We decided to take Uber from the O’Hare Airport to our hotel. It was far less expensive than a cab and my son’s previous experiences with Uber had been positive. As soon as we exited the airport he entered our destination in the app and clicked the icon to request a driver. The driver’s confirming phone call came within a minute. The call was quick but it was not reassuring. His badly broken English made effective communication impossible. After several repetitions of our location we were still not convinced he knew where to pick us up. We waited with trepidation at the curb, watching the app for updates and wondering if he would find us.
He arrived several minutes later and our assurance level dipped lower. The paint on the car was worn and battered. Our Uber ride was a junker. The driver got out of the car and greeted us. At least I think he greeted us, his accent was incredibly thick and his grammar was poor. As we opened the door and took our seats our second thoughts became third and fourth thoughts. We wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
We had gotten ourselves into a nearly unintelligible conversation. The driver was talkative in spite of his limited fluency. We initially responded more out of courtesy than interest but as the conversation progressed and we began to adapt to his accent we found ourselves amazed at his story. While we could have predicted that he was a relatively recent immigrant to America, almost everything else he shared was remarkable and took us by surprise.
He was a refugee from Syria but he considered himself Assyrian, for that was his heritage and his culture. He may have been from a Muslim nation but he came from a Christian background. He had a strong work ethic and while in Syria he had for years been a successful business man working as a concrete contractor. He owned several trucks and his business was worth near a million dollars. He had a wife, a son, and a good life.
Everything changed with the arrival of ISIS. The destruction and havoc wrought by the war with ISIS included large scale bombings of civilian areas, included the one in which he lived with his family. An explosion had destroyed his home and killed his wife. His son survived only because he was late coming home from school and was not home at the time. His business was wiped out in a separate attack. He had nothing left except his son. He escaped to America with little more than the clothes on his back.
When he arrived in the United States opportunities for employment were scarce. His lack of formal education and limited English skills rendered him an undesirable hire. He took the best work he could find and signed up to drive for Uber. Even Uber was a challenge. He struggled to survive, as after only 60 hours of driving his account was suspended due to a system glitch and he was left without an income for several days. He persevered. By the night we met he had reached the point where he was driving an average of 10 clients a day. This was an improvement but still a challenge as he had to share a significant portion of each fare with Uber and O’Hare airport. This once proud business owner was supporting his son and himself on a little over a $100 a day. Finances were always tight, tighter the previous few months when his son was ill. Even with Obamacare, insurance premiums took a large portion of his income.
As remarkable as his story was it was not the most amazing thing about him. What amazed me the most was the demeanor he displayed. He was kind, polite, positive and grateful. In circumstances that would have led many others to complain and despair he chose instead to press on and to work hard. He displayed a profound sense of responsibility and personal drive.
Later that evening I found myself reflecting on our ride and conversation. I thought about my initial impressions and conclusions and how wrong they had been. I thought about the characteristics that define a good man- personal responsibility, perseverance, determination, selflessness and love of family, and how richly he seemed to embody all of them. I thought also of how I had reached incorrect and negative conclusions about his character before I knew any of these things. My initial judgments were made on the thickness of his accent and the quality of his car.
My arrogance was exactly the kind of thinking James, the brother of Jesus, seemed to have in mind when he wrote his letter to early Christians-
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor...If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. James 2:1-10 NIV
I went to bed humbled at the realization that I had been so prideful and judging. I was more concerned about by comfort and what I "deserved" in a car ride than I was about the man driving the car. I was angry at myself for being a jerk yet grateful for the lesson I had learned. As I fell asleep I prayed that the lesson would be a lasting one, that I would work to become a man who sees people as God does, for the content of their hearts and not the external features of their lives.
I have a long way to go.
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