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Did you know – Our stories connect us?

Posted: March 1 2017 at 12:00 AM
Author: Rev. Arlene Christopherson, Assistant to the Bishop/Dir. of Connectional Ministries

Immigration has always been an important topic in our world and in our country. My grandparents emigrated from Holland in the 1920’s between World Wars. They booked passage in the cargo hold of a ship, the Noordam, and entered the United States through Ellis Island.

A few years ago while at the Ellis Island Visitor’s Center I was able to find the manifest for the ship that delivered Pieter and Knelske Wassenaar to the U.S. My grandfather was described as wearing spectacles, with a Roman nose. My grandmother was kept in quarantine for a cough and housed on the island until she recovered from illness. My grandfather wandered the streets of New York waiting for her release before they made their way to relatives in Chicago where they settled.

My grandfather was a bricklayer working in the booming Chicago building trade on some of the same buildings I walk past every day in the loop. My grandmother worked in the Wrigley Chewing Gum factory until she was fired for not calling in one day when she couldn’t come to work because she was sick. They had no phone and she had no way of telling her supervisor about her illness.

Every family has a history. Do you know yours? We are Native Americans, pilgrims, those forced onto slave ships, part of the waves of immigrants who have come to the U.S. from across the globe. If you walk through the halls of Ellis Island, you learn that yours is just one of millions of stories of those immigrating to the U.S. over the years. Some came to escape dire conditions in their homelands, some did not come out of choice, and some were seeking adventure, education or opportunity.

Immigration is not a new topic, but it has become an important focus for us in recent weeks. Bishop Dyck wrote a Pastoral Letter to the Northern Illinois Conference in early February urging us to learn more about our biblical and United Methodist teachings on immigration as we also learn more about the current role of the church in addressing the immigration crisis.

Many good resources are cited in the Bishop’s recent letter. Small group studies, resources for churches who wish to learn more about the sanctuary movement, resources for involvement in ministries of justice and mercy.

We also have excellent agencies in our area working on issues of immigration and refugees. Some of these include the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (, JFON ( and Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America ( These are resources that can help you and your church learn and become involved in immigration work.

In the midst of fears and threats, political stands and court battles, there is no substitute for listening to one another and hearing each other’s stories. In putting a face to what it means to be a refugee, an immigrant, we grow closer to understanding one another. Whether the story is centuries old or from a few weeks ago, visiting what it means to migrate to a new country helps us appreciate those we are called to serve as Christ served.

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