Elwood Yoder has taught high school history and social studies courses for 34 years, since 1988 at Eastern Mennonite High School. Elwood has written seven books, including congregational histories and historical novels. Elwood is Editor of Shenandoah Mennonite Historian, and he is also Editor of Today, a publication of Eastern Mennonite School.
Nine generations ago my immigrant ancestors stepped off the Francis and Elizabeth ship in the Philadelphia harbor. They spoke German, which British officials in the English-speaking colony of Pennsylvania viewed with suspicion. They had large Amish families, which threatened to overwhelm the Quaker colony with German-speaking residents. They believed in nonviolence and refused to fight against the Lenape, Iroquois or the French. They came in waves to Philadelphia, flooding the city with German settlers. When they sloshed ashore, someone in the Pennsylvania commonwealth changed their name from Joder to Yoder.
My immigrant ancestors who came in 1742 fled Germany as refugees. Pushed out by interminable wars that made no sense amidst monarchical battles that drug on for decades, and with their land destroyed by incessantly marching troops, my refugee immigrant ancestors came desperately looking for good farms, new opportunities, and religious freedom. They found all three in this great land.
My neighbors in the friendly city of Harrisonburg, Virginia, welcome immigrants and refugees who resettle here. Hundreds of newcomers attend our schools, receive care from our churches and find jobs in the area. Muslim mothers come to the public school bus stop near my house to pick up their children at the end of the day, similar to the practice of many other parents. The Muslim children I have taught are some of the finest, most respecting, hardworking and decent students a teacher could ever hope to have in their classroom.
We need to welcome immigrants to these shores and embrace their differences, not push them away in fear. With proper screening and vetting, we could continue to resettle refugees in these United States, without interruption. I am well aware that my U.S. passport and birth certificate give me privileges and securities that first and second generation immigrants, with papers in process, do not have. It is because of their worries and fears that I feel compelled to speak out against the recent changes in immigration and refugee policies in the United States.
Before 9/11, when tourists could still climb up the stairs inside the Statue of Liberty without reservations and security checks, my wife and I took our children to New York. We went up the narrow staircase inside Lady Liberty and looked out from her crown. There we could see the blue water expanse that she must have watched, with open arms, as thousands of huddled masses streamed to these shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.