In October, I launched the website for my latest photojournalism endeavor, Project Hands. Many of the stories come from guests of the Rescue Mission, a comprehensive homeless shelter in Roanoke. Check it out at StoriesWeHold.com. Below is just one of the many powerful, eye-opening accounts I've heard.
An Iraqi refugee living at the Rescue Mission, 50-year-old Jasim knows loneliness, fear and loss all too well.
"I am Sunni. I helped six Shiite people, because our God is no different. For two weeks, nobody told me hello when I said hello. No response. I felt alone."
Then his home was attacked.
"They shoot machine guns, because I help Shiites. When they shoot in my house, glass goes everywhere. They spurt fire in my house. My son was injured. I hug my family. I put them in the bathroom, in the shower. A safer place."
The decision to leave Iraq and come to the United States did not come without consequences. His wife's parents forced them to divorce, and he had to leave his three children behind.
"If I could talk to them, I would say, 'You know I'm your dad. Just trust me. When I can bring you here, I will. Just be patient. Take care, because the city is dangerous.' They put bombs in cars. They will kill any person. I think about my kids too much. I see my kids in my dreams with me, but I wake up alone."
His eyes are filled with tears.
In four months, I never forgot the sadness in those brown, weathered eyes. So when I met him again on an unseasonably warm February afternoon, I expected that same lonely, fearful and despairing Jasim.
I was wrong. The Jasim that met me in the reception area of the Rescue Mission was comfortable, almost sanguine. His demeanor wasn't unlike the sun-drenched hallway where I photographed. He spent most of our time together smiling and laughing. He told me he's learning more English from books at the library. He goes to his doctor appointments. He's looking forward to one day having his own apartment.
He showed me his English-Arabic Bible, which he reads every day. His favorite verse is Matthew 5:39, "But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."
Jasim has not yet been able to speak to his family in Iraq.