The Life Cycle of an Introduction

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The First Act of Welcome 

I will always believe in the power of introductions. This often-clumsy social ritual is the first and simplest act of welcome, and I know from experience that an introduction can launch a world of wonders.

That doesn’t mean introductions are easy. Somewhere in the last decade, my name bank overflowed, which means I cannot call up the names of my best friends in those brief moments in which introductions are best made. But lately, I’ve begun to see my faltering recall skills as yet another path to humility and never a reason not to make an introduction.

When Refuge Coffee was a brand new, simple enterprise, I met Caspar, Jean Baptiste, Camise, and Baba (pictured above). Actually, I “met” them quite a few times.

Whenever I saw them crossing the Refuge parking lot in their jaunty scarves and Fugee Academy uniforms, I’d accost them and say, “Hi, boys!! I’m Kitti. This is… [whoever I was with at the time]. What are your names?”

Sometimes I’d add, “Sorry! I forgot… what are your names again?” or “Remind me how to pronounce your names!” Eventually every single time we met I’d say, “Have you ever had a latte? Can I buy you one?”

They were always polite, bless them, but they also looked at me like I had two heads and backed up a little to give this crazy older lady space. I raised four sons, so I knew the looks, the “let’s get out of here” mingled with “she’s funny, let’s humor her.” I wasn’t impervious to their refusal to engage because I knew they were simply being who they were: teenage boys. But then one day, I know not why, they caved and let me buy them lattes. Caramel, as I recall.

Maybe the lattes won them over. Maybe my persistence did. But somewhere along the way, we became friends. JB (Jean Baptiste) and Caspar, with a little help and a lot of encouragement from Jessica Darnell, who was our job trainer at the time, made t-shirts and sold them at one of our first markets.

Much later, after all of them had graduated from high school, gone on to get soccer scholarships at universities or jobs or both, JB called me and asked if we could meet for coffee. We caught up, and then he told me about the adult men’s soccer team he’d put together called FC Matata. Would Refuge be their sponsor? It was clear to them that we had the same goal: to love and develop others. To welcome.

How could we say no? Refuge didn’t have a lot of money to give, but we scraped some together and helped with new jerseys. Once a soccer mom, always a soccer mom. We cheered at games, sincerely, because they were really, really good. I remember my husband remarking to me and later to them that they played the kind of game he wished his beloved Atlanta United would play. At the end of one game, they called me onto the field and gave me two jerseys with my name on them. A first for this rather klutzy woman who took years to comprehend off-sides and yellow cards.

I hope you see the power in this small act of welcome. I admit that introductions are not dramatic or always portents of great stories. But sometimes they just are. And if we didn’t make those introductions, what might we miss?

JB and others got in touch when they heard about my husband’s passing. They sent kind words, showed up with compassion. I remember when JB called one day last spring and told me he had an idea and wanted to chat. I confess that my first thought was, “Really? I don’t have time or heart for ideas right now.”

But I should have known differently. JB proposed an idea that, once again, I couldn’t refuse. He and many of his FC Matata colleagues wanted to host a tournament in Chief’s (our family’s name for Bill) honor. They remembered how he’d cheered for them, and they wanted to create a momentous cheer for him in return.

Our entire family and many of our Refuge family were there that day. Three games, a DJ with a playlist that included some of Chief’s favorite music, a meal prepared by some talented team wives, a ceremony where our grandkids got to hand out awards, and a time of prayer over me and our family in thanks for Bill’s life and impact. It was a day I’ll never forget, even if I didn’t have the humongous trophy dedicated to Bill in my office as a reminder!

I plan to call JB soon to chat about how we might engage the community when the World Cup comes to Atlanta… I can’t wait! 

So, you see, introductions, those awkwardly formal, embarrassingly simple first acts of welcome, have the power to begin great stories. Stories that, if we saw them in our futures, would most likely seem too beautiful to be possible!

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