The lady from Yugoslavia

Father David Epps's picture

“So where are you from?” the lady asked as she was cleaning my hotel room in Florida.

“I’m from near Atlanta,” I responded. “And where are you from?” I inquired.

She smiled and said, “I’m from Yugoslavia.”

I had noticed what I perceived to be an east European accent.

“At least that is what it used to be called,” she continued. She had been in the United States nine years. She had fled her homeland due to the brutal war that had ravaged and devastated what once was a beautiful nation. Figures vary, but the number of people killed during the war in the former Yugoslavia numbers between 100,000 and 200,000 people, most of them civilians.

I didn’t ask all the questions that were on my mind; it seemed too personal. Did her husband survive? Were many of her family members killed? What did she lose? What did she have to leave behind?

I did learn that she had two children, a boy and a girl, who fled with her. At the time her son was 9, her daughter 7. Her mother came to the United States, too.

Her children now spoke nearly flawless English, she proudly beamed. Her son was 18 now and a senior in high school. Her daughter was 16 and was also a high school student. This lady, whose name I did not ask, even though I did try several times to steal a glance at her name tag, reported with great satisfaction that, next fall, her son would be attending an American university.

She worked very hard, this refugee from a war-torn land, in order to support her family. Even while we conversed, she continued to make the bed, vacuum the floor, clean the bathroom, and return the room to a pristine status.

She certainly could have been bitter, but she wasn’t. She could have complained, but she didn’t. She could have lamented what she and her family had lost, but she shared only about her hopes and dreams for the future.

I cannot imagine what this dear woman and her family saw, suffered, and endured. Whatever she was in her former country, here she was a maid, a cleaning lady in a nice hotel cleaning up the mess left behind by others.

I wondered if many of the reasonably prosperous patrons even saw her or extended any courtesy to her as they rushed from place to place on business or in a rush to the beaches. Do they tip her, I wondered? Does anyone ever give her a compliment or leave a note expressing appreciation?

I left her a tip, as I always do, and later found the manager and told him how much I appreciated the lady from Yugoslavia.

It seemed to me that she was happy to be in America where she and those that remained of her family were safe, and her children could dream the dreams of youth and not have to dodge sniper fire or run from artillery shells and bombs.

Her mother had returned to the homeland after the war, she shared, but that was not for her. Her life, and the lives of her children, were to be found in America.

She was heroic, I thought, as she finished her work and moved on to the next room. It made me wonder how many other anonymous people that I pass by every day have similar stories. How many other ordinary people, I wondered, have seen and lived through horrors that I could only imagine?

And then I had a surge of hope and pride. Of all the places to which she could have fled, she came to America. Her children have grown up as Americans. Her grandchildren, when they come, will be Americans.

For all of our shortcomings and flaws, and despite the propaganda of people who hate us, people still come to America. Dreams still can come true.

[David Epps is the pastor of The Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. He is also the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese ( and is the Mission Pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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