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Melting Pot, Salad Bowl or Rainbow

Living in New York City five years ago during 9/11, my wife, Ana, and I were witness to the reality that is America.

Ministering to diplomats and internationals at the United Nations, we were part of a community where flags of 191 countries fly daily. We lived in a global village. We heard reports about population shifts in Europe, refugees in Kosovo and drug wars in Colombia.

Many wondered whether the Statue of Liberty would continue to welcome, in the words of Emma Lazarus: “Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

A Pakistani merchant told us in a photo shop: “We are not terrorists.” East Indian and Arabic taxi drivers flew the largest U.S. flags in their cars. Wives of illegal immigrants related that their husbands delivering food at higher floors of the towers called on 9/11 saying: “It will be all right. I will be home later.”

Those were the voices and symbols of a contemporary global village–people, some of whom were, perhaps for the last time in their lives, looking at the statue from the towers just before they died.

Some of us, immigrants to the United States and citizens by choice, treasure this sweet land of liberty and carry in our hearts the goodness of America at its best.

Sociologists, fiction writers, film producers and some church analysts spend their time researching, analyzing, and portraying the flow of foreign-born persons to the U.S.A.

Some idealists have kept the melting-pot concept—an early 20th century invention to justify the “manifest destiny” of President Teddy Roosevelt. It also was used to justify the paternalistic approach to missions.

After the racial conflicts of the “black revolution,” we moved to the “rainbow” analogy. Some denominational leaders, defending the growth of Hispanic, Asian and Africans evangelicals, invented terms such as “ethnic or multicultural churches.”

Small rural communities across our country resent–with justified fear–that illegal aliens are taking space in their schools and hospitals. Multi-nationals see them as inexpensive labor.

A West Texas cotton farmer told me in the 1960s, when I was inviting a bracero to a Bible study to a Baptist church, that he wished for the workers “hands” to work till sundown. He added: “Preacher, you mind your business and I’ll mind mine.”

Whatever term we wish to use, to understand our present predicament, the United States is a land of immigrants.

I was overwhelmed when President Kennedy or his associates mailed me the certificate of U.S. citizenship. Our friends welcomed us with a cake in the shape of an American flag with stars and stripes.

In New York, during nine years of mission service, we invited friends, many of them international diplomats to the Fourth of July Macy fireworks. We looked from the balcony of the 37th floor to the East River. We sang a song that captures the feelings and convictions of many, “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good, with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.”

David F. D’Amico is a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionary and senior professor of evangelism and missions at CampbellUniversity divinity school.