When I have a meeting with someone at Refuge for the first time, I often warn them that we may get interrupted.
There’s a tragic version of interruption, and most refugees know that too well. Many of them had interrupted educations, interrupted careers, interrupted livelihoods, family members whose very lives were interrupted by violence. Interruptions no one would in their right mind choose. Interruptions that shift the trajectory of someone’s life forever.
But what if the interruptions that happen at Refuge could, in some small way, bring healing to interrupted lives?
Henri Nouwen said, “My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered the interruptions were my work.”
What if interruptions could invite us to participate in life with others more deeply? What if they could be a part of our purpose? Our true work?
People contact us all the time about how they can join our purpose to welcome the world and create refuge. Apart from volunteering at big events like the Refuge Coffee Run or one of our Artist Markets or making a donation, our response is usually “come drink coffee with us.”
That answer frustrates some people. We understand, so we are developing more concrete ways to engage with the refugee community and with us here at Refuge, but for now, may I suggest “come drink coffee with us” may be a bigger deal than you think it is? Especially if you allow for some interruptions.
Last Saturday, we threw a baby shower for our Refuge Coffee Shop Manager, Leon Shombana, and his beautiful wife, Furaha. We served blue punch and an obscene amount of party food. We gave a few speeches. We played silly shower games. All in the middle of the Refuge Clarkston shop.
I stood near the door of our main room to explain what was going on to customers who wandered in looking for a place to sit and drink their coffee. Just because it’s how we roll here, I’d point to the food, and tell them they were welcome to dig in if they wanted to.
Three Georgia Tech students walked past the group of Syrian students meeting with their mentors at a big table in our front room and the other random customers trying to work at tables in the middle room (yay for ear buds!). They smiled real big and told me their coffee tasted great (I always ask). They started talking to shower guests, so I left them on their own.
And then, somehow, they got roped into the games. The really silly games involving blindfolds, diapers, red Kool Aid in bottles, and pacifiers. A little alarmed, I made my way back to them, and said, “No one will judge you if you want to escape right about now.”
“No way,” they said, “we’re having the time of our lives.”
I wish I’d gotten their numbers or remembered their names, because I’d love to thank them for letting us interrupt their coffee drinking excursion. I have no idea if they made a lasting friendship or learned a particular lesson, but maybe something deeper stirred in them?
No matter what the outcome, they did what I want to do every day: welcome interruptions. Sure, I need to focus (my family and our staff will tell you that!). But when people, especially people whose lives have been exploded by tragic interruptions, when those people enter my life, I want to be ready, to be free to look them in the eye and pay attention, even if it means interrupting the purpose I thought I had at the moment.
So, even if you don’t live near our Clarkston or our downtown Sweet Auburn shops, and even if you never come here to drink coffee with us, maybe you can still allow a few more interruptions in your week. Purposeful interruptions. Adventurous interruptions. Because that is one really powerful way to make people feel welcomed.