Stephanie Avdagic says her husband never cries, with one exception. “When he tells this story, he always tears up. Every time.”
“This story” took place when 9-year-old Ermin Avdagic, his 4-year-old sister and parents resettled in the United States from Bosnia because of the war there. They came in October and were resettled by Catholic Charities of Louisville.
“They helped pay for our flights. We didn’t have anything so all of the furniture we got was from Catholic Charities. That’s what I remember as a kid,” said Ermin Avdagic.
In December, Ermin answered a knock on their apartment door to find two college students holding a bulging black garbage bag.
“I couldn’t tell what it was and I didn’t speak English,” Ermin Avdagic said. “So, we just looked at each other.”
Then the smiling young men opened the bag to reveal it was brimming with toys.
“I picked one out, tried to say thank you, and closed the door,” Ermin Avdagic says. But they stopped him, stepped inside and emptied the bag. All of the toys were for Ermin and his sister.
“That was the first time in my life I had had real toys,” Ermin Avdagic says. “You have to remember the war broke out when I was 3 and we fled when I was 4. We had no money. Toys weren’t the first thing we budgeted for.”
“When I realized that bag was for us, I literally just tore it up,” he says with a laugh. “Pure excitement is the only way I can describe that moment.”
He liked the soccer ball, he liked the cars. But when he found the rollerblades, “they were all mine,” he says. “Those rollerblades are still my fondest memory.”
Today, “life is good” for Ermin Avdagic. He is a software developer and his wife Stephanie is a nurse practitioner. They live in a nice area where they are raising their 10-month-old daughter. “My parents are grateful to Catholic Charities for different reasons,” he says. “I am grateful for those rollerblades.”
At Catholic Charities of Louisville, we can recount stories like this all day long. It is our privilege to come alongside people on their journeys, usually in a time of need, and share with them both the relief of moving forward and the discouragement of being turned back.
It is our joy to partake with them in whatever comes their way, all in an effort to equip them to move from struggle to self-sufficiency.
As we await again the coming of Christ in this Advent season, it is no stretch to see that most families come to us in much the same way our savior came to us: vulnerable, in a strange land, dependent on the consideration of strangers.
Jesus was born in the humblest of circumstances, moved from one country to another in search of safety, and grew up in the modest home of a tradesman. In one way or another, that description fits nearly every person Catholic Charities of Louisville walks alongside.
This makes me ponder how often I encounter Jesus in the faces, hands and lives of the people we serve.
Like Jesus, the police officer from Afghanistan finds himself in a new country where he will be safe. Like Jesus, our neighbor in west Louisville has too little food and inadequate housing.
Like Jesus, a lonely woman in a nursing home is overlooked by those around her. And, like Jesus, each of these people enriches our lives with their charity, perseverance, suffering and overcoming.
Even when you give to Jesus, he gives back to you. We join you in anticipating the arrival of Christ this Advent and every day.
Lisa DeJaco Crutcher is the CEO of Catholic Charities of Louisville.