On November 10, 2012, a massive explosion lit up the night sky on the south side of Indianapolis. Two people were killed and five homes demolished. Nearly 80 houses in the neighborhood were damaged, leaving dozens of families homeless on a cold November night.
The blast was felt miles away. Authorities initially believed the explosion was an accident, but that was before additional evidence led to a homicide investigation. While there still aren't any clear answers, authorities remain convinced the devastating blast was not an accident.
One thing is certain, however. While authorities sifted through the ashes for evidence, a small but tight-knit community of Chin refugees from Burma living on the city's south side immediately mobilized for a response.
The result -- a $10,500 check presented by the Chin refugee community as a gift to the victims of the explosion -- astonished community members and left an unforgettable impression on families who lost their homes in the blast. In all, 19 Chin churches contributed to help the victims.
"We did not know this check was coming," says Cindy McClain , an elder at Southport Presbyterian, the church coordinating the victim's fund. "We weren't expecting it. In that regard, it was a surprise."
Kjack William is chairman of the Chin Community of Indiana. He told RTV 6 that the gift was about being a good neighbor. "The Chin community -- we feel that we belong to this community," he said. "We feel we are a part of this community. We want to help them. We feel sorry for this."
The Chin community's outpouring of generosity toward the explosion victims has its own compelling back story.
Some 7,000 Chin refugees from Burma have resettled on the south side of Indianapolis in recent years, having escaped brutal persecution in their homeland. As ethnic minorities in Burma, many were once victims of forced labor, and some saw their homes burned down by the country's ruling military junta. Today, they have constructed new lives in a new country, and found a way to feel at home in Indianapolis.
I feel privileged to know many of the Chin refugees living here in Indianapolis personally. Through my work at Exodus Refugee Immigration, I have seen firsthand the depth of need in the refugee community -- a level of need that is often overwhelming. But I am always profoundly struck by the depth of compassion.
This drastic outpouring of generosity is no exception, and frankly, to me it's no surprise.
Cindy, name changed, is a Chin refugee who arrived in Indianapolis just three years ago with her husband and two young children. I recently spent an evening in Cindy's home, listening to her and her husband's story of escaping persecution in Burma and ultimately making it to the United States as refugees.
Cindy's husband kept a diary of his escape, which is how he can tell the exact day and time that he left Burma to find a new life. He stayed at a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border before fleeing to Malaysia, but he was only there for three days before he got arrested. That was the beginning of nine horrific months in prison. He was never allowed to make a single phone call.
Cindy remembers those months with tears in her eyes. "I thought he was dead," she told me.
When Cindy's husband gained refugee status, he was finally able to reunite with his family. Together they made the long journey to the United States. When they arrived at the Indianapolis International Airport, Cindy said she knew she was home.
"It was so wonderful," she says. "I felt so happy."
Today, Cindy and her husband both work long hours to support their family. They are often exhausted in the evenings, but they feel happy that their work is finally paying off. Cindy and her husband attended financial literacy classes through Exodus, learning how to budget and save the money they made at their jobs. Then, just last year they bought a house for the first time in their lives.
Cindy can't stop smiling when she talks about the moment she signed the papers for their modest suburban house on the south side of Indianapolis -- only a few miles from where the explosion took place.
"It's not just a house, it's a home," she tells me.
Perhaps all of this explains why Cindy and her husband didn't hesitate to donate their hard-earned money to help victims of the explosion.
After years of suffering, they finally have a home -- and Cindy says it's painful to see someone else lose theirs. "They are our neighbors," she says simply, "We wanted to help."
For Kjack William, the $10,500 gift from the Chin refugee community symbolizes a kindness returned.
"When we came here for the first time, we got help from our American friends," he told RTV6. "Right now our friends, our neighbors, when they have a problem like this disaster, we also want to help them. It is very important. We need to help our neighbors."