The process of citizenship is easy for most people. Citizenship is not usually a step by step process over the course of years and years. Most people are born in a particular country and remain there for the rest of their lives. That being said, the world is more transient than ever before. In the United States, there are around 45 million foreign born residents, making up 13.7% of the total population. I am part of that minority population, and here is my story.
My journey to US citizenship began in back in 2008. After growing up in Western Canada, I moved down to the States that year and married my dear wife Stephane, who was born and raised in Ohio. Over the course of about 9 months, we hired a lawyer and pursued “immigration through marriage.” I obtained a work permit and eventually a green card in early 2009. Ever since then I have had “permanent resident” status or the less flattering title, “resident alien.”
From the beginning of this journey, Steph and I talked about me obtaining citizenship. It was only natural that I would take this “next step” of citizenship, and actually could have after 3 years of being a permanent resident.
So why did I wait 12 years?
The simple answer is that life got really busy for us. In August 2010, our twin daughters were born. John followed in August 2012, and finally Jeremiah in December of 2014. During that same time (July 2011-May 2015) I was pursuing doctoral studies at Gordon Conwell Seminary. That’s not to mention being a full-time pastor of a local church. Busy times to say the least!
In more recent years, Steph and I had looked into the citizenship process multiple times, but there was a snag that always seemed to trip us up. Back in 2008 when I immigrated to the States, I was required to register for “Selective Service” because I was in the 18-25 age bracket at the time. Basically, in the case of military conscription (or “the draft”), I would be ready to serve as needed. Well, somewhere along the line, we got the idea that I hadn’t registered, and we feared that if I pursued citizenship, this might be a problem.
Finally, in November 2019 I found myself in the midst of an unplanned sabbatical. I had more time! As I looked into it, I discovered that the process had been simplified, and would not be as much work as I thought. I filled out the paperwork – mostly online – and sent in a check for 600 and some dollars. After all those years, it almost seemed too easy. We also got a letter in the mail informing us that I had registered for Selective Service after all. I think our fears were way overblown, but it was nice to know that wouldn’t be an issue.
Then on December 12, I headed down to York, PA for my biometrics exam. This short exam basically serves to prove I am who I say I am on paper. It involved fingerprints, a picture, and a couple other little things. Piece of cake! I was told that an interview would follow most likely in late winter or early spring.
As you well remember, that was around the time when COVID-19 and all the lockdowns were coming into effect. As all the government offices were closed down, we waited….and waited….and waited. It wasn’t until early October that we got a letter informing us that my citizenship interview was scheduled for November 24.
I must say there was a sense of excitement when I read that letter. This might actually happen! I might actually become a US citizen! In the weeks leading up to my interview, it became a family affair. On a couple occasions Steph asked me and the kids civics and history questions that would be on the exam. I was impressed by how often our kids got the answers right!
Finally, the big day came. I thought it was neat that my interview was in Philadelphia, a city rich in American history. Everything went great! I aced all the history and civics questions, the only problem that day was the speeding ticket I incurred on my way down to Philly. Yes, even pastors get speeding tickets :).
The final step in my journey happened last Friday, December 11th. I traveled back down to Philadelphia to say the Naturalization Oath of Allegiance. I must say this last step was anticlimactic. It had been such a long journey for me, but the ceremony was over in about 15 minutes. Normally, the room that we were in would have been filled with family and friends, but given these strange times that we live in, no visitors were permitted. Nonetheless, I said the oath loud and proud and was relieved that it was finally over.
I spent just a few minutes with about 20 other new citizens. Like me, they all have a story. They all started off in a particular country, but ended up in the United States of America. And while I am very proud to be American, I am also very proud of my Canadian heritage. But the thing that is far and away the most important identity marker in my life is the fact that I am a child of God, and my citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20).
I am grateful for the journey the Lord has taken me and my family on. God had a perfect plan, but the supreme reality for all Christians, is that the best is yet to come! “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). Christians the world over are longing for that “better country” whose designer and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10, 16). And so we say, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)