There’s room for everybody

I got to see the movie Brooklyn recently.  This movie, released 2015 is about an Irish Immigrant to New York City in 1951.  For many Anglo-Americans, we think our ancestors  immigration experience happened like this:


Our great-grandparents were thrilled to arrive, with well-ordered paperwork, at Ellis Island, eager to have jobs and apartments in the US.

And of course, we forget that they were homesick, at first.  That the paperwork wasn’t always in order, and that they weren’t always welcome.  That some days, being new in the US was more like this:

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Sometimes, our body is in one place, and our head is in another place.  That’s what immigration feels like.  That’s sort of what happens to Eilis (eye-lish) in the movie.  She is excited to be in America.  But she is also sad, because she left behind a family, and friends, and a job, and a church, and an entire country and culture that were her own.

America has always welcomed immigrants – but from 1925-1965, due to a global depression and three global wars, we received many fewer than we did before, or since.  Now, we’re welcoming about as many immigrants as we did in 1900, but they look different (and our overall US population is different, too).

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Some of our immigrants are refugees, asylum seekers, temporary workers, family members, or students.  Some, like Eilis in the movie Brooklyn, don’t know what to expect when they get here or how long they’ll stay.  All of the immigrants have a story – and that combination of stories is what makes up the American story.

Nearly all North Americans are here because of immigration. Legal immigration, I hear some of you whispering at the computer.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Before 1920, there were practically no U.S. immigration laws – the only exception, of course, was the legal importation of slaves until 1808.  So if your family is European-American, like mine, they probably did whatever they did to get here, and when they arrived, they hoped for the best.


Maybe, 50 years from now, we’ll tell stories about families who arrived in 2016, on a plane or a car or a train, with a hope and a wish and a prayer for a future that will look very different from what they left behind.

Do you know your family’s immigration history?  Do you know how they all got here, or when, or where they arrived?  Do you know who they were before they tried to learn English, or went to school?
Or have we limited their story to “they came for a better life”?  Which, in itself is telling – if our own family came for a better life, why do we expect current immigrants to come for anything different?

US Refugee Process

Defining Terms

Most Americans don’t know Immigration Law.
So, we believe what we hear – that there are “too many” refugees coming to the US and and that the government wants to “let in everybody”**.  Recently, an actual Immigration Attorney from Ohio explained it all to a graphic designer, and together they made this great infographic.

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**there’s currently 6 million refugees worldwide (according to the UN refugee agency).   The US is taking only about 1.5% of the world’s refugees – despite being the richest country in the world and the 3rd richest per captia

Once a refugee manages to get through the 18-24 months of waiting and vetting, it might be nice to actually welcome them to the US.

Holy Obligation

According to the UN, there are 60 million refugees in the world right now – more than ever since WWII – and last year there were 8 million new refugees – more than ever recorded in a single year.  Most of these refugees are either Muslim or African (or both).

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We’ve seen so many pictures and heard so many statistics that it is becoming impossible to imagine how each number can represent a person – a real human, with a story, an individual who is loved by God and has been victimized by war and terror.

What can I do?

The numbers are so large that it feels overwhelming.  The situation is so far away that it feels dis-connected from our everyday North American lives.  But ethicist Father David Hollenbeck reminds us that what we do matters:

If you’re a good swimmer, you’ve got an obligation to jump in and help that kid being who’s in danger of drowning… we have a moral obligation.

Fr. Hollenbeck points out that faith-based organizations are doing the most and best work on the ground around the world.  You and I might not be the lifeguards for these refugees – but we can help to support those who are.

lirs logo

LIRS was started in 1939 by Lutheran congregations who wanted to help during the European war (2 years before the US entered WWII).  By 1945, one out of every four refugees in the world was Lutheran.  Since then, LIRS has helped more refugees settle in the US than any other non-profit.  Visit here:  to learn more, to volunteer, or to donate.  Lutherans are helping Refugees on 6 continents  – and you can be a part of that amazing work, too.


Star – Struck

Almost Famous

Last week, over 1,000 preachers gathered in Atlanta to listen to other people preach.  For many of them, it’s the only sermon they’ll hear all year that they didn’t write themselves.

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Sounds like the beginning of a comedy routine, but it isn’t.  It’s a week-long conference called the Festival of Homiletics , and it’s been happening every May for 24 years.
This year, I got to attend, as the very first trip of the Graduate Preaching Fellowship.
I got to try out my identity as a “Preaching Fellow” – Handing out business cards and introducing myself as a seminary graduate.

I also got to meet some famous preachers.

You might not know that there are famous preachers, probably because most of them are seminary professors, and they are only famous to other preachers.  But there were a few authors, writers, and other famous people (like the pastor who preaches from the same pulpit where Dr. Martin Luther King preached).

In the midst of all those famous preachers, I got to meet & greet with one of them!


Dr. Karoline Lewis is the professor who leads the Graduate Preaching Fellowship application process.  She is the one who called to tell me I won the award!  She also teaches at my seminary, but I haven’t been in her class.  She was just as excited to meet me in person as I was to meet her!

Sometime in the next year, she might get to hear me preach, just like I got to hear her.  I doubt she’ll be at my book signing 😉 but who knows?

In the meantime, I’m going to frame one thing she said during her lecture that impacted me:

The most precious grace God gives to us is the grace to be ourselves.



God takes us just as we are, and equips us for the ministry to which we’re called.  But how often do we believe Satan’s lies – the lies that tell us our voice won’t be heard because who we are isn’t good enough for others to listen.

I may not be famous (yet).  But I am called by God and I will not keep God’s good news story to myself.

CARE packages


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I had no idea that CARE packages were an official humanitarian outreach from North Americans to Europeans during and after WWII.  NPR recently wrote an article about them, explaining how a German POW was initially suspicious of the package, but eventually concluded that “Americans are different.  They help people in need, regardless of who and where they are.”

Now, Americans who were WWII refugees are sending CARE packages to Syrian Refugees.


care packages

Receiving a letter from a former refugee, “made me feel like I exist” – states one Syrian refugee teenager.

I do not know what it is to lose my home and my country to war.  I do know that God commands us to care for refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, and anyone else who needs Care.  The Bible is full of commands to care for one another.

In just a few weeks, I’ll travel to Europe and meet with refugees.  Some might have been refugees from World War II or the Bosnian Conflict; some might be recent arrivals from Syria or Eritrea or Afghanistan.  My prayer is that God will show us how to care for refugees today.



First blog post

Welcome to a year of “Hope Beyond Borders”!

I am thrilled that you’re here.
Please consider “following” the blog via the “contact” link up above.
Also, follow me on twitter:  @_PastorKelly
This is going to be a great year!  Cannot wait to start packing our bags, and learning about how churches and countries across the world are welcoming refugees into their communities, homes, and congregations.

Email me at PastorKelly.GPF <at> to schedule a time for me to come and speak with your church, school, or group.