Pilgrims, Refugees and Immigrants

Our nation is the enduring dream of every immigrant who ever set foot on these shores, and the millions still struggling to be free… this idea called America, was and always will be a new world. President George H.W. Bush

I doubt that any child says he or she wants to be a refugee or immigrant when asked about their adult aspirations.  Yet millions of people find themselves in those categories. Technically the first Pilgrims we so proudly claim as heroic pioneers were refugees and immigrants. They fled England when their preferred ways of living clashed with the powerful. Because they lacked proper documentation to leave, they snuck out of the country.

They found refuge in the Lowlands across the North Sea. There they they struggled to fit in, find jobs, learn the language, and overcome their homesickness for their home country. As their children grew up and adopted ways that displeased their elders, the community decided to relocate again. The Mayflowerthe ship they hired to cross them, barely made the crossing.

What we teach about the first Thanksgiving is distorted and incomplete, but it is still a testimony to their faith, endurance, and hard physical work.

Refugees and Immigrants Today

UMHCR (United National Refugee Agency) tells the stories of modern refugees and immigrants in photos.  The story is one of growing desperation. UMHCR reports that at the end of 2022, a total of 108.4 million people had been displaced and driven out of their homes by war, persecution, and human rights abuses. That is 19 million more than in 2021.

The unprovoked war in Ukraine accounts for much of the increase, but not all of it. The Russian invasion in February 2022 generated the fasted emigration of refugees since WWII. Weather-related disasters such as droughts, floods, and wildfires, attributed to climate change, add to the staggering numbers. Combined with conflicts and insecurity in Afghanistan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Syria, and Myanmar, the global village is facing tremendous suffering.

Each One Help One

I was excited to learn that the new church home I’ve found has committed to assisting one Syrian refugee family settle in a neighborhood near the church. The young parents have been living in a refugee camp in Jordan for ten years. Their two grade-school-age children have never lived anywhere else until a week ago when they landed in Columbus, Ohio.

I estimate a team of around 50 church folks went through orientation and background checks to partner with CRIS (Community Refugee and Immigration Services) to give this family a chance to recover from the trauma of the civil war in Syria a decade ago.

A Typical Visit

The first visit to their apartment focused on things like how to adjust the temperature in their apartment, find the things they needed in the kitchen, and work the stove. A couple of volunteers spoke with the parents through a translation app.  I sat and went through picture books with their daughter who added a couple of dozen English words to her vocabulary. Their son went outside to kick around a soccer ball with the son of one of the volunteers.

On my second visit, they wanted to use their new Kroger gift card. Using the translation app, we navigated the aisles explaining various items and translating prices. They were thrilled at the huge selection of fruits, vegetables, and snack foods. Others had already stocked their pantry with basics and had taken them to an international store to purchase specialty items.

Starting Over Again

From the photos they’ve shown us, it appears they had good lives in Syria until the civil war drove them away from all that is familiar. Parents and children alike are eager to explore their new home. CRIS will focus on learning English, finding jobs, and learning how to care for themselves as quickly as possible. The children are already enrolled in school and will start a few days ahead of other students to increase their chances of adapting well to a very different way of doing things.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the weight of troubles in the world. But that doesn’t mitigate the problems. Reading a picture book with a child, helping a mother find shampoo, assisting a father in selecting snacks for his children, and helping them navigate paying for things does help. Seeing two young boys overcome the language barrier by kicking a soccer ball around outside is a hopeful sign of the possibility of peace. If enough of us who are living safe and secure where we want to be would partner with relief agencies to do such simple things for contemporary pilgrims, refugees, and immigrants, we’d make good progress toward mending the brokenness of our global village.

Organizations like UMHCR, CRIS, and LIRS (Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Services) do miracles with their finite resources. They’d all be delighted to have a helping hand if this is something that appeals to you.

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Mary Brewster’s Love Life and Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures: available wherever books are sold. Bookshop.org/Mayflower; Mary Brewster
Amazon.com/Mary Brewster’s Love Life
Autographed copies are available on my website.


  1. Thanks for this wonderful perspective, Kathy. I’m sure the research for your book has given you a richer understanding of the trials and sacrifices made by our ancestors who were, at one time, immigrants.

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