On a recent Saturday morning, Nancy and I went hunting corkscrew willows or tall grasses to put in the enormous pot on our front porch. We tried the countryside and the marshes with no success.  We had a sandwich at Le Croissant and decided to run by the grocery store to exchange cans of too-spicy Rotel with their more moderate cousins. We went to the customer service counter. There was a small, quiet Muslim woman in line ahead of us. With her was a daughter trying to get a clunky yo-yo to cooperate. We waited patiently for the woman to finish her business. But we observed that there was a problem with a check she was trying to cash. We overheard the customer service person tell her to try Walmart. The Muslim woman turned away looking completely defeated. Nancy went to her to ask if we could help. While I took care of the Rotel business, Nancy offered our new friend a ride to Walmart.

We loaded the mother and her two young girls into the back seat and headed to Walmart.

Along the way, the mother asked in halting English whether we could take the girls home before going to Walmart. “Sure.” We asked for their address. They seemed uncertain about it. It turned out they had only moved to a new apartment two days earlier and did not remember their address. They only knew which bus to take to get home. (They had only been in the US for two months. They were driven from Syria and lived in Turkey for six years before being pushed out.)

Mom was bewildered. We prayed silently. Mom rummaged through her purse and finally pulled out a paper on which she had written their address. So, we found their place and dropped off the girls.

Then we went to Walmart where two of their staff were unable to cash the check—some problem with reading the number. So, we went looking for a credit union that might be open. All closed. We ultimately found a check-cashing service. After filling out many forms, taking pictures, and lengthy discussion, they took their fee and gave her $350.

The mother, whose name we learned was Nagham, said she worked at IT. We were amazed. Her English is sparse, and she didn’t seem like a techie. We finally put the pieces together. Her check was from The Church of Jesus Christ. She doesn’t work in IT but at DI—Deseret Industries.

We took her back to a nearby Walmart where we bought her some things she needed: a shower curtain, Foreman grill, blender, etc. We took her home where Nancy talked with Nagham while I played games with the girls. Nancy learned that her husband was killed in the Syrian war when her daughters were one and two years old. She cries every night feeling completely lost in her new country. In Syria, her husband was the breadwinner, and she was a devoted homemaker; she is completely lost trying to provide for her family in a foreign land. Many things don’t work in her basement apartment. She is trying to figure out the bus system.

The rest of the day included additional trips to Walmart for a bike tire tube, miscellaneous repairs, attempting to find a longer shower curtain, buying some groceries, and finally sitting on the floor of their apartment after Nagham finished her Ramadan fast to join them for delicious roasted chicken and potatoes with Syrian spice. We sat around a plastic tablecloth and tried to eat the Syrian way using fried bread to pick up the food.

We had spent from 1:00 pm until 9:00 pm helping them, were quite exhausted and fully overwhelmed with their challenges, and we had never felt happier.

We thought of the story of Joseph Millet.

Joseph Millett, with his large family, was suffering through very, very difficult times. He wrote in his journal: “One of my children came in and said that Brother Newton Hall’s folks was out of bread, had none that day. I divided our flour in a sack to send up to Brother Hall. Just then Brother Hall came. Says I, ‘Brother Hall, are you out of flour?’ ‘Brother Millett, we have none.’ ‘Well, Brother Hall, there is some in that sack. I have divided and was going to send it to you. Your children told mine that you was out.’ Brother Hall began to cry. He said he had tried others, but could not get any. He went to the cedars and prayed to the Lord, and the Lord told him to go to Joseph Millett. ‘Well Brother Hall, you needn’t bring this back. If the Lord sent you for it you don’t owe me for it.’” That night Joseph Millett recorded a remarkable sentence in his journal: “You can’t tell me how good it made me feel to know that the Lord knew there was such a person as Joseph Millett” (Diary of Joseph Millett, holograph, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City; story told by Boyd K. Packer).

Well, we just can’t say how good it feels to know that God put us in line behind a desperate little refugee woman trusting that we would help some of His children from a distant land.

Recently I listened to a podcast with Grant Hardy who reflected that, now that his children are grown, he and his wife don’t actually need their 1300 square foot house or their two 20-year-old cars. He observed that we tend to be focused on getting more of the good life—vacations, restaurant meals, clothes, cars, entertainment while some of our neighbors go hungry and shiver in the cold.

Hardy’s observations felt deeply unsettling  when we made a return trip to our Syrian friends’ basement apartment to find the temperature just above 60 degrees and the two girls huddled in front of tiny space heaters. It felt troubling as the sweet mom who lost her husband to a sniper in the Syrian war and had to flee her native country, now must work at a job knowing that she won’t earn enough to pay her rent, water bill, electric bill, heating bill, and she can never afford a car. With her few skills and scant English, she cannot get a better paying job.  And she wants to be at home when her girls are not in school.

We Latter-day Saints rightly stress self-reliance. It is a principle meant to hold ourselves accountable when we have the ability to provide for ourselves and our family.

However, when it comes to our attitude towards those who are struggling and without resources, God teaches another important principle. We are to care for those in need.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

So, tonight I can’t sleep. Can I ignore the widow’s tears and the children’s suffering? Can Nancy and I settle into our comfortable lives while our new friends suffer such difficulties?

We are grateful to the agencies that do so much for the poor and the refugees. Yet, when God drops a desperate family in our laps, can we ignore their plight by glibly waving the banner of self-reliance or leaving it to someone else to hopefully help? As I try to get to sleep, I wonder if some of us who have 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, and 6,000 square foot homes might cover Nagham’s utilities as she learns English, develops her skills, and raises her girls. Maybe we could even help her buy a used car.

Last year our local refugee agency asked us to help another displaced family from Syria. We love them dearly! Last December the father was knocked out of work by Covid. We put out a plea for help for that sweet family. We were amazed when $12,000 was donated in two days. We used some of that money to help the father cover his lost wages; now we are using the remainder to get the parents English lessons, and help the mother start a food business.

We are honored that God has called us to love and serve a second Syrian family. If you want to join us in helping that Syrian mother and her two girls, we welcome your donations. Every penny you donate will be used to help them.

If you feel called to bless God’s children in some different way, we hope you will embrace that sacred call. And we hope that all of us will watch for God’s overwhelmed children whether at the grocery store’s service counter or just up the street.

The blessings of helping God’s children are glorious!

If you would like to help Nagham and her daughters, Venmo me @HWallace-Goddard

To hear the Grant Hardy interview, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx4loe7vzSs

Thanks to Barbara Keil for her substantive refinements of this article.