The Immigrants Among Us

Rebuilding Hope, January 2015 edition
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Bambi Straw's great-grandfather was a generous and courageous man who braved coming to the United States when he was young.

Bambi Straw’s great-grandfather was a generous and courageous man who braved coming to the United States when he was young.

Bambi Straw is a member of Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church in Catonsville, MD. She made Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) part of her Christmas celebration last year, in remembrance of her great-grandfather, John Saleeby, and in honor of the thousands of unaccompanied children who come to find safety here.

Bambi’s great-grandfather died when she was 12, at the age of 94. “When I see the news and the children coming here by themselves, I think of him,” she reflects. At the age of 14, John stowed away on a ship to come to this country from Lebanon.

“There were no services when he did what he did, so he was on his own. I’m glad there are people now to help kids.”

John supported himself any way that he could. One of those jobs was in a salt mine in Louisiana.

One day, there was an emergency and many miners were trapped in the mines. Ventilation fans that kept the poisonous gas from building up stopped working and the foreman would not allow a rescue for fear of losing more men.

John begged to go down and fix the fans so that a rescue could be attempted. He pointed out that he had no family, so there was no one to compensate if he died. The foreman agreed.

The miners were all rescued, but John nearly died after being overcome by the methane. Another miner prevailed upon the foreman to let him go after the boy who had saved everyone else. John woke up two days later in a hospital bed.

Bambi’s great-grandfather was a generous and courageous man. Because of him, Bambi says, several families have a few more “branches on their hereditary trees.”

Due to his stories of courage, she understands the sacrifices today’s unaccompanied children make to come to the US. It is her wish to make sure that they are not all alone, like her great-grandfather.

“My great-grandpa didn’t lead an ordinary life. But that’s not how you want kids to live. Adventures should be much more benign than the ones he had. That’s what childhood should be—not making a trek hundreds or thousands of miles to find safety just to have people yell at you and tell you to go back home.”

Bambi’s family said that donating to LIRS was a way for her family to “focus on all the good that has come out of the family” and think about their legacy.

“I know personally the tenacity, compassion, and wisdom these unaccompanied children can bring into our midst. I saw it in my great-grandfather. We will need their fearlessness in the years ahead.”

Bambi was made aware of LIRS through her pastor and her congregation’s existing relationship with us. Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church has been involved with LIRS since the crisis in the Sudan by sponsoring families.

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