Cold Hands, Warm Hearts: Welcome to “North of Normal”

Fargo’s History is full of Immigrants

A century ago, 80% of North Dakota’s residents were immigrants, or children of immigrants.  From 1890-1910, the new state strongly recruited farmers from around the world; most of those immigrants were Scandinavian and German Lutherans.
That means today, there are a LOT of Lutherans in North Dakota!


(The orange color shows counties where ELCA Lutherans are the majority religious group.)

Scandinavian heritage is everywhere.  I went to a dinner hosted at a hall called the “Sons of Norway”, and it was full of art similar to what we saw in Oslo and Stockholm this summer!


Today, Fargo is once again experiencing an immigrant boom.  About 5,000 refugees from 40 countries have settled in Fargo since 1990.  This growth means that the non-white population of the Fargo area has doubled in 25 years.  Even so, the city is still 93% Anglo or European-American.

This creates an interesting situation in the city.


Welcome becomes an action verb.
Hospitality is not the same as inclusion.  

It takes effort to accept that your town feels different.  Neighbors might be difficult to understand.  Classrooms empty out for holidays we’ve never heard of before.  Store shelves are full of foods we don’t recognize.  People on the street look like people in the news.  New Employees have names we can’t pronounce.


In the midst of this fear and confusion, Lutheran Social Services is living out “God’s Work – Our Hands”.  The photo above includes LSS director Jessica, with local refugees.

This agency is the only one placing refugees in North Dakota. They are filling a need – employers don’t have enough applicants, especially for low-skilled, low-wage jobs.  Families want their children to have a global perspective, and many want their town to have an international flavor.

These 5 peace poles each say “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in 4 languages – all 20 Languages represented are spoken in Fargo, and represent the refugees placed by LSS-ND.  

Jessica spends most of her time trying to convince Lutherans that welcoming refugees into our communities and into our lives is worth the ongoing effort.

Do we see people as individuals, or as a collective burden?

Satan will try to convince us to treat people as commodities.  We begin to assume someone’s worth based on what they ‘contribute’ to our society.  But what if people’s stories were their primary contribution?  What if people’s presence was inherently valuable?

When we see each other as children of God, we should see each other differently.  We can love and welcome people, even if they don’t join our church.  We can include people, even if they need a little extra help.  We can make new friends, even if I have to change a little.

I was probably a little too biased against Fargo before I visited 🙂  I am not sure I want to live that far North, or that far from my family.  But while I was there, I met so many nice people – from Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, First Sudanese Lutheran Church, and Fargo South High School.  More stories from all of those places are coming soon!



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