I recently found my wife, Belinda, staring at a photo of her grandfather, Alexis Koshanov, or "Grandpa Alex," as Belinda knew him. Alexis, age 15, fled Lithuania just before Hitler's whisper campaign, but was turned away at Ellis Island because he was Jewish. He later immigrated into the United States via Canada, but his sister died in Auschwitz and his brother barely survived Dachau. "I am a refugee, just two generations removed," Belinda said, tears filling her eyes.
In 1854, on a rural farm in Bischofshein, Germany, Heinrich, crammed everything he owned into a wooden trunk, made his way to Bremen on the coast, and boarded a ship for New York. Heinrich sailed past Ellis Island to the Castle Garden Immigration Processing Center on the southern tip of Manhattan. Upon disembarkation, he received a 6 second medical exam and his clothes were chalked with a mark indicating health. When he registered his name, he was told to drop an “n” at the end to make it read more simply: Bauman.
I am an immigrant—just a three generations removed.
I often hear about a church, neighborhood, or community opening their arms to an immigrant or refugee family. These people are heroes. Why? Because they have chosen to open their hearts, their minds, and even their homes. As they do, the language of "refugee" or "immigrant" quickly fades away to become "brother" or "sister" and eventually "American."
We are at our best not when we turn our backs or demand our rights or talk about walls but when we welcome the refugee, the sojourner, the immigrant, with our own histories engraved in our hearts and etched into our memories. We are at our best—as a people, a Church, a community and a nation—not when we fear but when we love.