Browse The Gjenvick-Gjønvik Archives Home Page

Immigration Archives - Our Foreigners - Immigration Trends and the Role of Christian Missions

By the Rev. Ferdinand von Krug, Kingston, Pennsylvania.

There are few contrasts more striking expelled 'them from Europe, the features than that between the colonists who landed which attracted them to America, and their on Plymouth Rock and the immigrants who character, are opposite. The early settler was now land on our shores. The causes which leaven; the modern immigrant is lump.

Whence Do They Come?

Vet even in this modern immigration we must note the shifted center of immigration. Until within the last quarter century it has been overwhelmingly Teutonic and Celtic. Now the Slav, the Magyar and the Italian have supplanted the Teuton and the Celt. How great the change is will perhaps be best made to appear by contrast of the last half decade with that of twenty-five years ago when the old immigration was spending its force and the new just beginning to make itself felt. Taking the immigration of the years 1880 to 1885 and contrasting it with that of the years 1900 to 1905, we have the following results:

First Period. Second Period.
1880-1885 0185 1900-1905
Average Per year. Illiteracy. Average per year.
174.109 Germany 8 per cent. 32.581
60.665 Scandinavia .6 per cent. 53,798
145.701 Un. Kingdom 3 per cent ;1.3.11
14.290 Russia 36 per cent. 134,920
/7.643 Aus. Hung'y 26 per cent. 276,524
30.309 Italy 48 per cent. 176.650

Not only are the newcomers different from their predecessors and more illiterate,—there are more of them. The year 1882 marked the high tide of the old immigration, when the total number rose to 788,993; but in the new immigration the former high water mark was passed in 1903 and in 1905 the aggregate rose to 1,036,499, of whom Italy sent 221,479. Austria-Hungary 275,693, and Russia 184,897, and when we realize that the total of immigration for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1907, was 1.285.349, it may well cause us to think. Yet this invasion is a peaceful one. It is not like the great historic migrations of Asia and Europe, which were hostile, resulting in the subjugation of peoples. The Commissioner General of Immigration says:

"The history of the world offers no precedent for our guidance, since no such peaceful invasion of alien peoples has ever before occurred. It must have great and largely unforeseen effects upon our form of civilization, our social and political institutions, and, above all, upon the physical, mental and moral characteristics of our people."
Our immigrant population, therefore, forms a distinct and serious problem in the life of both Church and State.

The large body of these people can neither speak nor understand our American tongue at the present time; consequently they are not able to duly appreciate or adapt themselves to our free institutions and modes of life. They are cut off by the fencing of their speech from any personal or family association with American people; hence it is hopeless to expect them. unaided, to make of themselves worthy, intelligent citizens of the country.

Doubtless many of them are the mere driftwood on the great tide of civilization which will in due time float away to be stranded along the highways of the tramp or lost in the wreckage of the paupers. But large bodies of them are building homes and communities for themselves and their children in our midst.

As a mass, they are poor—very poor. They have come, after leaving their families behind to be supported at long range, or to shift for themselves, until shelter can be provided in the land of the free. Then the families already here are held in such bonds of poverty, ignorance and unwashed home life that they can avail themselves of very few of the privileges of education. They are liable speedily to become mere crystallized settlements of foreign forces hostile to all human elevation or worthy free citizenship.

Farther, the problem is perplexed, not only by the large number, the poverty and the isolation from us of speech. but by their varieties of race and language. They are mostly from eastern and southeastern Europe, from the kingdom of Italy, the conglomerate empires of Austria and of Russia. These are divided from each other by mixture of blood. race feuds, religious prejudices, language and dialects, into factions under which they live and work together with immense difficulty and constant friction.
Religiously they call themselves Catholics —Greek and Latin—Lutherans and Calvinists.

As a mass they are honest, hard workers and generous saloon supporters. They are patient and kind hearted. Their children are bright and quick to respond to all kind efforts to teach them. There is much excellent material among them out of which to build the Commonwealth.

What Can We Do?

The problem of taking care of these people is the most serious one that confronts the Christion churches of the land. As someone has said. "The Christian churches of America stand face to face with a tremendous task. It is a challenge to their faith, their zeal. The accomplishment of it will mean not only the ascendency of Christianity in the home land, but also the gaining of a position of advantage for world-wide evangelization."

Does it not seem as if God had gathered front distant lands those who need the enlightenment of the Bible and the preaching of the gospel and set them at our very door? They will come and they cannot be ignored. We have a broad territory where honest industry is rewarded with an abundance, large enough and rich enough to afford a comfortable asylum for all the poor or oppressed who choose to come. For many of those who would seek it are worthy and excellent—at all events they are men and brethren of our common humanity. Let them therefore come and find here comfort and a home.

What then is our duty to these people?

We must give them knowledge secular and spiritual. Our opportunity is our responsibility. This work must be directed to every point along the line of departments of church work, for it will be found that it has significant relations. not only to Home Missions, to Education, to Publication and to Church Erection, but even to Foreign Missions. Christ said. "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."

Our first aim should be the conversion of the souls of these strangers within our gates. Americanization will come afterward. in the first instance. we must bring the gospel to them in their own tongue. To the Italian we must become as an Italian. To the Slav as a Slay. that we might gain them.

The world has been lifted up in all ages when the "poor have the gospel preached unto the-." There is no force like that of the gospel to lift these people to a worthy citizenship and absorb them safely into the life of the Commonwealth. and so become efficient factors under our free institutions. This may necessitate to employ col-
porteurs and lay missionaries to explore the field before the regular ordained missionary is set to work.

Another great factor in solving the question of what can we do for these people, is the work among the children. This can best be done through missionary kindergarten teachers. The kindergarten reaches all nationalities and religions by means of the English tongue. It proves a great assimilating force. These children will learn enough in one year of our language and ways of our homes to place them on the highway toward our system of education and worthy free life.

In the Presbytery of Lackawanna, for example, over two thousand children have been graduated from the kindergartens into the public schools, thereby placing them on an equality with the American child. But this is not all. A large number of these children have come into our Sabbath schools and churches and often have brought their parents with them—"For a little child shall lead them." They also become interpreters and guides for the missionary in the homes of the people.

It has been found that these foreign children, as a mass, show as much intellectual vigor and grasp as the same class of English-speaking children in our country and are more easily trained to habits of industry.

Industrial schools for girls from ten to twenty years old, where they are taught sewing and cooking. and night schools for boys and men, where they may be taught English speech and Christian truths. are of great help to bring these people into proper rela tion for assimilation with American life. Then every permanent community should have its house of worship, with such religious instruction as has been found absolutely necessary for the maintenance of Christian society in our whole national life and history. Such a number of missionaries must be provided as with knowledge of the English and speech of the masses of these poor, as may be able to bring them into intelligent connection with our moral and religious activity.

The above propositions can be made practicable, and wherever tried they have brought cheering fruits and immeasurable blessing to the people.

The Board of Home Missions has always pursued its work among people of different languages and nationalities. It is the earnest aim cf the Board now to evangelize and Americanize these multitudes as fast as they can. To this end every pastor should bring this cause intelligently before his people, and such help promptly afforded as the needs require. We are to look at it not only as a Christian mission, but a patriotic appeal for the security of our free citizenship and the peaceful growth of the nation itself.

It is a Christian mission. but it is for the securing of that Christian life upon which our glorious country must ever rest. We appeal to our Christian mothers and sisters to open their eyes to the conditions of these mothers and children who are helpless strangers, and help to bring their children into the full knowledge and possibilities of the life that God has given us all.


Return to Top of Page