Back to Top

The Blessing of my Immigrant Neighbors in Parkside

Editor's note: Scripture teaches that immigrants are a blessing, not a burden. At the OSJ, we agree, and we’ve launched a campaign to rally together people who are committed to changing the conversation about immigrants in the US. You can learn more and get involved at

“Lit sane” is “gift” in Burmese. Little more than two years ago, I moved into a low-income community comprised of immigrants and refugees from Myanmar and more than a dozen other countries. Joining a small group of Christians already there, my mission was to live with and serve my neighbors through incarnational ministry, but I ended up receiving the “lit sane” of learning so more from them about family, community, and faith.

Even on my first day moving in, numerous neighbors stopped by to welcome me into the community. While I was carrying boxes up to my new apartment, a neighborhood Burmese boy in his soccer jersey took the initiative to come over and help. He recruited his teammates to help me while waiting for their ride to come and I ended up with almost an entire soccer team moving me in! This was the first time I had met any of these kids. I would have been delightfully surprised if adults offered their help on our first encounter, but fifth graders? I didn’t expect that at all. This seemingly small gesture reflected a great deal of these children’s upbringing and family values: showing kindness toward the newcomer and helping others in need.

Kindness and warmth marked the Parkside community, namesake of the street where we lived in the suburbs of Chicago. Our immigrant and refugee neighbors, many of whom are Christians who have fled persecution due to their faith from their countries of origin, lived out the biblical command of hospitality (which in Greek is philoxenia—literally the love of strangers) and taught their children to do the same. They knew, better than many of us will ever come to fathom, what it is like to be an outcast in one land and a foreigner in another.

Yet they don’t look at themselves as victims. One of our neighbors, a South Sudanese man and father of two teenage boys, had years earlier studied internal medicine in Egypt on scholarship. But when civil violence broke out in his country, he had to help his family flee to America. Without knowing much English upon arriving in the US or having his foreign education recognized here, my South Sudanese neighbor had to start from the bottom, working factory shifts to support his family. He now drives a taxi and works shifts at a local meat packing plant to make ends meet. This is the same neighbor who, when he sees me looking stressed, would ask me how I’m doing and then remind me,

“Liz, remember, God is good. You don’t worry; you trust. Always be thankful.”

His words never failed to convict me, even now as I am recalling them. This is a man who had to uproot his family from his homeland on death threats, surrender what could have been a prestigious career path, move to a foreign country where he doesn’t speak the language, start from the very bottom and work some 80+ hours a week on minimum wage as the sole breadwinner of his family. All of this resulted from conditions in South Sudan over which he didn’t have control.

And he is praising God for His goodness and faithfulness.

My neighbors’ faith and joy INSPIRE me. Our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters in Christ have so much to teach us North American evangelicals what it means to take up our cross, to be thankful with little, and to always trust in our Sovereign Lord regardless of the circumstances. And I thought I with much moved in to bless my neighbors who have little. Oh how little I understood God’s ways! He uses the least of these to bless, to teach, and to showcase His glory.

My friends who visited me at Parkside have commented that the community is like a mini-United Nations. Indeed, we have neighbors from all over the world. And one of loveliest sights you will frequently spot at Parkside is children of various ethnicities playing and laughing together in the courtyard, over a game of soccer, marble toss, or group jump rope. (My friends are sometimes shocked to find kids actually playing together outside and not indoors in front of “screens”. Most families here cannot afford iPads or smartphones. Yet the kids are so happy being with one another. In American culture (and that of many developed countries), where we are losing live human interaction to virtual communication, perhaps we can learn from our immigrant neighbors who make less into more.)

Yes, we are in some ways like a mini-UN at Parkside. But I think we resemble something even more meaningful—the Kingdom of God. Having lived at Parkside, I feel as if I’ve had foretaste of Heaven, where people from every ethnicity live and laugh together, enjoying each other’s company and giving eternal praise to the One who has made us all in His image.

[Image: Katy Carlson]

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.