A Tale of Two Cities

Immigrants Welcoming Immigrants in Fargo

Sometimes, a 20-mile road trip is a cross-cultural adventure.  I felt like this during internship, when I drove my electric car from Ann Arbor to Pinckney every day.  🙂  This was also true during my time in Fargo, ND.

95% of Lutherans in the US are white – just like the population of Fargo.  So, a lot of people think of white Scandinavian-Americans when they think of Lutherans, just like the ones on NPR’s Saturday night “Prairie Home Companion” radio show.

lake wobegon lutheran church.jpg

But, every once in a while, we need to hear from our elders about real life – the kind that isn’t on the radio.


At Glyndon Lutheran Church, just a few miles east of Fargo/ Morehead, 45 mainly white-haired saints gather on Sunday morning to worship God together.  These ladies are mother and daughter.  Mom Phoebe raised 12 children, and daughter Grace is one of them.  They welcomed me graciously, and Phoebe is known for her honesty.  She reminded me that her parents were immigrants.

She figures that most of the new immigrants, no matter where they come from or what they look like, are coming here for the same reasons her parents did:
a chance to work, to raise children, to worship God, and to vote.   

When she was so blunt, the others at coffee hour couldn’t really argue with her.  Maybe some of the newcomers, just like some of the old-timers, aren’t completely honest about their motives.  But almost everyone likely wants the same chances as everyone else.

Unfortunately, Glyndon isn’t a town full of immigrants or refugees.
But just a few miles away, Fargo/Moorhead is full of newcomers.

Elim Lutheran Church in downtown Fargo is celebrating their 125 anniversary this year.

This church doesn’t really look any different than the one in Glyndon.
It looks just like every other Lutheran Church on every other corner in Fargo/Moorhead.

But inside, it holds a secret.


Elim Lutheran Church is passionate about its immigration history, and hosts two additional congregations inside its building:  St. Mark’s Lutheran Church (a welcoming community for LGBT Christians), and First Sudanese Lutheran Church.


First Sudanese Lutheran Church was started a decade ago by Sudanese refugees to Fargo/Moorhead.  Their pastor had to recently travel back to Sudan, and so Deacon John and Mr. Son (rhymes with “ron”) are leading regularly.  Most of the service was in Juba-Arabic, one of the languages of Sudan, but they included just enough English for me to follow nearly everything.  They even invited me to give the blessing at the end!

Just like Phoebe expected, these men loved Fargo for the same reasons immigrants have always loved Fargo – safety, work, freedom, democracy, faith.    

Their children can sleep at night, because the neighborhoods are quiet and safe; they can work an honest job and provide for their families; their wives are safe and have opportunities; they can worship God openly and publicly, in their own language.  They miss the Sudan they knew as children, but not the Sudan that exists today.  They don’t mind the snow, or the ‘boring’ life of Fargo.  Those are small problems in a good life.

Deacon John and Mr. Son encouraged me to visit Africa when it’s safe, and to hear their stories.  Pastor Paula, from Elim Lutheran, invited me to join her on a trip to Uganda, where she’ll meet with refugees from Sudan, and John assured me that would be a safe option.  God consistently works through chance meetings and surprising connections.

More stories are coming about my time at South Fargo High School.  Stay Tuned!





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