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On Faith: Musings for the Fourth of July

America is a nation of immigrants. My family is one of them.

Just after the turn of the century, my mother’s grandparents emigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire — from what is now Slovakia — to start a new life in this country. A few years later, my father’s parents fled the tyranny of Islamic jihad in Iran and settled in Chicago, where Grandpa Joseph worked as a master bricklayer building hundreds of homes.

Their stories were so different. On the one side, they were fleeing European wars and poverty looking for a better life for themselves and their children. On the other, they were fleeing unspeakable atrocities looking for peace and freedom to worship God in the way their forebears had done for nearly two millennia.

And yet they were the same. People longing for a better life leaving everything they knew and venturing forth like Abraham to a new and promised land flowing with milk and honey. They found that life and that promise, but learned it came to pass because of sacrifice and hard work on their parts along with the efforts of millions of other immigrants who labored to make America great.

These were resilient people. My mother’s mother traveled across the Atlantic alone when she was 14 years old to join her father and brother in Chicago. It was several years until they had raised enough money to bring her mother and younger brother here.

My father’s sister told me how her uncle, a Chaldean rite priest, led his congregation out of Iran on foot to the safety of British occupied lands and later to freedom in the United States. She told me how one of her neighbors, a Muslim man, hid her, my grandmother and uncle in the women’s quarters on his compound to protect them from the Ottoman soldiers who were sent to kill all the Christians in her village.

Since my father was born in this country, I owe a great debt to that man.

America is unique. Growing up in Chicago, there were German, Polish, Dutch, Greek, Italian, French and Slovak churches, all within walking distance from our home. I heard multiple languages being spoken every day. Yet I felt that we were community.

America is a melting pot where cultures blend together to form something much larger than it was possible to have separately. And yet, each retained its distinctive flavor. We have overcome cultural, racial and social barriers to form a great nation.

That is not to say that we are perfect. There are still inequities, prejudice and injustice. We need to work together to make America a even greater nation than it is today.

A. W. Tozer writes in his book, “The Knowledge of the Holy:” “The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.”

In an age where atheism and agnosticism are on the rise, I believe it is time to fall on our knees in prayer and call this nation back to its God.

The Lord promised his people: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The last verse of Samuel Frances Smith’s America seems an appropriate close:

“Our fathers' God to thee,

Author of liberty,

To thee we sing.

Long may our land be bright,

With freedom's holy light,

Protect us by thy might,

Great God our king.”

 “On Faith” is a weekly column in the News-Chronicle written by area religious leaders.