They were immediately noticeable with their fair skin and squinty eyes. A jarring sight.

Instead of the gentle melodic intonations I expected, Arabic rolled off their tongues – the quick, sharp quality of the language tempered by a soft steady Korean pace.

“Why come here to stay?” I frown at him.

“A calling,” he answers. “We are happy. We’re not visitors. We are welcome here.”

The smile in her eyes lights up her face as well as the room, as she moves about talking to different children.

“What’s the most difficult?” I search his eyes.

“So many people ask me this,” he says. “I ask them instead, what is the safest, most joyful place in the world?

“It is where you’re walking with Jesus,” he looks at me. “The most difficult times have been when we have struggled to draw close to Him and struggled to hear His voice. It is confusing. But when we are in Jesus, that is where we are safe and most joyful.”

We talk some more, and then, he remembers.

“Here, it is very dusty and polluted. There are no trees. No parks. No malls. I miss walking in parks. I live  on a street that is noisy late into the night… but really, these are small challenges.”

Arabic fruits

The soft, succulent fresh figs (teen in Arabic) are plump and delicious. Like everything else here, so rich.

I cannot finish my Kanafeh at Habiba Sweets. The Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup overwhelms. I have been fed this and that and  this and that. My host wants to send his love to all his Australian friends through me. He is disappointed I haven’t eaten enough.

One day he wears a purple shirt. I tell him he looks like Barney the dinosaur. “Thank you,” a big grin spreads across his face. “I am beautiful, not huge.”

We laugh. Conversations are often loud and raucous.

I have been learning the language. They like to trick me. They taught me to say “I am a terrorist” if ever questioned by police. Perhaps only a joke a local can make.

I have a home here now that I know I can always come to. It is my home. The offer is sincere, and I have been welcome as part of the family.

People are perishing and the future seems bleak.

But love is alive and hard to snuff out.