The African country of Sudan has been at war, on and off, for decades. In 2011, though, South Sudan broke away from the rest of the country, and it has experienced civil war since 2013. Amid all this turmoil, a woman named Alik was forced to flee her homeland and find safety elsewhere. Her journey would take her across the world to a country she had never been to before.
In fact, Alik’s journey took her to Fort Worth, Texas, a place utterly at odds with what she was familiar with. To make matters worse, she had two children in tow and was pregnant with another child. Unfortunately, Alik had also been separated from her husband Dyan, and there was no guarantee that Alik would see her husband again – or that he would get to see his children grow up.
That’s because during the events that led to Dyan and Alik being separated, proof that the pair were married was completely destroyed. This set in motion an agonizing ordeal that they would endure for years. So while Alik was designated as a single mother, Dyan was categorized as a single man and consequently placed at the end of the resettlement line.
A pregnant Alik arrived in Fort Worth with her young children, not knowing if she would ever see her husband again or what life was going to be like in her new home. And with war raging in Sudan, there was no question of going back. Fortunately, though, help was at hand. Two local moms, Molly Jamison and Mary Claire Hall, were part of a refugee resettlement organization called Catholic Charities, which helps refugees settle more easily into their new surroundings. Jamison and Hall were paired up with Alik and her kids, and they all soon became good friends.
Hall and Jamison, members of Fort Worth’s Village Church, did everything they could to help Alik make her transition into American life. For instance, they held a baby shower for the Sudanese mom, they drove her to the hospital, and they bought the family Christmas and birthday gifts. They tried to make her children feel at home in their new location too. And when the time came, they were by Alik’s side when she gave birth to her and Dyan’s third child.
The American moms visited Alik at her apartment complex in north Fort Worth. Here, they met refugees from African countries such as Ethiopia, Chad and Libera as well as from countries including Russia and Burma, Iraq, Nepal and Pakistan. Along with their home group from the Village Church, they started arranging monthly feasts in the courtyard of the complex.
Moved by all they’d experienced with Alik, Hall and Jamison would visit the complex in north Fort Worth regularly. They were keen to extend their generosity and kindness to all the residents living there. After all, most had also escaped terrifying situations in their home countries and were in dire need of help, companionship and reassurance.
The garden cookouts were such a success that they were able to extend their kindness even further. In fact, the persuasive pair managed to get their whole church involved – and not just for the outdoor food fun. No, they also pushed the church group to take part in a Christmas-present drive, camps during summer holidays, a jacket drive for the harsh winter and a delivery of Thanksgiving food to introduce the refugee families to American customs and traditions.
Meanwhile, Dyan was stranded in a refugee camp in Egypt. And when agencies were contacted on behalf of the family, he was informed that his official demographic – single men from Sudan – were not chosen for resettlement in the U.S. Worse, Alik’s case worker warned her that it was unlikely a reunion would ever take place.
At this point, Dyan had spent nearly four years as a refugee, far away from both his home in Sudan and his family. He had a young son he had never seen, now a toddler, and two children who had changed dramatically since the family were separated. In fact, his eldest boy was eight years old, much bigger than the baby Dyan had last seen.
Hall and Jamison did everything in their power to try and help their friend Alik. They even had meetings with social workers and spoke to immigration attorneys and politicians. But no matter how helpful these people were, they all had more or less the same response to the question as to whether Dyan would ever see his family again: “It’ll be a miracle if this happens.”
And then something miraculous did happen. One evening, Hall and Jamison met Alik at her apartment. Her children were dressed as if ready to go to church, and there were smiles all around. The group left the apartment and jumped into the Catholic Charities’ van. But they weren’t going to church; they were going to the airport. There, they were finally set to be reunited with Dyan.
As Alik and her children arrived at the airport with Hall and Jamison, the excitement was palpable. Alik’s children held homemade signs for their father. They walked through the airport, past the ticket area and into baggage claim. Meanwhile, a check online showed that the flight was a mere 35 minutes from landing. So near, yet so far.
The plane landed, but the family grew nervous when he didn’t immediately appear despite other passengers streaming by. The family started to wonder if he had made it. He’d had a connecting flight in Houston; perhaps he had somehow missed it. But then, suddenly, he tapped on a frosted glass window to show them that he had seen them. He was there, and he was about to be reunited with his loved ones.
Dyan’s young boys ran past the security attendant to greet their father. His eight-year-old son bear-hugged him. He had grown so much since they had last seen each other that Dyan looked surprised as he hugged him. His three-year-old, whom he’d never met, also ran toward him, and Dyan picked him up for the first time. Then he made what must have seemed like a long final walk toward Alik.
For Dyan, it was a moment so emotional that at times he did not seem to know how to react. Not only was he reunited with his family, but he also met a new one in the shape of the volunteers and members from the Village Church who had offered him and his wife so much love, support and help over the past few years. He began to embrace them too, with hugs and tears all around. His journey had been so long, but he was finally back with his loved ones.
Several onlookers at the airport had noticed the crowd of people all focused on Dyan, Alik and their young children. They took photos, but they also shared in the astonishing moment of unbridled joy. Then Dyan fell to his knees and praised God for reuniting him with his family. He held his hands aloft in the air, tears in his eyes, joy and relief on his face.
There was one small hitch at the airport, however. After collecting one bag, Dyan realized that his other had yet to arrive. Unfortunately, it was stuck in Houston, and the family had to stay another half an hour at the airport. But after everything the family had endured, this was nothing.
Many who were there were moved by what they had seen and commented on how the family’s reunion had touched them. Robert Fuqua, who shot one of the many videos of the emotional moment, said, “A piece of the video that remains in my minds eye, yet in the interest of time lies on the cutting room floor, is a moment when this Algerian mom in the hijab goes over to Dyan’s wife and embraces her, greeting each of her children with encouraging words offered in a mutual tongue they share, but which I didn’t recognize. What I did recognize, however, was a shared joy emerging from a shared pain and anguish.”
From the airport, the family were taken back to the complex where Alik had been living with her children for nearly four years. Alik and Dyan didn’t speak much on the way back as he took in his new surroundings. But the family were together. The long journey from Sudan to Houston – and finally to Fort Worth – was over. Arriving at his new home, Dyan got out of the van, looked at the building and said, “It’s good.”