In light of the largely immigrant history of the CRC and the rhetoric we hear about immigration today, we created the “Immigration Is Our Story” audio series to remind us of where many of us came from and to connect us with the identities and experiences of immigrants today. Similar to the format and concept of StoryCorps, you will hear interviews between immigrants or immigrants’ descendants and their loved ones from CRC and RCA churches across North America.
Let’s listen to their stories to be reminded of where we come from and where our stories connect. How do the experiences of the immigrants in these stories compare to those who are migrating today? How were they able to get here and was it easier or harder to immigrate legally than it is today? How can their story change the posture of my heart towards today’s immigrants? How is immigration and/or migration a part of my story and how can I steward it today for acting in justice and compassion?
Listen to brothers Henri and John Admiraal who immigrated from the Netherlands to East Palmyra, New York in 1956.
Henry Kipper's story, told by two of his great-granddaughters. He immigrated with his family from the Netherlands to Edmonton, Alberta in the early 1900s.
Marissa Saints with her mother Cristina Aguilera. Cristina immigrated from Cuba to the Florida when she was 10 years old in 1960.
Homer Lensink interviews his father Bill Lensink, who immigrated to Canada from Holland.
Lydie Kashindi Sepa interviews her father Sepa Nashele. Sepa immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Alex Vasquez speak with his friend Mark DeYounge about coming to the U.S. from Colombia.
Brief Immigration History of the Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Christian Reformed Church in North America has an immigration story. We are an immigrant denomination, and the immigrant experience is a significant part of our story. Though the denomination today consists of congregations of many ethnicities and nationalities, it was originally established by Dutch Reformed immigrants who made their way to North America in the mid-1800s.
In pursuit of better economic opportunities and religious freedom, many immigrants from the Netherlands emigrated to the United States and Canada in the mid-1800s. They brought with them Reformed theology, Calvinist doctrines, and a desire for independence from the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, which led to the establishment of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in 1857. Immigration from the Netherlands increased dramatically in the latter part of the 19th century, causing the number of CRC churches to multiply across the U.S. and Canada. Many post-war Dutch people found their way to Canada, in part because of Canadian soldiers’ role in liberating the Netherlands from Nazi rule, and joined CRC churches.
Like many immigrant stories, the migration journey for the Dutch was long and difficult, and the challenges did not stop upon arrival: loved ones were left behind, lives were lost at sea, many fell ill. Some were taken advantage of or lied to. Promised opportunities sometimes resulted in dashed hopes and dirt floors.
Because of these hardships, CRC churches came together to sponsor and support newly-arriving Dutch immigrants. Like many immigrants today, immigrants from the Netherlands could not make the transition alone, so they supported one another. Immigration was and is our story.
It must be acknowledged, however, that immigration is not everyone’s story. Many Native Americans and African Americans are an integral part of the CRC, and their stories are wrought with trauma, suffering, forced labor, and displacement, often at the hands of Dutch immigrants themselves.
The truth is that we are not all immigrants. The heart-breaking and infuriating truth is that for many CRC congregants today, the story is, “we were enslaved,” “we were trafficked,” “we were forcibly displaced,” “we survived.” We must be honest with ourselves about this history too; we must lament it and do our part in God’s kingdom to ensure that neither systems nor individuals repeat this history.
The immigration story unfolding in North America continues to grow and evolve, as it does in the Christian Reformed Church as well. It is our hope that in remembering our largely immigrant identity, we will be encouraged to welcome the stranger, pursue justice for the immigrant, and create a compassionate story - both inter-personally and systemically - that future generations can be proud of.
Small Group Guide for "Immigration is Our Story:" Listen, Learn, Love
Gather with a group of family, friends, classmates, or church members to engage with these audio stories through listening, learning, and loving or engage your congregation in telling their immigration stories through our immigration storytelling workshop.
After listening to one or two of the “Immigration is Our Story” clips together, break up into pairs or small groups and have participants ask one another:
How do the experiences of the immigrants in these stories compare to those who are migrating today? Is there a difference?
How were they able to get here and was it easier or harder to immigrate legally than it is today?
What is your family's immigration story?
How can your story and the stories in this series motivate you to act in justice and compassion towards today's immigrants? What can you do?
With your church, you can learn more about the U.S. and Canada’s immigration system (who can come and how), history (how the immigration system has changed over the years), and opportunities for advocacy. Reach out to the Office of Social Justice to host "Church Between Borders" (U.S.) or to the Centre for Public Dialogue to host "Journey with Me" (Canada) at your church or school. Part of being a faithful and humble ally is putting in the time and effort to learn about the challenges faced by those you seek to walk alongside. Encourage participants to get their churches signed up for one of these workshops!
You can love your neighbor by advocating with policymakers for just and fair immigration laws that honor the rights and human dignity of immigrants. Give participants an opportunity to sign up for immigration updates and/or action alerts through the Office of Social Justice. You'll hear about opportunities to contact or meet with your elected officials about immigration issues -- they need to be reminded that "Immigration is our story" and that people of faith care deeply about the well-being of their immigrant neighbors. Additionally, reach out to Kendra David (firstname.lastname@example.org) ahead of time if you’d like to have postcards for participants to write to their elected officials about their convictions on immigration.