My Immigration Journey

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine living in America, but my life in Germany had become extremely difficult. After losing my children in a divorce war, I received an offer from a German couple to come to Bonita Springs to computerize their business, and in return, they would sponsor me for a green card.

It took me several years to make that decision. When I left Germany, my mom cried and was fearful she would never see me again. It wasn’t easy to leave my homeland and all I knew, but I believed this was my chance to start a new life. So in 1993, at 39 years of age, I immigrated to the United States.

My sponsors picked me up at the airport and on the way to their house, they broke the news that they wouldn’t be able to help me with my green card. What? I didn’t know anyone else, have a lot of money, or speak much English. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew going back was not an option.

They did provide me with transportation and a short-term place to stay. A few weeks later I met the owner of a sign shop and, after hearing my story, I was offered a sponsorship. I found a place to stay—a trailer that required I trudge through the yard to the barn in order to shower! It took five years, a lawyer, and a lot of money (provided by God) to get my green card.

After about three years in the U.S.—learning the language, meeting people, discovering the American way of life—I finally realized not much had changed for me. I still made foolish decisions and was still unhappy. I agonized over being so far from my German family and friends and did not know when or if I would see them again.

Raised in a very traditional faith, I still went to church almost every Sunday. I remember after service one week I looked up to heaven and said, “God, if You exist, I need to find You or You need to find me because I need You to help me live my life for a purpose.” This began my search for God. I tried different churches and reminded myself that I wasn’t going to church for the music, the beautiful building, the people, or the preacher, but to find God.

Eventually, not even knowing what “Presbyterian” meant, I came to First Church. The people here were nice and accepted me without judgment. The pastor pointed me to God’s Word and asked me to consider getting involved by giving back to God the gifts He had given me, joining a Bible study, and coming to church regularly.

Having tried all I knew to try, I was finally broken enough to receive God’s Word, forgiveness, grace, love, and mercy. Eventually, He led me on the path to become a biblical counselor and gave me the opportunity to work at the Spiritual Development Center at First Church.

As I experienced more of this country, I found its people to be accepting, friendly, and helpful. With hard work I was making a new life for myself, and I believed that if all the people in the world were like the Americans I knew, there would be peace, support, and a chance for everyone. I wanted to become an American, so I began to investigate becoming a U.S. citizen.

I found an immigration lawyer who informed me that be-coming an American citizen required surrendering my German citizenship. The only way to keep both was with dual citizenship. He gave me all the options, but it sounded impossible and too expensive; I left his office very disappointed.

The following Sunday, Pastor Paul Fahnestock was preaching on—if you can believe it—citizenship! He taught that our true citizenship is in heaven and that it didn’t matter the color of our skin, how old we were, our gender or wealth, nor our earthly immigration status.

I remember going up to him afterward and asking, “How did you know?” He laughed and said, “Know what?” From that day forward, I knew I belonged to my Father in heaven, and that Jesus has prepared a place for me. I don’t need to worry about who I am here on this earth.

With my status now “permanent resident,” I have all the rights and duties an American has except the right to vote. Of course, I would like to vote, but I can pray and encourage every-one I know to go to the polls. So, I encourage each of you not to take your right to vote for granted.

I am grateful for the people of this country, this town, and this church who have helped me find my way to God. I pray that God has mercy on us, brings spiritual revival and unity, and makes us once again “One Nation Under God.”

by Maria Karl