By Grayson Hester
When CBF Communications first featured Nabeha and her daughter Hanin as part of the Offering for Global Missions campaign in 2019, the headline read as follows: “The Impact of Abundant Life.”
Not easy life, or luxurious life. Not even good life. Abundant life. The kind of life Jesus promises for us, and the kind of life Nabeha and Hanin have, difficulties and all.
In the two years since the sharing of this mother-daughter duo’s story of fleeing Iraq for Fort Worth, Texas, the two have endured COVID diagnoses, surgeries, and the kind of pandemic upheaval that has hit vulnerable populations, including refugees, particularly hard.
“It’s been rough. We’ve had our challenges, but we’re still here today,” Hanin said. “We’re still here to tell people our stories.”
Their resilience infuses this year’s Offering for Global Missions theme—“Because Presence Matters”—with fresh meaning. Sometimes, the greatest victory we can claim is simply having survived. Sometimes, it is enough just to still be here, present to life in all its complexities. And sometimes it is enough merely to be present with other people through difficult times.
Soon after the initial interview in 2019, Hanin underwent brain surgery. A year later, she had to do it again—this time, in the middle of a pandemic. “I was hospitalized for over a month at Cook’s Children’s Hospital. I had to do physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to regain my motor skills and my speech,” Hanin said. “It was a really hard time. It took a toll on me and my family.”
Not only did she lose motor skills and speech, Hanin, throughout the process of surgery and recovery, also lost an ear. But what she gained amid it all was a renewed appreciation for that most simple, yet potent, of concepts—presence.
Presence manifested itself, primarily, in the Spirit. During the early days of COVID-19, in which physical presence was closely monitored and widely discouraged, this Holy Presence was imbued with ever more importance.
“God is there always for us. He loves us. And he always, when we pray, answers our prayers,” said Nabeha. “We thank God, always be beside us and all the other people when they need him.”
In the spare moments when human contact was allowed, the presence of God was embodied, often by Hanin’s school friends or by their close friend, Karen Morrow, who serves as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel.
Morrow, who has worked alongside immigrants and refugees in the Fort Worth area for more than a decade, has remained a steadfast source of support to Nabeha and Hanin ever since they arrived in the U.S. In an era in which so much has changed, Morrow’s presence, her mission, has not.
“She was with us from the morning, the surgery taking 12 hours, and she stayed with us in the hospital,” Nabeha said. “And there were other friends, but Karen is number one. She always is there for us.”
Even through the brain surgery, the ensuing recovery, three (thankfully mild) COVID diagnoses, and Hanin starting college remotely, presence, whether spiritual, digital or physical, remained.
She started her first year at the Tarrant County College like scores of students across the world did—amid uncertainty, and, for better or worse, on Zoom. But although she might have been isolated, she was not alone.
“For me, presence has been a big part of my life with my friends being there for me physically and mentally,” Hanin said. “Especially after coming out of the hospital, I really appreciated them being there for me and being there for me and my family as well.”
In 2022—what some are calling, rather cheekily, the junior year of the pandemic—this uncertainty persists. But so too does the presence of others and the enduring importance of relationship. So, too, does hope. Even after all Hanin and Nabeha have been through, this hope burns as brightly as ever, stoked by Karen Morrow, tended by friends, and continuously set alight by an abundant-life-promising God.
“I wish for all the refugees—because Karen, she doesn’t help us, just us. She helped many families,” said Nabeha. “So I hope for all the families, that they depend on their selves. And when they need advice—like there is many nice friends in United States like Karen—they can help them if they need any advice. So right now, I’m depending on myself and just when I need advice, Karen is there. When I have a hard situation, Karen is there.”
As for Hanin, she’s looking forward to a return to campus, a fresh start and a continuous commitment to being present to whatever life may have yet to offer her, a lesson she learned during a most unusual high school graduation.
We had a little ceremony at our school’s local football field, and my mom was able to come, as well as my dad, two family friends, here and there,” she said. “It wasn’t a really big, crazy thing, but we were still able to celebrate our achievements.”
She couldn’t have known what was to come. Who among us can? But she knows one thing for sure now, as she did then—gratitude. This is abundant life. To present love and care when we, or others need it most; to be present with those about whom we care; to be present to the ups and downs, and everything in between.“It’s crazy to see time pass by and all these changes happening in the world, but I’m still very grateful,” Hanin said. “I can experience it all and be a part of it all.”