Train Stories: From the Jungle to Blessings

DSC_0056The trains on the TRE going to and from Dallas to Ft. Worth are limited during the middle of the day so when you have to make that trip you have to be ready for some long waits. One day I was on such a journey in the sweltering Texas heat. Even in the shade sweat was running down the back of my shirt as I stood waiting for nearly an hour for the next train.

When I got off the Dart tram to wait for the train a gentleman exited with me and joined me on the long wait. He was a tall black man carrying a white wash cloth that he was constantly wiping the dripping sweat from his head with. He spoke to me briefly at first, obviously from Africa somewhere I assumed from his accent, talking about how he didn’t like to be in the heat on his days off. He expressed that I probably didn’t know what it was like to be outside based on the way I was dressed (coat and tie). I laughed and asked what he did for a living.

I asked him his name, which was Abe, a Project Manager for a large Dallas corporation. He went on to tell me about a few up and coming projects he was working and insisted that I needed to purchase land and buildings in a local suburb of Dallas due to a project that he was working which was going to bring in tons of jobs and people. I could tell he was passionate about what he did as his excitement poured out of every word he spoke.

In the conversation I mentioned that I rode motorcycles, which was probably for no other reason than to at least let him know I wasn’t a total wimp when it comes to being out in the heat. He laughed saying that he didn’t like motorcycles. He had owned one once and had a terrible experience. Abe had been talked into purchasing a bike a few years back to make a road trip from Houston to Canada! He made the entire trip as his initial ride. Yes, his very first time on a motorcycle he drove it from Houston Texas to Canada! Abe was quick to express the event was far from a pleasurable experience. In fact it was so bad that once he got to his destination he sold the motorcycle to a local person, bought a plane ticket with the money and returned home in the comfort of an air-conditioned plane! It was a hilarious story, even more funny listening him tell it in his African accent.

Once the train finally arrived we boarded and sat together so we could continue our conversation. When we sat I asked him about his story. Where was he from in Africa, when did he come to the states and what brought him here?  When Abe smiled and chuckled I somehow knew I was in for a story, so I sat back to soak it all in.

Abe had come to America about 15 years ago. His journey here was one filled with ups, downs, disappointments and dreams come true. It started one day when he and his family were at a soccer game in Northern Africa. They were there enjoying the game when troops came storming in to take over and began killing people. He and his family ran for their lives that day, each in their own direction. In all of the confusion they all lost sight of one another and each were on their own. It wouldn’t be for many years before Abe would find out the fate of his family. From that day forward he was a young boy living alone amongst strangers.

Abe lived with other survivors of that attack on that day in the jungle for six years. He shared how many died from malaria, dehydration, sickness and lack of nutrition. There were times when the weak were killed by the strong members of the group in order to hang their body parts in the trees as a distraction from wild animals such as lions. Abe spoke that he had on more than one occasion looked back as the group ran from lions and saw the animal leaping to get the body parts from the tree. It was their only way to survive an attack.

I inquired more about how he made it from the jungle to where he is now. I could tell from his eyes forming tears that the story was personal and emotional. He simply said, “The Salvation Army.” Abe told me that the Salvation Army we see is different than what they really do. He shared how they go out looking for those in hiding and do everything they can to get them to safety. Abe spent two years on a waiting list to go to a country who would take him. They do not get a choice as to what country they select; it could be USA, Russia, Germany or another country that participates with the Salvation Army’s program of which generally 20 at a time will go. If a person says no to a country, then they go back to the end of the list to wait another two years until their name comes up again. Abe was so glad it was the U.S.A. who opened their doors when his name came up.

When Abe got to the U.S. he had 90 days to become self-sustaining. The Salvation Army provides an apartment and food for just three months, after that all funding ends. Some end up being homeless, which is not the best situation, but when compared to the jungle and lions, is better than their lives before. It is difficult he said because most don’t have an education or a work history. He said, “People ask me for my resume and I would ask, ‘what’s a resume?’” He laughed saying it was not an easy time.

Abe was fortunate in that he had a high-school diploma which allowed him to get a labor job. The story was long, but after a lot of hard work and people recognizing his abilities, he was allowed to get his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the company he was working. As time went on they again saw potential in Abe and sent him to college to become an engineer.

As Abe learned skills he also became well versed in utilizing the internet. This is when he began searching for his family. His father didn’t make it out that day when the soccer arena came under attack and was killed.  Abe found his brother in Houston, Texas who just recently wrapped up medical school and has moved to Dallas to work at the Children’s Hospital. He found his sister in Canada who has since gone to law school and is a practicing attorney.

As if Abe’s story wasn’t intriguing enough, he told me more about what his family was doing now for one another. Abe is the oldest so he feels it is his responsibility to take care of his family first, before himself. He had found his mother some years back and brought her to the U.S. but he said she couldn’t handle it. She wanted to go back home so he ended up flying her back not long after she got here.

Abe said he didn’t want his family to ever do without again. His role as the older brother was to help insure his family’s success. Even though Abe himself is living in an apartment he saved his money and bought his sister a house in Canada. He is now saving and his sister is helping, to purchase his younger brother a home in Dallas. After this, they will all pitch in to purchase Abe a home; he is last. He was very passionate about his role as a leader in his family. When he talked about doing these things for his siblings he had a smile on his face. It was obvious it wasn’t a chore and something he had to do, but rather something he wanted to do.

Abe finally came to his stop on the train so it was time to say good-bye. We shook hands and I told him it was one of the best trips from Dallas to Ft. Worth I had ever had. He smiled and walked on off the train.  I gave him my business card in hopes of talking to him again, but if I don’t, Abe had an impact on me that day. The experience left me with some deep thoughts to ponder about myself, family and our society.

Abe’s story was one of thankfulness, selflessness and determination. His appreciation of God’s blessings was obvious as he told his story. Many times he gave thanks to God for reaching down and providing him an opportunity; for saving him from death on many occasions. He was grateful and didn’t take what had been given him for granted. He even told me at one point, “When you see those ‘bell ringers’ at Christmas, you put some money in there. They are saving people’s lives; they saved my life.”

He was so incredibly selfless. Unlike many in our culture today, he didn’t have the attitude of, “I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps; no one helped me, so I’m not helping anyone else.” He wanted to do everything he could to help his family and others with the blessings and opportunities he had been given. Even though his brother and sister had careers that will probably out-pay his own career, he still helped them by purchasing their homes. He didn’t have a scale to measure to determine if or how much he would help. His only measurement system was love and a heart for others with an expectation of nothing in return.

Just before Abe got off the train I had one more question to throw his way. I asked, “Abe, what do you think made you successful when others who came over with you were not? Why did some end up being homeless after three months, yet you made it to getting certifications and degrees. Why?”

He pondered for only a second and then looked me square in the eyes saying, “determination!”

Abe said that when he was in the little apartment that the Salvation Army had provided that he would look up at the condos that were near-by. He would see the people coming home in nice cars, eating at restaurants and living in wonderful environments. Abe said he said to himself, “you are never going to have what they have flipping burgers. You are going to have to work hard, sacrifice and not give up.” And that is exactly what he did.

Just because we live in this great country called the U.S. of A. doesn’t mean that we are deserving of what we have. We are all like Abe to a degree; however we got here we all have a choice of what we do with the opportunities that we encounter each day. Abe recognized every blessing; he was thankful. He wanted to give back; he had heart. He never wanted to go back; he was determined.  Could it be that the joy people spend their whole lives looking for is that simple? Thankfulness, a heart for others and sheer determination; three things that I hope, when I tell my story that others will say about me. What about you? Leave your comments below.



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