Our Immigrant Story

What follows are testimonies from members of Emmanuel sharing about what they faced when they moved to America. You will hear about their difficulties, the challenges, and the isolation many of them had to deal with. You will also hear about the joy and redemption that came out of their sufferings. You will hear about how their faith was formed and strengthened through these trials.

As you read these testimonies, remember that these folks are part of our community. They are part of our family. And in order to become a community where people feel known, the stories of our brothers and sisters must be heard. Their story as sojourners in this country are an essential part of who they are as individuals. We cannot fully understand who they are now without first understanding what God has done in their lives up until now. Enjoy reading these incredible testimonies from some incredible brothers and sisters.


In reality, it was a bit difficult to talk about our journey with the family for different reasons, not only because it awakens very difficult memories and feelings for everyone, but also because we recognize that there are traumas that have not yet healed.
In the first hours of the trip, I felt emptiness, guilt, fear, and such extreme pain in my heart. My heart was in pieces for the people left behind. I didn't have the slightest idea when the next time would be that I could hug and kiss them.

I arrived in a country in which I was a foreigner, an immigrant without an opinion, where my rights are not the same as others, where my privileges are limited. It put in front of me two options:
- Do things as correctly as possible, walking almost on tiptoe, working hard and making many sacrifices and being able to experience a taste of the American dream,
- Or do things as correctly as possible, walking almost on tiptoe, work hard, make many sacrifices and at the end return to my country empty and with nothing, having to leave behind everything I thought was mine.
I'm here and the journey is not over yet. Day by day the challenge remains.
I think that all my difficulties have helped me to appreciate or identify in a broader way the Provision and Grace of God. It is not that I think you need to be poor or disadvantaged to receive from God. But it does give me a broader perspective of what is happening around me and thus even the smallest things in my life have great value because I’m aware that it comes from God.

Thank God, after not knowing what I would eat the day after arriving in this country, until today I have not lacked food for each day. After arriving with only a single change of clothes, to this day he has dressed me. Five days of accommodation was all I received when I arrived, without a job or any other way to pay for a place to live, but God gave me a place in the middle of unknown people.
So when I say, “Thank God,” I don't mean it as a phrase that is used to embellish a speech. I say it because it is really the only explanation for the amazing ways in which God has supplied me.


What challenges did you face when you came to the US?
I think the biggest challenge that I faced when I came to the US was the isolation. Even though I was attending RTS and a member of a church, I found that people were often not able or willing to move out of their comfort zone to get to know me and build relationships with me. I felt this tremendous pressure to Americanize as fast as I could, and in my experience over the past 7 years, more people have been willing to reach out to me as my English, my mannerism, and my general cultural presentation has become more Americanized. I understand that it is challenging and awkward to really connect with someone who is from your native language and culture, but I really needed more people to meet me where I was at in the beginning of my time in the USA.

I was also surprised at how certain India cultural ideas made their way here. When I met other Indian people in a professional setting, some people discriminated against me on the basis of my caste by giving me low salary, underestimating or dismissing my professional experiences, and just treating me differently.

Also, I was told that I couldn't have a fundraising job, because no one would donate money to someone who's voice sounded like mine on the phone. At another job, I heard two people talking in the hallway about how I didn't have the right appearance to be a coding teacher and work with kids. When I shared these sorts of experiences with members of the church I was attending at the time, I was surprised how quickly people either tried to explain them away or simply expressed shock that this sort of discrimination happens in Northern Virginia where there is so much diversity.

I had to overcome those barriers with courage over many years and confront those people directly. I literally applied to 113 or more jobs, and interviewed at more than half of them before I got my first full time job. To get there, I did several volunteer jobs, and 2 part-time jobs all at the same time to rebuild my resume with USA experience so I could have a shot at full time jobs.

The other major source of fear until a few months ago was the never ending, always changing, increasingly complex immigration paperwork process. It was extremely expensive, extraordinarily time-consuming and a huge stress. The system was so slow that by the time you reach one status, it was only a few months away from having to apply for renewal or adjustment of status. Despite my awareness that I had some legal protections in each status as an F1 student, a Provisional Greencard holder, and a 10 year Greencard holder, it felt like at any moment, a new president or new law could sweep everything away and I could be sent back to India with nothing. Nothing about my experience with the immigration system of the USA seemed welcoming to Immigrants. I felt like I was only a mistake away from being thrown out of the country.

How did you experience God's provision and help during that time?

The primary source of support and care during that time was my wife, Elizabeth. Jackie and my professor at RTS Howard Griffith were hugely supportive through counseling and mentorship. Retired pastor Sherman & his wife Lisa Isbell were also some of the first people to sincerely reach out to me even when my English was difficult for Americans to understand. Sherman provided support and care after every difficult interview, reminding me of God's providence and introducing me to some new relevant theologians who had the wisdom to provide to me in my circumstance. Fred Kuhl was also an encouraging classmate and friend who worked early on to meet me where I was at.

God was kind and graceful to provide these voices of support in my life in this time of need. It was challenging to see them, other than my wife, as frequently as I might have seen well-wishers in India due to the traffic in this area, the lack proper public transportation, and my lack of access to a car. It is for this reason that despite having caring people in the community, I still felt isolated. I was not prepared for the transportation and logistical challenges. I took a lot of comfort in listening to Christian hymns in my native Telugu, reading the Bible, and reading theology books.


What challenges did you face when you came to the US?
The most difficulty and challenge was the language barrier. I believe this is something that I will always have since I wasn’t born in the US.  

When I came as a 15 yrs old from Korea, my English words were very limited such as ‘Hi’, “How are you?”, “my name is….”. There wasn’t any ESL program when I came to the US (or US territory).  I got my first ‘F’ grade in English during my high school year. It was very difficult for me to communicate with other students so I rarely spoke in high school classes. When I came home after school, I turned on TV to watch Sesame Street to learn English words & pronunciation. My parents moved to the US for my education, but I blamed them for moving to the US. Being a teenager and not understanding English made me a very isolated & quiet person. I had to study harder than others. My parents had their struggles due to language barrier. My dad owned a TV repair shop and income was tight so my mom worked as a tailor in a dry cleaner. I often went to my dad’s shop to deal with customers and translate English to Korean for my dad. My dad’s philosophy was if a customer complains then he gives money back so he doesn’t have to talk to the customer.  

In my early years at my work, attorneys complained to my manager for lack of English writing and communication skills. I took English classes at a community college at night to refine my English skills and took a private tutor in English pronunciation. My parents are still depending on me for English communication and translation for their personal needs.  
How did your experience God’s provision and help during that time?  

I didn’t become a Christian till I was 30 yrs old. However, even in college years, God brought many good friends who helped me in English and took me as a friend despite the language barrier. I think I learned English the most when I was in college. Moving out from home and living on campus was a God's provision to learn English.  

Once I became a Christian, God opened doors to Christian community and allowed me to speak freely without fear of my imperfect English pronunciation and communication skills. They accepted me as a body of Christ and language barrier was not an issue, and I began to overcome my fear of speaking, especially public speaking. I still have fear of public speaking and anxiety when I have to speak, but I learned to trust in Him.


What challenges did you face when you came to the US?
One of the challenges I have faced is regarding my limited ability to speak the language, although it has now improved significantly, early on I felt quite insecure and was afraid of not being understood.
Another challenge has been the journey of putting the business in operation without an active social security number (now in process) and no credit score running. Which made it impossible to get a bank loan and very difficult to get a commercial lease for a location to run the business out of. Our original plan was to have all those needs met but unfortunately our plan ‘A’ felt through, and we were left to fend for ourselves early on. Something that made me feel inadequate, unprepared, and vulnerable, with very limited possibilities to succeed or thrive.
Another challenge was letting go of our successful company in Honduras so we could fully invest in the one we were starting in the US. It was a huge risk for us and yet we believe it was the right decision. Although we didn’t know at the time that the pandemic would hit our economy the way it did, that first year we had NO sales, and all our savings were used to honor our financial commitments, like rent, lease, etc. It felt as though we have been on survival mode since we arrived in this country which has stretched our faith.
One other challenge was when the rest of the family joined me in Virginia. There were 4 of them and we had little to nothing to pay for a hotel while we found an apartment that could house all of us, we had been separated for 7 months. A significant challenge after living quite comfortably in Honduras, in a big house, in a fabulous neighborhood, leading a thriving printing shop, having several employees, and enjoying some expensive vacations year after year. Being here in the last few years broke me as a man and made me question my sanity and my ability to provide for my wife and children. Perhaps the lowest point in our self-esteem while struggling alone - before we met the wonderful community at Emmanuel Presbyterian which has restored our faith in humanity and encouraged us in the right path, to God be the Glory.
How did you experience God's provision and help during that time?
In the lowest moments, when we didn’t had money to pay rent or buy food, we were seriously thinking about going back to our country, even knowing that we have little to nothing to return to, as we sold everything or sacrificed much with the move and our stay here. Yet God, in a miraculous way and through some ‘hard to explain’ situations, has provided for us, a few examples:
We met the manager of the building where we currently reside who helped us fill the contract and approve the rental of the apartment even though we didn’t had the basic requirements. All that happened two days before the end of the 15 days I have paid for at a hotel room.

We started receiving food from a local food bank, something we still get every two weeks. Thank God we have never gone without food at our table.

We received help through a couple of churches (Emmanuel included) towards rent for our apartment even when we were quite delayed for several months.

God provided us a community of faith which not only nourished us and mentored us but they continue to help in many tangible ways. Perhaps one of the lingering challenges is our emotional health as we are still fighting with some blame and shame issues because we don’t feel we are able to be independent. These new friends and family in the faith keep making us feel welcomed and remind us that we belong somewhere and that we are not alone.

God has been so good in providing the funds to purchase new machinery for our workshop which helps us generate new ways of income and more options to our clientele.

One of the best provisions, if not the best, is that my kids love their school and that the teachers in their school love them as well, they continue affirming that our boys are being raised well which makes us very happy, and continues to be our prayer, that our kids are blessed and that they can be a blessing to others with their friendship.
There are many other things and many other ways that Gods provision has been manifest and has touched our lives and we are expectant of the extravagant ways He plans to continue to bless our family, but all in His timing, not ours.