At World Relief, the help of volunteers gives us the power to serve refugees who make Spokane their home. Without their help, it would be nearly impossible to serve the people to whom we are called, and we are incredibly thankful for them.

Matthew and Laura Crotty decided to volunteer with World Relief in late 2015 after being prompted by separate events which stirred empathy within them to help the most vulnerable.

For Matthew, a military veteran who spent time in the Middle East, fear-inducing statements about Islam in the 2016 presidential primary season prompted involvement. He saw a need to get involved and help those who would be hurt most by the statements. Around the same time, Laura was stirred to action by photos of children who washed up on a Turkish beach.

“Those photos hurt me, as a mother,” Laura said. “I couldn’t stop thinking about them and grieving for them.”

Their empathy is part of what drove the Crotty’s to take on one of World Relief’s most unique volunteer roles: hosting refugees for their first nights in America.

The family began welcoming some of the world’s most vulnerable people to Spokane in May just over a year ago. Since then, their house has been a temporary home for families and individuals during their first days or weeks in America.

The Crottys welcomed their first refugees in May 2016. They waited up until 1 a.m. to greet a family of six from Aleppo, Syria. To say they were nervous would be an understatement, but Laura described the experience as “beautiful.” The families communicated via Google Translate and body language for the weeks they were together and have since remained friends.

The Crotty’s kids, Avery, Jay, and Charlie, have been impacted by the experience too. Laura recalled an instance where one of their Syrian friends accidentally messed up one of Jay’s Lego creations. As happens with most children, Jay wasn’t pleased, but Laura found a way to put destruction in perspective. She showed Jay photos of Aleppo. An empathy-building experience to be sure.

“To be able to say to your kid ‘that’s Aleppo, that’s their city’ and see the growth that comes from that conversation is huge,” Laura said.

The kids gained even more than a lesson’s worth of perspective too. They’ve become friends with many of the folks who walked through the Crotty’s door in the last year. The families are still connected in mutual admiration and thankfulness. They share Thanksgiving dinners together and Laura’s mother is their American grandmother.

“It’s hard to let go,” Laura said. “You bond so much when someone is living in your home and communing with you. You really grow to love them.”

The relationships aren’t one-sided either. The Crotty’s say they’ve learned lessons about generosity and gained encouragement from seeing the Spokane community bond together to welcome refugees to the area.

“I think I’ve gained way more from this than they’ve ever gotten from me,” Matthew said.

In that way, it’s pretty amazing what a little bit of empathy can bring you.