Written by a World Relief Volunteer
I want to tell you a story about two Grandparents, worlds apart who made all the difference in one little 5-year-old boy’s life. I’ll tell this story with three images.
The first image is of an 80-year-old man standing in the thick woods with a 5-year-old boy. Tears are slowly streaming down the boys face.
John is the 80-year-old. He is 5”6”, thin, and healthy from years of working outside on his 3-acre blueberry farm just down in South King County. Even though he’d had a lifetime of raising his own children and his grandchildren, in the winter of 1999 when he saw the atrocities of the war in the former Yugoslavia, he wanted to help. He called World Relief and came to a training to open up his 1 bedroom farmhouse to a refugee family.
A short while later, John and his wife Nancy welcomed 53-year-old Grandmother, Bahjite and her 5 year old grandson, Kurbin. They arrived at midnight, but when John rose early the next morning, he found Kurbin fully dressed and looking out the window. John held his hand as they walked around outside the farmhouse. Kurbin was delighted as he saw the tree swing, the slide, teeter-totter and hand-made yard toys. This was a dream yard designed for children to play. They walked through the 3 acres of meticulously cared for blueberries. As they reached the backyard, Kurbin looked up the steep hill into the deep woods behind their farmhouse and stopped. John looked down to see his eyes fixed on the trees and tears were trickling down his face. Kurbin knew not a single word of English, but John could read his feelings. John held his hand firmly, knelt down, and said softly “we don’t have to walk down this forest path.”
To know why little Kurbin froze when he saw the forest, I need to introduce you to Kurbin’s maternal Grandmother Bahtije. Bahtije is 53 years old. She grew up in Former Yugoslavia, speaks two languages, has thick black hair, Mediterranean coloring, worked all her life, good cook and excellent housekeeper. Bahtije has two adult children and grandchildren. Bahtije’s daughter had left to Germany for a job and was planning on returning for her son, Kurbin. Both Bahtije and Kurbin’s Mom are single; Kurbin has no Dad and no Grandpa.
Here is the second image: Bahtije responds to the knocking at the door. The Serbian soldiers are screaming at her in Serbo-Croatian- “Were coming back in 2 hours, if anyone if left in the house they will be dead”
With just a winter coat, a bag of belongings, and a frightened young Kurbin, she left on foot to face the winter in the mountains. For weeks they walk down roads with thousands of other refugees, at times veering into the thick forests to evade soldier attacks. They beg for food. They sleep the cold mountainous under the trees. They fear all the night noises in the forest. The walk is so difficult that Bahtije’s toe nails fall off.
After their stay with John and Nancy, Bahtije & Kurbin settle down in their own apartment. 2 years pass. Bahtije is not feeling well, and discovers she has stage-4 bone cancer. After 2 rounds of chemo, chances don’t look good. Kurbin’s mother was legally allowed to receive asylum as a refugee here in Seattle. She came here to care for Kurbin and Bahtije, who passed away some months later.
But that’s not the end of the story. I received a letter from John. He had invited Kurbin down for a Sunday afternoon. They had a picnic outside, enjoying the sunshine and wrestling on the grass. John wrote of his surprise when Kurbin took his hand and walked to the forest behind the house to walk the path. This time Kurbin didn’t stop when they came to the forest. As they walked down the path, John watched Kurbin. Instead of fearful tears John only saw a boy eagerly noticing the squirrels, tall trees, the birds, and all the flowers. Kurbin then stops.
This is the 3rd image that I hope you will remember. Kurbin quietly tells John, “I love to hear the kids at school say ‘Dad’. Can I call you Dad?” “Of course you can call me Dad,” he whispered. This time it is 80 year old John with puddles of tears in his eyes on the forest path.
I hope you never have to guide a child though war-torn forest fleeing for your safety. But I do hope that each one of us will be people who respond like John.