June 23, 2017
By Elizabeth Ashford
Jill Sheets knows firsthand how nurturing a friendship with someone across cultural barriers can profoundly change your life.
Her friendship with Tabarek started at a bus stop in Durham one frigid morning this past January. Jill had passed the stop twice while running errands and noticed the same young woman standing there with her two young children. She felt God telling her to stop and offer the woman a ride. She had never done such a thing before and had a million excuses as to why she shouldn’t. But then she looked in the backseat of her husband’s truck to discover two of her children’s car seats, which weren’t usually there, and felt God confirming that she should stop.
Jill could tell the young woman was from the Middle East. Though Tabarek didn’t speak any English, between using their phones and a lot of sign language, Jill was able to drive Tabarek and her kids to their destination. Before Jill dropped them off, the two women exchanged numbers.
That afternoon the young woman called Jill, and they discovered it was even harder to communicate without gestures! Somehow Jill was able to invite Tabarek to dinner at her home two nights later. Wanting to have meaningful conversation with her new friend, she asked a Summit pastor if he knew anyone who could translate for them, and within a few hours he sent over several options. The first one, Faten Habib, was unavailable the night Tabarek was coming over, but the second one, Emily Perry, agreed to come to dinner to translate.
Over the next few weeks, Jill checked in on Tabarek and her two sons, Sameer, who is 5, and Nadheer, who is 4. She learned that Tabarek had only been in the U.S. for a week when Jill first met her and is here as a refugee, having fled the violence in her home country of Iraq. Tabarek is 21 years old and without any family to help her watch her kids or navigate the difficulties anyone faces when moving to a new country with unfamiliar customs and even a different language.
Jill and her husband both felt strongly that even though they had four young children themselves, they needed to make Tabarek a priority in their lives so that they would have time to really show her God’s love.
Emily and Faten have also become involved in Tabarek’s life, providing transportation for various appointments, assistance in finding a job and childcare, and coaching in learning English and in parenting her two young sons.
Jill shared that finding a job for Tabarek was just one example of God’s provision. She and Emily had met at Chick-fil-A to introduce Tabarek to Faten while the kids played. As the others were excitedly chatting in Arabic, Jill stepped away to speak with the manager and asked if they were hiring. She explained Tabarek’s situation, especially her need to be able to earn more hourly than what her childcare would cost her. The manager explained how to apply, and then Emily spent the next few days helping Tabarek through the extensive application process. When Faten took her to the interview, the director of operations talked with Tabarek and not only decided to hire her but also set her starting salary several dollars higher than the normal $7.25!
“When it comes to Tabarek’s needs being met, I have seen mountains move,” Jill shared. “She was living on a prayer for the [first] month, without a dime, and while I haven’t been able to explicitly share my faith with her, she knows that I love her because Jesus first loved me.”
Jill said that her friendship with Tabarek has greatly affected her and her family. Before meeting Tabarek, Jill’s family had tried many things, including sponsoring a child in Uganda, to expose their children to other cultures. But nothing will bring new understanding like opening your home to new friends from another country.
At first, her oldest child Avery didn’t want to play with Tabarek’s boys because she couldn’t understand what they were saying. Eventually, though, Jill’s children came to understand the importance of friendship despite language barriers and that by playing with Tabarek’s sons, they would be able to share Jesus’ love with them as well.
“When Avery learned they didn’t know about Jesus, her attitude changed immediately from annoyance to urgent concern about telling them,” said Jill.
Motivated by that same concern, Jill continues to build an even stronger friendship with Tabarek in hopes of sharing with her the hope of Jesus Christ and making another disciple.