There has been a lot of news about illegal immigrants coming into the United States from other countries, and it has spurred me on to write my own story about how Dorothy and I and our two daughters, along with our dog, came to the United States from Australia.
It all began in late 1979. At the time, I had been appointed the Australian Director for the PTL Club (Jim Bakker), and we were beginning to develop a pilot for the Australian version of the show. I was due to fly to the US for meetings in Charlotte in February 1980. Two television cameramen, who had recently been converted, wanted to help us with the program, so we wanted to bring them along with us to America in order to record segments for the new Australian PTL Club program. When we applied for business visas for them to travel, the visas were denied. So, I wrote and complained to the United States Consulate, stating that this was religious discrimination as secular Australian reporters and cameramen were granted visa’s to come to America. I was invited to the luxurious office of the Consulate General in Sydney, Australia to meet with him, along with the lady who handled visa applications. We were told that the American unions would not allow the cameraman to come to the US and that is why their visa’s had been denied. We were told, however, that they could enter the US on a visitor visa, but they would not be permitted to bring their cameras with them.
While at North Heights Lutheran Church in Roseville, MN, where Pastor Morris Vaagness had invited me to come and minister on my way to the PTL Club in North Carolina, God spoke to me about moving to America. I was speaking at a leadership seminar on a Monday when God clearly spoke in the inner voice of the Spirit and said, “You are to delegate the ministry in Australia and move to America.” Incredibly Dorothy had already received a word about ‘Living under the American flag.’
Traveling down to the PTL Club, something else happened. Initially, it was planned for me to be a guest on the American PTL Club, but I received a message that Jim Bakker was taking his leadership team away for a long weekend and he wanted me to now host a show in his absence. The main guest was longtime Assembly of God Pastor C.M. Ward. Others that were with me from Australia – Robert Coleman and Gordan Gibbs – also appeared on the program. After it was all over, the producer Bill Gathwaite suggested we produce the Australian PTL Club in their studios. All of this fit in with what God had been speaking about moving to America. The question remained, where in America were we to live. It was only when Dorothy picked me up on my arrival back in Australia that I felt the Lord speak to my heart saying, “Where the call came is where you are going to live.” The call came in Minneapolis – St. Paul. That is where we were to move to. I contacted Morris Vaagness, and after talking it over with the leadership of North Heights Church, he gave his support to the move.
Wanting to move immediately to the United States, we then began to sell everything and give things away, as we were not planning to return to Australia to live. We went back to the US Consulate in Sydney. I remember talking to another minister in the waiting rooms about our plans, and he stated, “You can’t do it that quickly; it takes months, even years to get approval.”
As it turned out my visa application was handled by the lady who I had previously met in the Consulate’s office. After telling her we desired to move to America as soon as possible for our girls to start school in the Fall, she replied, “You can’t do that.” I replied, “Well, can you give us a visitors visas and we can then apply to stay in the United States when we have moved there?” She instantly responded, “That is not the way to do it!” I realized later how easily she could have denied our visas and stopped us right then from moving to America, but somehow she had mercy on us and granted us the visitors visas we needed in order to come to America.
On arriving in America, North Heights Lutheran Church agreed to sponsor us for immigration, so we started the process to apply for green cards at the immigration office in Minneapolis – St. Paul. We were shown into a large room, divided into multiple cubicles. Asked to sit in one of the cubicles, we noticed that in the next cubicle was a man from Iran who was going through what sounded more like an interrogation than an interview. Considering that this was during the time of the hostage crisis in Iran, it was understandable. However, in light of that man’s experience, we were somewhat apprehensive, especially when the imposing immigration official sitting on the other side of the desk looked us straight in the eye and stated matter of factly, “Do you realize that I could send you all back to Australia?” Once again, we found ourselves at the mercy of the immigration system, but knowing God was in control, we quietly prayed and trusted Him to work it out. In the end, the officer was affirmative and granted our application. We were now approved to stay permanently in our new land of America.
So, in some ways, we were almost illegal immigrants, because we did not follow the proper procedure required to request residency in the United States. Sitting in that immigration office, being told that we could be sent back to Australia, we understood the reality of how so many immigrants were made to feel when they were attempting to immigrate to the United States. However, because of the grace of God, and because He had a plan and purpose for us in America, we were able to receive the needed approval and receive our resident alien green cards.
Now, I understand and support the fact that any country must have a policy that determines who and how many people can immigrate to their country. Open borders are not the answer. But we also need to remember God’s word that encourages us to have the right attitude to those people from other lands. Leviticus 19:34 states, “The stranger (or foreigner) who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers (or foreigners) in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
We need to remember that as far as the kingdom of God is concerned, we too were strangers and foreigners. Ephesians 2:19 declares, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Heaven has no borders to those who receive Jesus as their Savior and Lord.
In the last Langstaff Letter, I wrote about the people who had impacted my life and ministry. I purposely did not include friends and colleagues, both here in America or in Australia. There are too many to mention, but they all blessed me in innumerable ways, and I thank God for them all.
Thank you for your perspective. I can identify as well. As a missionary, I have experienced my share of immigration hassles. I have been an illegal for months when the seminary I taught at did not turn my paperwork in early enough. Other missionary friends have been denied renewals which ended important ministries. I have also been with a Christian minister attempting to flee persecution for his ministry in immigration court at Fort Snelling in the past month. He finally had his case heard after 6 years – and then delayed for another year with objections over minor details. He was weeping because it meant he still could not travel to meet his wife and family or have them come here.