Immigration Friends

By Laurel Kehl

Immigration. Just the word itself raises a lot of strong emotions in our hearts these days, especially the idea of undocumented (illegal) immigrants. As Americans, we have a lot of pride in being a nation that from the beginning has said, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” but we expect people to play by the rules. For those who don’t (or can’t because the system doesn’t work), there is very little tolerance and a lot of fear.

Ron reminded us in his sermon last Sunday that as those whose identity is in Jesus, we are called to welcome the stranger (and He doesn’t give us the option of WHICH ones we welcome!). It makes a difference when the stranger has a face and you know his/her story. It’s much easier to be compassionate and to love someone you know. So let me introduce you to a few of the ESL students in our classes in the NE. Their stories aren’t that different from ours, when push comes to shove. (Disclaimer: We don’t ask if our students are documented or undocumented. So those I’m describing could be in either category. They simply need our help.)

Abdullah always greets me with warmth and a smart-aleck remark when he enters the classroom. He fits the US profile of a terrorist in some ways, because he’s single, young, and came alone to the US from Iraq, but he’s the class clown. Recently he got news that his father had died, and he wasn’t allowed to leave the country to attend the funeral. No smart-aleck remark that day when he greeted me. Just tears.

Paulo and Ilma are from Brazil and, like 2 other couples whom I know, haven’t seen their teenage daughter for 10 years. They Skype with her every day, but left for America so they could pay for her to attend good schools in Brazil. They work very hard, Paulo in construction and Ilma cleaning houses. They study English diligently. They live for their 2 daughters (they have a 6-year-old who was born here.). They always hug me when they leave class and thank me for all we do for them.

Erina, Ermalinda, and Etleva are all from Albania and have become friends here in America. One class, we were studying the phrase “looking forward to” and their example was, “We look forward to English class, because we can learn English and see our friends!”

Angela is from Brazil and also cleans houses. One class, she asked for prayer because her employer’s husband had committed suicide. When we had coffee to talk about it, Angela said to me, “Laurel, I really need you. There are so many Americans I want to talk to about Jesus, but I don’t have enough English!”

God is bringing people to Philadelphia from all over the world, some unbelievers for us to love into the Kingdom and some believers to help us with the mission of expanding the Kingdom! But the stranger is playing an integral part in the ministry God has called us to. How are we doing in welcoming them?