One of my earliest memories is of sitting in a room with my first-grade classmates in Lynn, Massachusetts. I felt overwhelmed and realized I had no idea what the other children were saying.
I was a 5-year-old immigrant. My family arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1991. We did not speak English.
It was a miracle we were even allowed in the country. Of the hundreds of applicants for legal residency that the U.S. immigration office received in one day, it granted visas to only 10 people — four of whom were in my family.
My parents were pastors. I often tell people that pastors’ kids are the definition of adaptable. My situation was unique from other pastors’ kids I knew, because my family was given a special call from God to become “reverse missionaries” to the United States.
A typical day for my parents included jobs and tasks that no one else wanted to do. In Mexico, my parents were educated, professional leaders who were respected for their opinions. In the United States, I watched them get up, go to work at difficult jobs and come home to evangelize in the community.
Before I was fully prepared, I was helping in the ministry. The funny thing about church planters’ kids is they learn to do what is necessary for the mission to go on. I learned every instrument available, so we could have music in our service. I learned to pray and preach, so we could cover more ground. I learned to simultaneously interpret from English to Spanish and vice versa, so my folks could raise support. Every year, I changed schools to move to the next ministry area. I learned to play sports so I could have a community of friends. I learned about the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s provisions.
I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity to be an immigrant. Without those life experiences, I might not have the work ethic or the drive I do today. When I was younger, I used to sit in a room full of strangers and play a game. I studied those around me. I would find small similarities to help attune and condition myself to them. It was an assimilation game. At the time, I did not know what I was doing. I just knew it made me feel better about being in a new place among new, strange people.
I would ask, “What do I have in common with these people?” Then I would begin to break down every fundamental similarity and begin conversations there.
You’d be surprised how many commonalities you can come up with when you engage others. Searching for commonalities — “Hey, I have a chocolate Lab too” — may seem trivial when trying to relate to others. We dismiss such things because we don’t realize genuine similarity is key in forming a human connection with others.
My life was shaped by the Free Methodist Church and by being an immigrant. Imagine how your witness can shape and cultivate the life of an immigrant child.