FROM R.K.’S CORNER
This month, I share I share with you a slice of my life – the part of my testimony which encompassed both Immigration and Education, presently the two most divisive and passionate issues of our time.
A legal immigrant myself — and still one after 43 years living in this country, I want my story to be an encouragement to those who struggle to find their place in life, whether it involves immigration issues, or other things. Ephesians 2:10 states that God has created us for His glory, and prepared us for good works. He holds our future in His hands; He opens doors and makes a way where there is none, provided we obey His Word and the law of the land!
The situation described here took place in the mid-seventies in Upstate New York. A Junior High school teacher from Norway, I had arrived in the States two years prior having been accepted into an eighteen month Fulbright post-graduate educational research program at the University of Hartford, CT with a study group of eleven other educators from various European countries. The program included a year of teaching at an American school, which for me meant a job at a private Christian school in Connecticut. Our study group had been admitted into the United States on student visas which expired on June 30, 1974. According to law, we were all required to return to our individual homelands, no exceptions made, especially since we were under the tight rules and regulations of the Fulbright Scholarship Grant.
In an unexpected turn of events that can only be described as a supernatural guidance of the Lord, I ended up with an unprecedented one year legal extension of my student visa, and found myself in the Fall of 1974 in a barn in Upstate New York called Love Inn. Surrounded by several hundred former hippies, university students (Cornell University was located only 15 min driving distance from the barn), and a few local people, who had all embraced a living relationship with Jesus Christ, I realized I had been planted smack in the middle of the Jesus movement of the 60-70 ties! There, I established a grade school with the members of this young community who sought a Christian alternative in the education of their children. The task was exciting and challenging.
Love Inn School, presently called the Covenant Love Community School, started with five students in the tractor tool shed in the barn, without hardly any funds or educational material. It was a small beginning, indeed. What we did have, was faith and a large vision that what God was starting, He would complete!
God was calling us to develop a well rounded Christ-centered and relationally-based education, its basis being integrated Christian Education built on the foundation of the Judeo-Christian Biblical world view. During the six years I was Principal of the school, we experienced on a grassroots level a philosophy/methodology emerge, which we called Kingdom Education. It was an exciting and exhilarating endeavor!
After one year, in June of 1975, my extended student visa would expire, which meant that I would have to leave the country and the people and the school I had come to love. Recognizing God had sent me to head the school, and that the work had just begun, the community leaders and members, including myself, strongly felt it was not the right time for me to leave. After much prayer and consideration by all, I filed change of status from student visa to permanent residency at the regional immigration office in Buffalo, NY. Each profession had an immigration quota according to countries and regions. There was no quota for teachers from Nordic countries since there was a glut of them already, so I did not qualify. My application was denied, and my subsequent appeal was also denied.
We learned we had one legal option left: My case could be presented to the highest Federal Immigration Court in Washington, D.C. We were not of a mindset to defy the law of the land, but rather, in faith trusting God’s guidance. Scott Ross, our community fellowship leader, called the church to prayer: “God is above human authorities. God sent Ragnhild, and has established her. She needs to stay.”
With no money, no legal counsel, no arguments that would hold before the court, we nevertheless went forward and filed an appeal of the denial with that Court. The good thing was, I was legally allowed to remain in this country while the case was pending. A few months later, I received a document from Washington DC confirming my pending case.
More that a year passed. Nothing was happening. I continued my life’s work in the school and lived life to the fullest.
One day, I was in the middle of teaching a class, when suddenly the two doors — one at each end of the classroom— opened simultaneously. Two tall, strong men in black suits walked in. They flipped out their i.d. badges and asked, “Are you Ragnhild Marie Kjeldaas?” “Yes, I am,” I answered. “We’re from ICE,” they said. “You have overstayed your visa and you’re in violation of U.S. immigration law. Grab your bag, come with us, we will take you to the airport. You are being deported.”
Stunned, I looked out the window and saw the black limo parked outside with the U.S. government seal on the side. Dazed, I thought, “It is here, waiting to take me to the airport where I will be sent back to Norway in disgrace. I will be a Persona Non Grata in the United States!”
Upstairs, the Love Inn staff saw the black limo and knew they had come for me. One of the guys said, “We can take them on. We’ll run down, wrestle them, and grab her.” They were ready to go to prison for me!
Downstairs, my mind was racing. “Wait, I have a paper from the government!” I told them I had a document from the Federal immigration authorities proving I had legal permission to remain in the States till the Court had resolved my pending case. “Can I go home and find it?” I asked. “No, come with us right now.”
Where else could that paper be? I knew that it wasn’t in my desk, but I decided to check in the file cabinet in my cubbyhole of an office. A copy of the document was there! The men looked at it, politely apologized and left. We realized then that the situation was really serious!
Scott got on the Scott Ross Show, a Christian radio program he produced weekly which was broadcast to 70 stations in the country, and shared my case. We received an avalanche of calls of support, as many professional groups saw this as a constitutional church/state issue.
Shortly thereafter, I received a document in the mail summoning me to appear at a pretrial in Washington DC and asking me to bring all necessary paperwork. With no money and no lawyer, no ability to fill in the complex judicial paperwork, I had nothing to present at the pretrial. “I will be charged with overstaying my visa and immediately deported, but for a miracle,” I thought. None of us knew what to do, so I kept teaching and we all kept praying.
Then, I got notice the trial was two weeks away. I was still able to sleep at night because the Lord had given me assurance, “Do you trust me? I will walk you through it.”
Three days later, I receive a phone call from New York City. I picked up the phone, “Hello?” “Are you the Norwegian school teacher with immigration problems?” a male voice asked. “Yes, I am.” “My name is Victor Anfuso. I’m an immigration lawyer. I believe I’m supposed to take your case.” I was stunned. “I think I need to talk to my leader about this,” I said. “What is your number? I’ll have him call you.”
Scott dismissed the lawyer and his offer as most likely an opportunist wanting notoriety in handling the case, as my story had become more public. He initially refused to talk this lawyer, but Mr. Anfuso persisted and kept calling, day after day. After a few days, Scott finally picked up the phone.
“I need to explain to you who I am,” the lawyer said. “I’ve been an immigration lawyer for 15 years. I once prayed, ‘God, if you can use an immigration lawyer to do something significant in your kingdom, use me.’ I just met a lawyer in California who, in a meeting, presented your case to a group of immigration lawyers. When I laid the case notes on my desk at home, the glory of God entered my room. The Lord said, ‘You are going to take this case and you are going to do it pro bono.’”
He invited me to New York City to stay with his family for a few days to discuss the case. “I know that God is going to glorify himself,” he said as we sat in his Manhattan penthouse office. “I’ve looked at constant violations between church and state. I can’t promise anything, but God is at work.” So I signed papers that listed him as my legal representative and we asked for an extension of several months. Then we dove into the details of the immigration law, which stated that no professional from northern Europe could enter the States and receive a work permit if there were qualified Americans to fill the position. However, if the job required a special qualification to be used in 50% or more of the job, and no American had that qualification, the foreigner would be admitted and given a work visa.
Anfuso decided to file my appeal under that clause in the law. What was my special qualification? We came up with a brilliant idea: My qualification was the Kingdom of God. At Love Inn School, we explored how the word of God fit into every area of our lives. Dissecting a frog became interesting because He made the frog. Anfuso prepared a brief for the Court in which he argued that Miss Kjeldaas did not use only 50% of her classroom time doing “Christian activities”, but rather 100%, since everything was taught in light of God as Creator and then integrated into all subjects and activities. Since there was no other school in the country that brought this awareness to all the subjects, he argued I was uniquely qualified to lead the school.
When Anfuso argued his case at the pretrial hearing, he was told it would not fly, that it was a religious argument, not a legal one. Gradually, the case grew even more public involving many professionals in the Christian legal communities where major discussions centered around the question: Who has the right to define “Christian activities” – the church or the state? The courts had given Anfuso a stopwatch and a legal pad he sent on to me. Over a period of several weeks, I had to record the exact amount of time I spent on “religious instruction” in the classroom each day, specifically defined and limited by them as: reading the Bible, singing, praying, or saying the name of God. I tried my best to comply, but came sorely short of 50% by their definition. We could not separate our lives from our faith.
Anfuso paid out-of-pocket for everything. He even employed a couple of full time paralegals for two years. The entire case must have cost thousands of dollars. Amazing!
After the pretrial, Anfuso called me and said, “This is a very exciting day because the courts of the world have said I’m not capable of winning our case with our argument. We will lose. But—now, it belongs to God. We shall watch the Red Sea part! All we can do is wait to see how He will do it on our behalf!” Ten days before Anfuso would present our case in the highest court, he called again. “Guess what? God parted the sea!” he exclaimed. “What happened?” I asked. “A miracle,” he said. “Congress just published an amended immigration law. The clause we are filing under no longer has the 50% requirement in it. Now we can argue the case and we will win! ” We were all jumping up and down for joy! In the Matter of Kjeldaas v. the United States, God had parted the Red Sea! My winning case became the first precedent case under the amended immigration law!
Shortly afterwards, the Unification Church in Europe filed for permanent residency for 600 of their missionaries. The government realized then there had been an omission in the clause, so that amendment was reversed, and that and subsequent applications were rejected. God had parted the waters for me, alone — He had a larger plan for me remaining in the U.S.! I received my Permanent Residency (“Green Card”) on May 10, 1978.
After 43 years, the Covenant Love Community School (CLCS) is still operating and continues to give an excellent, well rounded education to children ages K-8. For more information, please click on the two links below: