A Card Game and a Picnic: A Refugee Story

Jun 17, 2019 10:33:27 AM Sarah Rymer

The first day I met "Karla," she was sitting at a table in a class I was substituting. Her eyes were big and fearful of this strange American teacher who had just walked in.

yaoqi-lai-19621-unsplashAnother student sat beside her, a kind friend who speaks her language and helps Karla with her lessons. I came to find out later that Karla had only finished the 5th grade in her country because her father wanted her to work, and then she married at 15. It only made sense that forming the letters and words in English, reading from left to right, were especially challenging.

She was shy and embarrassed and dependent on her two daughters to translate for her. Eventually I became her regular teacher. I didn’t realize how much pressure she was feeling until she began to tear up after an exam. All she could see was how much she didn’t measure up to the progress her daughters were making, when all I could see was how much progress she had made.

As an uneducated mother from the Middle East, it’s typical not to be valued for anything other than housework and cooking. I could see in Karla a desire to be more than that. And it started with a card game and a picnic.

I was invited to tag along on an all-day picnic with Karla’s family. Since I was pretty certain that communication would be limited, I threw a couple of card games into my bag, expecting to entertain the three big “kids” (16 to 22 years old). What I didn’t expect was that Karla would join in. And, wow, did she have a competitive spirit! Once she figured out the rules of the game, she was a force to be reckoned with.

And something began to change: Karla’s confidence grew as she won. Her children, who had only let her play to humor her, were shocked as she beat them hand after hand. I have to confess that even my attitude was changing towards Karla. This housecleaning mom was smart and quite capable!

And something changed in English class too. Karla’s kind friend who translated and helped Karla in class had some family issues and didn’t show up to class regularly. Karla didn’t have the crutch she had previously relied on. This new confidence started to show up in class. Her English began to improve, and now I place her beside weaker students to help them. I hear her say to those students as only a mom would say, “No problem,” and give them two thumbs up. I have to laugh now because I will say something to Karla and her daughters. As soon as the daughters start to translate for their mom, she gives them her “mom scowl” and says, “I understand.” Her husband jokingly said that she can’t come back to English classes because she speaks better than he does. She grins.

I believe that God is using this refugee crisis to bring people out of oppressed places so they can finally have the opportunity to experience his love and grace. It is probable that this family will eventually return to their country. My prayer for them is that God would use these circumstances and all of the believing friends who surround and support this family to show them truth and grace. And wouldn’t it be ever so sweet if they could take that back to share in their country!


About the Author: Katherine has lived and worked in Turkey for the past 18 years before recently relocating to Cyprus. Her background is in education, and she enjoys working with refugees. Enjoy other posts by Katherine, such as A Happy Cart-Pusher: How I Work with Refugees.


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