I recently went to the 100th anniversary of the church that sponsored our family in 1966. They were the people who made it possible for us to come to the United States from a refugee camp in Italy. Our church was an ethnic church started in 1917. Several churches joined together to form an association. In the sixties, there were about 20 churches and they worried that they might have to close. But new waves of immigrants came to Detroit and now there are over 50 churches, some with 500 members.
In our church in Detroit, there were about 30 young people in youth group with me between 1966 and 1975. About one third were born here and the rest of us came with our parents from various refugee camps. We had to learn English and to adapt to a new country, but our time in high school prepared us to go to good colleges. Our parents continued to have menial jobs unless they had mechanical or artistic skills.
When I look at my youth group peers today, we are a professionally diversified group. We have accountants, computer analysts, engineers, legal secretaries, musicians, office managers, pastors, police officers, salespeople, teachers, theologians, and truck drivers. Almost all of them who are still in the Detroit area have moved away from the city proper to buy houses and become established in the suburbs. There are a number of people in the group who are self-made millionaires because they started lucrative businesses such as car dealerships, laundromats, and farms.
Many of our parents that brought us here have died. The ones who are still living are in their late eighties or early nineties. Almost all of them are very pleased because they came to the United States for themselves, but even more so for their children and grandchildren.
Some of us were caught up in the vicissitudes of the moral life in the United States. Our parents came from a culture in which divorce was unthinkable. They knew no one who had been divorced. But when I look to the lives of their children, almost every family had a divorce. Some divorces happened just one year after the wedding and some happened after the children were born. People married for a second time and they continue to learn how to live as an extended family.
As I looked around at the people at the anniversary, I came to two conclusions. The first is that I consider myself a son of that church. I came as a sixteen-year-old and that church shaped me, protected me, prayed for me, ordained me, and sent me out into the world. The second thing is that when we get together, it is as though we continue the story that we started in the sixties. Many of us are no longer in the city, or even the same state, but when we come together, the story continues its uninterrupted journey.