landed and dropped off my baggage at the hotel, I was on my way to visit them. While the location was different, it was as if there had been no interruption in the relationship.
Even after this experience, I continue to struggle with the mystery of blessings and divine providence. The cynic inside continues to poke holes in my beliefs, despite undeniable moments of grace. But that email provided a crucial reminder: Sometimes the real miracle is God allowing us to be a blessing to others. So instead of asking God why He isn’t working in difficult situations, I’m trying to point the question at myself. How can I be at work in the lives of others? I’ve come to think of those opportunities as small gifts. And so, I’m learning to keep eyes open—and the gifts just keep coming.
Illustration by Grafilu