When Refugees Go Back to School (Q&A)

Children across the U.S. are returning to school. Recently resettled refugees will be among those children. Tabitha McDuffee, Communications Coordinator for World Relief Dupage/Aurora (WRDA) sat down with both Malita Gardner, Children & Youth Program Manager at WRDA, and Deborah, a former refugee from Southeast Asia and staff member at WRDA, to discuss what the back-to-school season means for refugees.

Their conversation addresses the challenges refugee children face in their education and the ways World Relief and our partners come alongside them, working to ensure a bright educational future for each child.


Tabitha: What happens to a child’s education when his or her family is forced to flee their home and country?

Deborah: When a family is forced to flee their home and country, a child’s education is interrupted. In some cases families may have to flee on such short notice that they do not have time to gather school documents or transcripts before leaving their home. This can make it difficult for children to enroll in school in the country they flee to.


What are some of the challenges refugee children face when they arrive in their temporary host country, before they are permanently resettled? Do they even have the option of going to school in these other countries?

Deborah: Oftentimes, the classes are very large, and the teachers are not well trained. The quality of education is very poor. Parents often do not encourage their children to attend school in the host country or refugee camp because they view their situation as temporary. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR 2016 Global Trends Report], refugees remain in a host country for an average of 17 years before returning home or being resettled. This means that refugee children may miss out on large portions of their education while in a refugee camp. If a child escapes their home when they are 12, and then they spends ten years in a refugee camp before coming to the U.S., when they get here they are too old to attend school.


When a refugee child’s family is resettled in the U.S., is public education immediately available to them?

Malita: Yes. U.S. resettlement agencies like World Relief assist refugee families to enroll their children in school, usually within 30 days of arrival.


And what are the greatest challenges refugee children face as they restart their education in the U.S.?

Language. 
Malita: Refugee children’s biggest hurdle is learning English. They must progress in their language ability in order to thrive and succeed in school. However, children tend to learn a new language very quickly, so they may become fluent in as little as 18-24 months after arriving in the U.S.

Culture.
Deborah explains that schools are operated very differently in different parts of the world, so refugee children must adjust to this as well. Co-ed schools may be a new experience for some children. For her own children, the differences in grading systems were confusing.

Deborah: “I wish that teachers were more direct when telling me about my children’s progress. One of my kids was struggling in a class, but his teacher did not sound very serious or urgent when she told me, so I didn’t realize how important it was.”

Integration.
Refugee children can become isolated when they begin school in the U.S.

Malita: Refugee children are enrolled in an ESL (English as a Second Language) track so that they can improve their English while they attend school. While they benefit from spending much of the day with their assigned ESL teacher and other refugee children, it may isolate them from the rest of their classmates.


In the Middle East, World Relief works alongside local partners to host Kids Clubs, safe spaces for children to learn, play and grow. How does World Relief help refugee children arriving to the U.S.? What ongoing help and support does World Relief and its partner churches provide as children continue their education?

Malita: World Relief assists refugee children by enrolling them in school. Some local offices and partner churches  organize after-school clubs or one-on-one tutoring for students.  In some cases, ongoing help and support may include regular follow-up visits during the first year of resettlement to make sure that refugee children are adjusting well. Refugee families may also be connected with an individual or group of volunteers from the local community who visit them weekly to help the kids with homework, practice conversational English with the parents and answer questions they might have about American culture and practices.  


What is the outcome when a refugee child begins to thrive educationally here in the U.S.?

Malita: Refugee children have a lot of potential. For instance, I think of a high school girl who was nominated as the school district’s “Student of the Month,” just four years after arriving in the U.S. She gave  a speech to the school board and did an amazing job. It was so encouraging to see her success. When refugee children learn English, become involved in extracurricular activities and have access to academic support and resources, they begin to thrive. Through our youth programs, World Relief is privileged to play an important role in many success stories like this one.


World Relief’s work with refugee children and youth plays a vital role in their adjustment to new schools and their success in their new communities.

If you would like to donate to the work of World Relief during this back-to-school season text LEARN to 50555 and donate $10 World Relief’s work with refugees around the world.

Want to donate more than $10? Visit our Refugee Crisis page.

An Especially Hard Sunday Morning

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Flowers and other mementos are left at a makeshift memorial for the victims after a car plowed into a crowd of people peacefully protesting a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

It’s a known reality that Sunday mornings are an ‘experience’ for young families. Getting everyone up, ready, and out the door for church provides numerous joys and challenges. For me, this Sunday morning was particularly challenging.

On one hand, it was full of joy. My two-year-old daughter had spent her first night in the ‘big girl room’ we have been preparing the past few weeks. We were woken to the joyful scream of, “I slept in my room!” Laughter is a great way to start the day. 

We went through the normal morning routine—family cuddles in bed, breakfast and the ritual Sunday morning playing of VeggieTales 25 Favorite Sunday School Songs!, in which my daughter gets ready, eats breakfast and plays all while singing along with ALL 25 SONGS. 

On the other hand, my wife and I would both sneak away with our phones to read the updates on what had happened 142 miles down the road from us in Charlottesville, VA—a weekend getaway for those of us who live in the Baltimore/Washington D.C. metro area. 

I sat at my kitchen table with my coffee, watching my daughter and wife play and sing on the floor. So much joy. But on the phone in my hand were pictures of people with torches marching with through the streets who did not think that my wife and child—the daughter and granddaughter of Ugandan immigrants—were worth the same as those of us who are white. So much hate. 

It was an especially hard Sunday morning.

I wanted to share thoughts on what was wrong, on how it could be addressed. I wanted to experience the joy in my house and join the lament happening across the country. I didn’t want to dive into politics and policy, but speak to the church. I offer not solutions, but perspective and I am choosing to do it through the eyes of my daughter, and her favorite Sunday school songs.

This Little Light of Mine

As followers of Jesus we know that we are to be light in the darkness (Phil 2:14-16). But so often the darkness surprises us. It shouldn’t. There is real evil and hate in the world. It stands against everything that is good. It stands against people realizing their full potential as image bearers of God—with dignity, purpose and vocation. It specializes in dehumanizing each and every one of us. This weekend we saw just a glimpse of it. 

This same darkness keeps people trapped in systems of injustice, perpetuates generational poverty and causes us to fear people who are different from us. What we saw this weekend is born of the same darkness we find in a brothel full of sex slaves, an encampment of rebels training stolen children to be soldiers, the violence plaguing Syria, the shooting on the street corner or in the expanding opioid crisis.  It is vile, it is disgusting and it is not far from any of us. This darkness, when combined with our personal flaws and sin, is dangerous and pervasive. If we let ourselves be surprised by it, then it will consume us.  If we pretend we are immune to or above this darkness, then we are blind. 

Shining our light means that we expose darkness for what it is—evil. If we are to be light, we need to call out racism, white supremacism, Nazism and xenophobia as evil, expose it as evil and let the light of God cleanse it. May the church do just that this week. May we realize the power in naming evil while at the same time recognizing the long journey ahead toward rooting it out. Yes, public policy and political leaders have a role here, but we don’t control them—we control ourselves, our families and our churches. Let’s start there. 

This is My Commandment

This is my daughter’s current favorite song. “This is my commandment that you love one another that your joy may be full.”

The hate we saw perpetuated this weekend was committed by people who, we can argue, do not have much joy. Their obsession with dehumanizing people of color, immigrants and people of different faiths consumes them. They are angry and bitter. 

Let’s not become like them. 

This morning I found myself full of two types of anger. First, righteous anger at the injustice. But also, an unholy anger directed towards the people who marched. I hate what they did. They frighten me. With highly armed people who are this passionate, I worry about the safety of my wife, daughter and soon-to be born son. But I cannot let myself hate them. If I do this, I become just like them and give up my own humanity. Hating them will rob me of the joy that I believe God wants me to experience.

Yes, I should be angry—we all should. But let’s afford them what they seek to take away from others.  Let’s extend to them the love of God. 

Let us also not forget the many, many people of all colors and creeds who are afraid this week. My prayer for the church is the same prayer that we try to teach my daughter: “God teach us to love you more, teach us to love each other more and teach us to love people who are different from us more and more each day.” If the church would seek to understand this simple, yet high, calling we could change the world. 

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

At the end of 25 Sunday school songs sung by vegetables you would think that I would have been done.  Most Sundays you would be right. But this Sunday, right now, as I am writing this, the vegetables are singing “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and I have tears streaming down my face.

The chorus goes: “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarm, leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

Why tears? There have been too many mornings like this one over these past few years. Mornings that alarmed me. Mornings where I grieved, lamented and cried out to God asking, “Why do You allow this hate to continue, why don’t You root it out right now?” Mornings praying that my family would be protected from the narrative of hate in the world. Mornings coming to grips with the fact that the world treats me differently than it treats them. The painful and confusing reality that I, James, am privileged in a way that causes people to treat me in a more favorable way than they do my wife, daughter and soon-to-be son. Mornings feeling demobilized, confused and not knowing what to do.  

Why tears? Reality sets in. We might not always be safe; it is not guaranteed to us. The promise of a future reality being sung in the song does not govern this present day. But I know how the story ends and can live in light. I see the picture of the people of God gathered from every tribe and tongue. I see a throng of distinctly different people, celebrating one another’s heritages, cultures and histories. I see that same throng unified in adoration of the One who made it possible for them to finally, after millenniums of strife, come together. They come together in celebration of the One who is Light and who once and for all will do away with darkness.

Immigration is Changing the Face of Christianity for the Better

Photo courtesy Esther Havens

Photo courtesy Esther Havens

For me, immigration is not a political issue or a policy issue; it's a very personal issue. My own family's history has fundamentally shaped who I am as an American, and who I am as a Christian. And as an American Christian, my fear is that the conversation about immigration in this country has become so political that we have missed out on what God is actually doing through the migration of millions of people and may potentially miss the unique missional opportunity that is in front of us.

From Korea to the United States

I am the daughter of two Korean immigrants.

My father was born and raised in South Korea when Korea was in the midst of a significant war. My grandfather was a reporter for a newspaper, and during the beginning of the war, the military was targeting media personnel. When my father was three years old, soldiers pushed him aside as they went upstairs into the house, found my grandfather and pulled him out of the house. My father never saw his father again.

A few years later, my grandmother came to faith in Christ because of American missionaries sent to Korea at that time. Although my father and his mother were desperately poor and alone, they read Scripture and prayed together, and that is what sustained them during this troubling time without my grandfather. Sadly, my grandmother got sick and passed away, so at 7 years old, my father became an orphan.

As an orphan, my father heard about the United States of America, and knew that if he could make it here, he wouldn't be defined by his poverty or the fact that he was an orphan. After high school, he entered into a national car repair competition where he won first place. This was his golden ticket, his opportunity to move to a country he saw as the land of opportunity.

Migration Today

I know that my family is not unique: it's estimated that there are over 200 million individuals around the world that are migrating from one place to another to seek better opportunities for themselves and their families. And about 60 million of these individuals are people who are refugees or those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes. This is the greatest number of refugees and displaced since World War II.

But the history of displaced people stretches back much farther than the mid 20th century. In fact, forced migration runs through the very fabric of history itself.

A Biblical View of Immigration

From Genesis to Revelation, the entire Bible is fundamentally a book about immigrants and about immigration. In fact, almost every single Biblical character in the Bible was an immigrant at one point in another.

Abraham—who is considered the father of our faith—was called by God to leave his home and to go to another land that God would show him. Abraham didn't know where he was going or how he was going to get there. Becoming an immigrant, leaving behind everything that he knew, would be a test of God's faithfulness to him and his family.

Ruth was a Moabite woman and a migrant worker gleaning barley in the fields when she was noticed by Boaz. Boaz noticed her as a migrant worker, as someone whose character and dignity was worthy of respect and of love. And it was through her experience as a migrant that she was able to meet the love of her life.

Joseph was a victim of human trafficking. He was sold into slavery by his brothers and was transported across borders, and that fundamentally shaped his experience as an immigrant.

Jesus the Middle Eastern refugee

Perhaps the greatest immigrant of all in Scripture was Jesus himself. He was a single, male Middle Eastern refugee. He fits into every category of an individual whom we have said that we don't even want to come into our country. So my question is: “If Jesus were born today, would we as a country even welcome him into our community?”

Immigration: A missional opportunity

At World Relief, we've resettled over 300,000 refugees from all parts of the world. We've resettled individuals from Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan—places where it's very hard for the Church to thrive.

What we have found is that the mission field is not just overseas anymore. Because of migration to the United States of America, the mission field has literally arrived in our own backyards. It is an incredible opportunity for the church.

Dr. Timothy Tenent, President of Asbury Theological Seminary, said: “86% of the immigrant population are likely either to be Christian or to become Christian. And that is far above the national average.” He said that "The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America. This group of people we want to keep out is the group that we actually need the most for spiritual transformation. We shouldn't see this as something that threatens us. We should see this as an incredible, missional opportunity.”

The immigrant population actually presents the greatest hope for Christian renewal in North America.
— Dr. Timothy Tenent, President, Asbury Theological Seminary

It isn’t only refugees who have never heard the Gospel who are coming to the U.S. Many refugees are arriving with a vibrant Christian faith that is renewing the life of the church. Refugees and immigrants are not just the recipients of mission, but they are also the agents of mission.

As an example, Abundant Life Church in San Antonio started with a few hundred members but within the span of five years grew to over 1,300 members, offering both English and Spanish-speaking services. The immigrants coming into this church community are actually reviving the spiritual life of the church. And it's not just these small immigrant churches that are experiencing tremendous growth and spiritual renewal. Megachurches across the country, like Willow Creek Community Church, are also experiencing a transformation and revitalization of their ministries.

A test of faith

When we talk about immigration, I believe it's not just a test of our politics. Our response to immigration fundamentally is a test of our faith, what we fundamentally believe about the gospel and about people who are made in the image of God.

Are we willing to risk our own comfort and security to welcome our neighbors into the kingdom of God? Do we really actually believe that Jesus died for people of all nations and of all ethnicities and of all cultures and of all languages? Because I believe if we do, we will choose to welcome and love the very people the world wants us to hate. In fact, when we as a church love and welcome the very people the world wants to marginalize, we will advance the mission of God.

 

This post was adapted from Jenny Yang’s talk at Cru 17. Watch the entire talk.


Jenny Yang provides oversight for all advocacy initiatives and policy positions at World Relief. She has worked in the Resettlement section of World Relief as the Senior Case Manager and East Asia Program Officer, where she focused on advocacy for refugees in the East Asia region and managed the entire refugee caseload for World Relief. Prior to World Relief, she worked at one of the largest political fundraising firms in Maryland managing fundraising and campaigning for local politicians. She is co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion and Truth in the Immigration Debate, serves as Chair of the Refugee Council USA (RCUSA) Africa Work Group, and was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by Christianity Today. 

“I will not forget you, God has placed you in my heart.”

Some time ago I spent a week in a Middle Eastern country visiting with Syrian refugees. Day after day on that trip, I sat on concrete floors in crumbling urban apartments with Syrian women and their children. Each time I looked into the women's faces, their empty eyes told the silent stories of losses and grief.

In Syria, these women had been comfortable, middle class women, just living their day-to-day lives. Then suddenly, one day, they were running for their lives. They had watched their friends and family members die. They had seen their communities exploding, literally. So they did the only thing they could. They grabbed their kids and crossed country borders in the middle of the night, sometimes with bullets chasing them, in search of some kind of future. In search of some kind of hope.

Fortunately, many of those women ended up safely in the neighborhood where I was visiting, where a church I knew very well was providing food and basic necessities for these refugee families. On the last day of my visit, the pastor asked if I would speak to 200 of these women. He explained how they came to the church once a week to get bags of food and to let their children play in a safe place. While the children played, the mothers attended meetings where they’d learn how to deal with grief, how to help with their children’s trauma, and how to adapt to a new culture.

With the help of a Palestinian Christian friend who translated my words into Arabic, this is what I said to the women:

“I wish I didn’t have to stand up here in front of you. I would much rather sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would love to snuggle your baby in my arms. And I would love to hear your story. I know you each have a sad story, and if I heard it, I know I would weep. I know you are good and loving women. And I’m sorry you have lost so much. I am sorry you had to flee to a country, a city, and a house that’s not your own.

I can imagine in your own country, you were strong women who graciously served others.

I can imagine you making delicious food and sharing it with your family and friends.

I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends, just like I do.”

That’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve, protect, and work hard to make the world better for the people we love.
Wherever I go in the world, I discover we women are a lot a like. We may have different clothes, hair, religion, culture or skin color, but in our hearts we are the same. That’s why we can look into each other's eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile, we can hug, we can laugh. And sometimes we can feel each other’s pain. While I was with those women, I prayed that God would help me feel their pain. And oh how I wished I could remove it, or help them carry it.

“Your Faith Has Healed You”

I told the women gathered before me that while I prayed for them the night before, I was reminded of the story in the Gospel about the woman who had been sick for many years. No one could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her and were ignoring her. But she believed Jesus could heal her if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. She was afraid he would turn her away if he saw her, so she stayed quietly in the shadows. Finally, she reached out and touched his robe.

Immediately he stopped, “Who touched me?” He asked.

“Power has flowed out of me and I want to know who touched me.”

She was afraid, certain he was angry and would punish her, but she felt compelled to answer, “It was me. I am the one who touched you!”

The crowd hushed, anxious to see what this great man would do.

Jesus simply looked into her eyes and said, “Daughter your faith is great. Your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

I told the women that when I read that story I wondered why Jesus stopped and made that frightened women speak up, and I prayed for God to help me understand.

This is why I think Jesus stopped: I believe Jesus wanted that woman to know he saw her.

She wasn’t just an anonymous person in a huge crowd. She was an individual woman and he saw her.

Jesus knew she was suffering and it broke his heart. He called her daughter so she would understand how much he loved her. He said she had great faith in her God and he honored her for it. And he healed the wounds of her body and soul.

As a Christian, I believe Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us that God sees each of us as individuals. He calls us sons and daughters because he loves us. He honors our faith because he knows it can make us strong. He cares when we suffer. He wants to bring healing, comfort, and peace into our lives. Some verses in Scripture even tell us that Jesus weeps, which means that God weeps, too. He weeps for all of His suffering children.

“I Will Not Forget You”

Then I looked at the women seated before me and said this,

“I wish I could end the war that’s ravaging your country. I wish I could gather all the money in the world to make your lives easier. I wish I could bring back all that you have lost. I can’t do any of that, but I can do this: I can go home and tell others what I’ve seen. I can tell people how you are suffering and how amazing Christians are lovingly walking with you. Both you and your Christian friends need the prayers and support of Americans. And I will tell my friends that.

"I will also tell my friends how beautiful, strong, and loving you are. I will tell them you are women of deep faith, women who adore your children and grandchildren, just the same way I adore mine. Women who sacrifice willingly for those that they love.

"I will tell them that when I look into your eyes, I see that we are all a part of the same human family, all created and loved by God. I will not forget you. I will pray for you. I will tell your stories. I will weep when I hear anew of your suffering, and I will rejoice over any goodness that comes your way.

"Truly I will not forget you. God has placed you in my heart.”

It was over three years ago that I met those women.  Since then I have told their stories many times. They and their stories continue to break my heart, but they also compel me to action.

One final story has impacted me greatly...

After their home was destroyed by rockets, Hana and her children fled Syria to relative safety in a neighboring country. There they found leaders like Saeed and Clara providing help and hope for refugee children. I hope that as you watch, their story inspires you as much as it inspired me.


More than 80% of the beneficiaries of our programs are women and children. World Relief works through local churches to protect, celebrate, and raise the value of women by taking a holistic approach—addressing immediate needs and harmful belief systems simultaneously. Learn how you can join us and create a better world for women.


Since 1975, when Lynne & Bill Hybels started Willow Creek Community Church, Lynne has been an active volunteer in the compassion ministries of the church. She has served with ministry partners in Chicago, Latin America, Africa, and more recently in the Middle East. Increasingly, Lynne is partnering with women in conflict zones who are committed to reconciliation, peacemaking, caring for refugees, and creating a better future for their children. Lynne is actively engaged with a grassroots organization, One Million Thumbprints, which raises awareness and funds for women suffering from the violence of war in Syria and Iraq, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In recent years she has traveled repeatedly to the Middle East to meet with Syrian refugees, Iraqis displaced by ISIS, and Israeli and Palestinian women working for security, dignity, and peace for all the people living in the Holy Land. Lynne and Bill have two grown children, Shauna and Todd, one son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, and two grandsons, Henry and Mac, who run the family. 

Out of Many, One — The Power and Importance of Integration over Assimilation

A refugee family is welcomed into their new apartment by staff and volunteers from World Relief's Nashville office. (Photo courtesy Sean Sheridan)

A refugee family is welcomed into their new apartment by staff and volunteers from World Relief's Nashville office. (Photo courtesy Sean Sheridan)

 

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands.”  — Revelation 7:9

This is the picture of eternity that the Apostle John paints for us when he writes of heaven.  A beautiful array of colors, culture, languages and peoples. Distinct, yet one in Christ. Once strangers, now integrated and united under God.

The Immigrant Image

Despite the strong political divides facing the nation today, many Christians across the U.S. have accepted God’s call to “welcome the stranger.” Many of us are learning through personal service to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to serve “the least of these” as we would serve Jesus himself, in the process learning more about Jesus himself.

As we do, we see Jesus as he is, but we do not make him in our own image. For we would not share a drink, or provide clothes or make a visit to Jesus only if Jesus was willing to become like us.  Yet, we run the risk of doing just that if we do not consider how we will welcome immigrants into our communities.

The Questions We Must Answer

Two key questions lie at the core of how immigrants will acculturate into a new society:

  1. Are immigrants allowed to be a part of the community and connected to other groups?

  2. Are immigrants allowed to maintain their cultural identity and characteristics?

If the answer to both of these questions is “no,” then immigrants will forever stay on the margins of society. They will not be welcomed as part of the community, nor will they be allowed to maintain their identity.

But even if the answer to only one of these questions is “yes,” then integration will still fail. Because if immigrants are allowed to maintain their own cultural identity, but not allowed to become part of the larger society, they remain a separated group—ethnically, socially and economically.

We’ve Seen This Before

As an example, following World War II, immigrants from North Africa were invited into Europe to help to rebuild war-torn infrastructure and revive cities and towns. 70 years later, many of these groups in France remain separated from French society. This separation has kept entire cultural and ethnic groups from becoming fully-participating members of society, opening up breeding grounds for discontent and violence. Consequently, today, we see native-born Europeans perpetrating acts of violence and terror because they were kept separate from mainstream society in isolated ethnic ‘clusters.’

Integration is Who We Are

On the other side, many in the U.S. today argue that immigrants should be allowed to become part of the community and be connected to others, but only if they give up their past culture and identity in a process of assimilation. Some of these same individuals would state that this has been the way of America since its inception, but an honest look at our history reveals that each new group has enriched and contributed to culture and traditions that have come to be embraced by all. The strength of immigrant generations is that, despite the discrimination they often face for their cultural norms, language and values, they have contributed to what it really means to be American.

Historically, the United States has integrated, at least at some levels, one immigrant group after another – allowing each successive group to become a part of the community and allowing them to maintain their cultural identity and characteristics, which they have shared with others.

For instance, I am not of Irish heritage, but I enjoy the annual tradition of turning the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day. I am not of Chinese heritage, but am grateful that there are many, wonderful Chinese restaurants in my neighborhood. I am not Burmese, but I am inspired to help my neighbors because of the amazing examples of sacrificial service I see in this more recently arrived immigrant group. Far from assimilation, the history of America is one of immigrant integration that we would do well to continue today.

Drawn By Our Values

It is the core American values—those of religious freedom, opportunity, freedom of the press, the rule of law, and participation in government—that draw immigrants to want to be a part of the United States. Many refugees come to the U.S. having been persecuted for their faith, and the fact that immigrant churches are the fastest growing churches in the U.S. shows how much this freedom is valued. The fact that 25% of venture-backed U.S. public companies were started by immigrants clearly demonstrates the commitment to hard work and providing for family. The number of immigrants who willingly go through the long process (minimally 5 years) of becoming a U.S. citizen shows the desire to engage as a part of their new country. They bring these values with them to the U.S., and those values are strengthened in relationships with native-born Americans.

New Americans

But for integration of immigrants into the U.S. to be successful—and to avoid the pitfalls of marginalization, separation and assimilation—the receiving community must be ready to see the distinct gifts and value of these “new Americans.” Love and affinity for one’s past is not a rejection of the values that characterize the U.S. Instead of criticizing or doubting that immigrants share core American values with the larger society, we should build relationships with our new neighbors to see how these values are expressed in the unique culture and traditions they bring. In the United States we are “Of Many, One.”  But true unity is not expressed in dress, or food, or in religious expression. These are the “many” different expressions we have had as a people since this nation was founded. As we welcome immigrants to the U.S., we learn and add their distinct culture to the greater good of this country and find the unity that truly makes us one.

From Every Nation, Tribe and Language

Let us return to the picture in scripture of what this type of integration looks like:

“I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes and with palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:9)

In this description of the ultimate, eternal society, the distinctiveness of God’s creation is not lost. The Apostle John could clearly identify ethnic groups, language groups and nationalities in those he saw before the throne of God. In this scene God is not being praised by a single, homogenous group, but by one that is made up of the entire array of colors, cultures, languages and peoples God created. They are united in the act of unceasing praise, but they have not lost, nor been forced to deny, the distinctiveness of what God gave them.

For Christians, this is a picture of the eternity we anticipate. The United States should never be compared to heaven, but our history as a country gives us the freedom to begin practicing for that eternity here in our churches and communities. By welcoming those who represent the distinctiveness of God’s creation and learning, together with them, we practice living in a society that is built not on loss of identity, but on glorious sharing together. In so doing our nation can truly be “Of Many, One” and the church can reflect, even here, the eternity for which we long.


Prior to becoming the SVP of U.S. Ministries, Emily Gray served for six years as the Executive Director of World Relief’s offices in DuPage County and Aurora, Illinois. She is a former full-time missionary to Central America and is a founding member of Mission Lazarus, also serving on Mission Lazarus’ board for 15 years. Emily is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, earning a Bachelor of Social Work degree from Abilene Christian University, a Master of Social Work from Boston University, and has completed doctoral hours at the University of Texas at Arlington. She has been married for 30 years to Cary, a Computer Scientist, teacher and scholar of Christian hymns.