What gifts do you share?
For Dagmar Nordberg, the gift she chose to share was the gift of hospitality and simple human kindness. Dagmar is a museum director, in the southern Swedish town of Ronneby, a picturesque place of about 12,000 people. It has cobbled streets and a bucolic river which flows gently by the farmer’s market which meets weekly on its banks. Sweden, as you may well know, is ranked to have the freest press in the world, its parents are entitled to up to 480 days paid leave when a baby is born or adopted, and it has the some of the best rates of life expectancy, and educational achievement on the planet. Roneby, Sweden, you could say, is quite literally, a pretty nice place to live.
Waliullah Hafiz, or Wali for short, also lives in Roneby, but he is not from there. Wali is from Kabul, Afghanistan. Kabul has endured war of one variety or another for four decades. Its buildings bear the scars of its most recent persecution at the hands of the Taliban; its people bear them too, including Wali. Wali worked as a fuel transporter for the army, but fled Kabul when the Taliban beat him into a coma because he refused to help them smuggle gas bottles out of an Afghan army base which the Taliban planned to make into bombs.
Leaving Afghanistan to save his life, his journey as a refugee took him all the way north to Sweden, and eventually to a train platform in Ronneby, when on one bitterly cold Scandinavian winter’s morning, Dagmar Nordberg wandered by a man standing there in T-shirt, jeans and cotton shoes. As she passed him, she said, ‘It’s winter’, almost in protest at the barely dressed stranger. Wali simply replied, ‘I know, M’am’.
It was his politeness that made Dagmar stop, and as she looked at him she knew that something was about to happen, in her. An epiphany of sorts. She recalls that in that moment of decision she realized that he was a lost refugee and that she could either go on with her life, or help him. Something did change. Dagmar took Wali in. Several months later Wali is now learning English, and the Swedish Government is helping him serve an apprenticeship as a forester. The final step will be to re-unite Wali with his family by bringing them to Sweden. I once was lost, but now am found. The simple gifts of hospitality and human kindness were shared and two people from vastly different parts of the world met and in that meeting everything changed: hope was risen from the dead.
Not all of us will get to change a life like Dagmar Nordberg did, but all of us get to share our gifts. As Martin Luther King Jnr. famously said, ‘Anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace [and] a soul generated by love.’ Any one of us can give, any one of us can work to meet the needs of others, and our world needs those individual acts of love and compassion, of sacrifice and service, to go on, town by town, street by street, life by life.
The church has a word for the kind of service extended to a complete stranger that happened on that platform in Ronneby, Sweden. It is called grace; the opportunity one person offers to another to start again. Easter is the season of God’s generosity, of God’s grace. It is the season of our hope. May we each take that gift and share it.