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Who? Me? A Refugee? - July/August 2012

by Else Schardt

People often have definite and sometimes opposing ideas about the ways our nation should deal with refugees and immigrants. Misunderstanding and fear often get involved in our take on the issue.

What classifies a person as an immigrant or refugee? Does your family history include immigrants? Are you a neighbor or a friend to a refugee?

Refugees are people who are forced to leave their home countries because of war, environmental disasters, political persecution, and/or religious or ethnic intolerance. Immigrants often choose to leave their country because they are joining family members in another country or they are attempting to better their lives economically.

In Hebrews, we are reminded: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). Do these words still apply today?

When I was an infant, our family home was a simple wood structure built of hand-hewn boards high in the mountains in the Finschhafen area of Papua New Guinea (called New Guinea until its independence in 1975).

My father was born in New Guinea to Australian missionary parents and was educated and ordained a pastor in Adelaide, Australia. He served as a missionary in New Guinea after 1933. In 1939 he fell in love and married a young German woman who had migrated to Australia under difficult circumstances and who had answered a call to missionary service in New Guinea.

When war broke out in Europe in 1939, the Lutheran mission work in New Guinea suddenly faced a heartbreaking dilemma. For years, Germans, Americans, and Australians worked together peacefully among the many tribes of New Guinea. They served by teaching, proclaiming the gospel, attending to the sick, and studying several of the hundreds of languages of that tropical island country.

Now Germany and its allies had become enemies of Australia and the United States. The Australian authorities rounded up the Germanmen, sent them to Australia, and incarcerated them in internment camps where they were forced to remain until long after the war’s end. When Japanese warplanes dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu in December 1941, the Allies were plunged into the war.

Else Schardt and her husband served as missionaries to Papua New Ginea from 1965 to 1991. They live in Dubuque, Iowa.

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