Pr. Mary's Pen-November 2015

November 2015 Pastor’s Pen

Dear Holy Trinity family,

“A picture paints a thousand words.”  Even before end-of-year photo retrospectives appear, we can guess some images that will be included and remain seared in our memory.  For many, it will be the body of a Syrian child washed up on the shore or carried lifeless in the arms of a first responder, after yet another boat of refugees sank.

Why do we welcome?  Because we have been welcomed!

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.   (Leviticus 19:34)

Why do we welcome?  Because we never know to whom we’ve opened (or on whom we’ve slammed) the door!

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.  (Hebrews 13:2)

I’m not aware of any full-blooded Native Americans in our faith family, so it seems safe to say that we are all either the descendants of immigrants or immigrants ourselves.    My favorite sight flying into and out of Newark Airport is Lady Liberty  holding her torch high.  My grandfather Necols Ciampi entered this country through Ellis Island in the very early 20th century; I imagine him glimpsing the Statue of Liberty for the first time as the ship approached shore.  What went through that 12-year-old Italian boy’s mind?  What filled his heart?  How fortunate that he had family in America to sponsor him!  How fortunate that he was healthy and passed the medical exam!  If you have visited Ellis Island you may remember the jackets on which chalk X’s are scrawled – worn by those who were rejected and faced a return trip to their country of origin.

In the 1950’s my stepmother Mimi emigrated to this country from Honduras.  She was a trained nurse whose expertise was sought by the Margaret Hague Maternity Hospital in Jersey City.   She made this country her home and like my grandfather was proud to become a U.S. citizen.  She earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, became a midwife and a nursing professor, teaching a whole new generation of nurses, including my sister.  Mimi has been a blessing to her adopted land – and to my family!

 The issues of immigration and refugee resettlement are near and dear to my heart.  I was blessed to be born in this land and to enjoy the privilege of American citizenship because my forebears received a welcome here.  Now this is my “watch,” so to speak.  I want to be sure the gift is still given.

I recently viewed a documentary about the fate of the S.S. St. Louis.  This was the infamous cruise ship that transported over 900 Jews fleeing Nazi persecution to Havana, Cuba, where most of them planned to wait for their American immigration number to come up.  The year was 1939.  Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when Jewish shops were broken into and synagogues were burned throughout the Reich, had occurred on November 9 of the prior year.    It was clear that the Jews were fleeing for their lives. 

The Cuban landing permits the passengers had purchased were fraudulent.  The corrupt government official who had sold them was no longer in office.  The ship’s captain was forbidden to allow most of his passengers to debark.  (The exceptions were those who had the foresight to procure legitimate Cuban visas, and those who had relatives on land to bribe officials.)

The ship headed to Florida.  It was not allowed to dock there either.  Within sight of Miami’s palm trees and lights, the passengers sent desperate telegrams to U.S. officials, all to no avail.  Our government’s response was that it would not be fair to other immigrants-in-waiting for the St. Louis passengers to cut ahead of them in line.  This was despite the handwriting on the wall that their return to Nazi Germany would mean almost certain death.  Denied entrance to Canada also, the St. Louis returned across the sea and docked in Antwerp.  The people on board were sent either to Holland, France, Belgium or Great Britain.  Those who went to England fared the best.  Almost a quarter of the passengers on the St. Louis perished by the end of the war.  The youngest passenger on board, an infant, survived.  If you google S.S. St. Louis images you can find a photo of smiling embarking passengers, including a mother and child-in-arms. The baby grew up to be Eva Wiener, a friend of Holy Trinity who has shared her story with us. 

In 2012 the U.S. State Department issued an “official statement of wrongdoing” for refusing to allow the passengers of the S.S. St. Louis to find refuge on our shores – and for other acts of commission and omission that failed to address the genocide in Europe.  Canada has also issued such an apology.  With the thaw in diplomatic relations, there is hope that Cuba may follow suit.

The plight of Syrian refugees is before us daily in the news.  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services will help us welcome the newest wave of those Emma Lazarus described as “huddled masses yearning to breathe free… the homeless, tempest-tost...” 

For more than seven decades, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been a champion for migrants and refugees from around the globe. Our legacy of courageous and compassionate service has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have sought safety and hope in America’s communities. Our history reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers.

The U.S. is currently planning to allow 85,000 refugees into our country in 2016, including 10,000 fleeing ISIS violence and war in Syria.  LIRS describes this as “an incremental move towards compassion and welcome, but [one that] remains woefully inadequate as a response to the global refugee crisis.”  LIRS is encouraging our government to increase the 2016 refugee quota to 200,000, with 100,000 spaces reserved for Syrians.  If you agree, feel free to sign the LIRS petition on the traveling bulletin board in Fellowship Hall.  It is better to act now to save lives than to apologize in 70 years for lost lives.

LIRS now seeks to serve people of all national origins and faiths.  How glad that must make our Lord’s heart!  A friend of Pastor Beth, William Maxwell, wrote a poem (“Ave, Whatever Your Name Is”) that includes this verse:

The Lord is with you.

And with everyone else here.

And with all those who aren’t here:

      and with Mbopo, and Moktada, and Pyotr, and

      all those others with names

      we don’t know how to pronounce.

There is no one of whom we can say

the Lord is NOT with her!  Or him.  Or them.

God loves with a splendid lack of discrimination

and doesn’t leave anyone out.*

That’s what the Lord asks of us, too.


Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham

*(Used with permission.)