HARRISBURG, Pa. (BP)–It was late and the crowds had thinned out at the airport outside Harrisburg, Pa., except for a small group huddled at the far end of the arrival terminal. After two exhausting days of travel, months of preparation and a lifetime of hope, two brothers, along with their wives and children, had finally made it to their new home.
Erdem Akar* and his family are Meskhetian Turks, a people group uprooted from their homeland more than 60 years ago. Originally from the Republic of Georgia, the Meskhetian Turks were deported en masse in 1944 under orders of Josef Stalin to countries across Central Asia.
The Akar family story begins in Uzbekistan, where they settled after the deportation. In 1989, they were forced from their homes again when organized persecution directed specifically at the Meskhetian Turks broke out. The family fled to the Krasnodar Krai region of Russia, though living conditions there proved far from favorable.
Persecuted for their heritage and shunned because of their ethnicity, the family came to the United States as refugees in search of a new home.
The brothers arrived in Pennsylvania on Sept. 13, 2006, with hopes of a new start. Another brother and his family arrived as refugees only three months earlier and were now standing on the airport’s curb to welcome their extended family.
After looking around, Akar described his first impressions with few words: “It’s so beautiful. It’s like a fairy tale.”
Arm in arm, the family took it all in as overlapping, excited conversation mixed with spontaneous laughter echoed down the street. A breeze cooled cheeks wet with tears of joy. The “fairy tale” was becoming reality.
On the ground next to them sat everything they owned, packed away in plaid suitcases labeled with their last name and final destination: Lancaster, Pa. The family had held their collective breath for months as they worked through the approval process and sold their home and most belongings. Everything rested on the success of their move. But now, standing on the streets of Pennsylvania, it was safe to exhale.
Joining Akar and his family were several new faces who had helped make the transition possible -– Laura Stammberger, who works with a Christian refugee resettlement program, as well as two families from churches in the Lancaster area, who had agreed to host the newcomers until they found permanent residence.
*Name changed for security reasons. Ashley Mitchell is a former intern with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.