A few weeks ago I went to the Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester for an article I was writing. This church has a mission called the LGBT Task Force that helps LGBT refugees looking for asylum in the United States. Once a month they hold community dinners. I was supposed to go there and interview asylum seekers about their stories. I was nervous as hell.
Worcester is two hours away, so my parents drove me there. I was sweating the whole car ride; I hate interviews. Hate giving them, hate having them given to me. Also, I haven’t been in a church since I was six so I was afraid that once I stepped in they would know that I’m an intruder and my skin would start smoking.
My mom decided to go with me because she could see that I was a blatant nervous wreck. We got to the church and immediately got lost and couldn’t figure out which door to enter from. A car was coming in to park just as we were standing in the parking lot and a man called out to us:
“Hey, you guys new here?”
He came out of his car and pointed us to the correct entrance. He was wearing a blazer over a Boston college sweater and spoke with a slight accent. He said he was about to go in but needed to unload clothes from his car; sure enough, his backseat was filled with clothes for donation. We offered to help and ended up carrying racks of clothes in. My mom explained to him that we were here for an article. He could clearly see that I was terrified.
“It’s okay we don’t bite. It’s a warm group of people.”
My mom and I came in and sat down, I was still a nervous wreck. There were a lot of people at the church and a meal of jerk chicken and apple cobbler was ready for everyone. It was miles better than anything the dining hall ever made. We got little name tags and I stuck “Hi my name is Harriette” to my sweater. The man we met in the parking lot came in and sat next to us, his name was Musa.
The meeting started out with everyone going around and introducing themselves. My mom volunteered to introduce herself first.
“Hi, my name is Hazel, and I’m here because of my daughter, she can tell you why.”
And then she motioned to me to start talking. I was silently screaming on the inside.
I shakily stood up and introduced myself and said that I was looking for interviews for my article and anyone who wanted to volunteer their stories could talk to me.
My mom struck up a conversation with Musa. They talked about the church and the food they had. Time was passing and nobody had come up to me so I was quickly losing hope. Musa was happily talking about how great the apple crisp was and how we had to try some. I eyed the dessert table nervously and he said, “If you’re shy I can go with you.”
So we went up to get some apple crisp. It was some damn good crisp.
Musa asked my mom why she wasn’t eating dessert and she said she ate beforehand.
“Rule number one,” said Musa, “Never eat before a church dinner.”
At this point, I noticed that a man was slowly inching his way towards us out of the corner of my eye. Once he made his way over to us he asked about my article and offered to do an interview. My mom got into a deep conversation with him, and I sat next to them intently listening. His name was Joe, and he is a filmmaker from Uganda. He wants to go to Emerson eventually. He hasn’t been granted asylum yet and is waiting to hear back from the immigration court.
Throughout the conversation, Musa was interjecting with interesting points while I wrote everything down in between bites of that really good apple crisp. He pulled up websites with stats that would help with my article and directed other people to come talk to me. The night went super smoothly, entirely because of him.
I turned to him and thanked him for helping me.
He said, “Well you people helped me with my clothes, so this is the least I could do.”
As the night came to an end we finished up with my interviews, that my mom was basically conducting, she ended up asking Musa how he started coming to this church.
“I started coming here because I am an asylum seeker.”
My mom seemed visibly surprised.
He chuckled, “We come in all shapes and sizes.”
Musa has been waiting for asylum for several years and like many other people at the church, have not heard back from the courts yet. If you’re wondering who refugees are, there are people like Joe who wants to go to Emerson, and people like Musa who find the time to help anxious first-time journalists.
The LGBT Task Force is always looking for volunteers. They hold community dinners once a month every second Monday for asylum seekers, volunteers, and anyone who wants to get involved. It is located at Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Gloucester, MA.