Here's an immigrant's story about how the U.S. became home. Read it without judgment and consider what you can learn.
I sat on the plane next to my Nigerian friend, Ikechi, on our way home from a conference. It was a providential placement; I had wanted to talk with him throughout the entire conference but we had enjoyed little chance. Now we were together for 1.5 hours!
Ikechi’s story of coming to the U.S. is fraught with challenge, as is the case of most immigrants. Still, it was clear that God had paved the way.
You see, Ikechi and his wife, Nimi, were committed Christians who, for many years, had spent much of their adult lives outside of their native Nigeria.
As Ikechi recounts, “We had actually lived outside Nigeria for 18 years before coming to the U.S. We spent most of our time in the countries south of Nigeria, serving with Youth For Christ.”
In fact, his first two children were born in Zambia, which means they are joint citizens. His youngest, a boy, was 17 when they made it to the U.S.
But Why Did They Come?
“Actually, it’s quite ironic,” he told me. “My oldest daughter, Eve, really wanted to come to the U.S. She put her name in for the green card lottery. But it turned out my wife was selected!”
“Because, at the time, Eve was over 21, she could not join us. Nor could my second daughter, Hannah. When my wife heard about her selection, we were both overjoyed and confused.”
He continued. “You see, we knew that it might be best for our son if he could apply for university in the U.S. That he would fit in better than if we went back to Nigeria. I mean, what did he know about Nigeria? Almost nothing!”
So they made the hard decision of leaving their two daughters behind, one in Kenya and one in Nigeria.
“It was bittersweet. So bittersweet for us, you know.”
“We didn’t actually realize until we were here that the girls would be denied tourist visas to come visit us.” He went on to clarify, “You see, if the U.S. government grants a visa, they fear the visitor will never come back. It’s because of us being here, you know.”
“It was very tough to be away. People think, ‘Well, there’s Skype, there’s WhatsApp, and so on. But first, those are just screens. And second, you know we don’t have reliable electricity in Nigeria, and in many places in Africa. So it’s unpredictable.”
The Discussion Turns To Race
“You know, Ikechi, I wonder if I could ask you a question,” I inquired. “It’s about race.”
“Sure, no problem!”
“Do you experience racism here in the U.S.? Have you felt discriminated against?”
“Well,” he responded, “the first time I was here, as an international student, I got called a derogatory name. It was hurtful. But that’s really the only time I remember, at least from white people.”
“In fact,” he went on, “it seems as if whites are often more supportive and interested in me than African Americans are. I’ve noticed that in the church as well. I’m not really sure why.”
We pondered the question a little. Then Ikechi spoke again.
“You know, I have a funny story about race. I heard this from a friend in South Africa.”
“One day, God was baking cookies. He cut them out in the shape of people. He got a bit distracted as he was baking, so the first batch he burned. Determined not to make the same mistake, the second batch he pulled out too soon, when they were all soft and white. And the third batch, he pulled out right as they were slightly browned.”
“You see,” he chided, “we are all just cookies. We all start from the same dough!”
It was a simple, but shrewd, analogy, for sure! But one I was sure I’d refer to again and again.
Back To The Family
“You know,” Ikechi said. “We could all finally come together as a family last December. Both Eve and Hannah applied to graduate programs and were accepted. One is in New York right now; the other is closer by, getting her MBA. They are limited how long they can stay here, but for now – we are so very grateful.”
Ikechi’s warm expression in his eyes, behind his wire frames, spoke it all.
“God has been so faithful. And He will continue. I know it.”
What types of connections, if any, can you find between Ikechi's story and your own?