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Ellis Island: Strangers and Aliens on a long journey

My great grandparents and grandparents came through Ellis Island. My maternal grandfather Henry arrived from Bradford, England in 1923, for example. He was 23 years old and single. He had fought in WWI.

My great grandfather on the paternal side, Raffaele, arrived in Ellis Island in 1899 from Roccamonfina (near Naples) Italy. He was 28 years old and married. My great grandfather on the maternal side, Valentino, arrived in 1911 from Lucca, Italy.

"In the 35 years before Ellis Island opened, over eight million immigrants arriving in New York had been processed by New York State officials at Castle Garden Immigration Depot in lower Manhattan, just across the bay. The Federal Government assumed control of immigration on April 18, 1890 and Congress appropriated $75,000 to construct America's first Federal immigration station on Ellis Island." (Wiki)

Four generations of my family
Making the decision to go to America was often expensive, dangerous and difficult. Roccamonfina was very far from New York. A world away. Often, the pilgrim walked far distances through many dangers to arrive at the port from where the ship was to set sail. They carried their possessions with them.

After the expense, danger, and arduous travel, immigrants were thrilled to be arriving soon! They constantly looked out for any sign that the Statue would appear through the rain or fog or night or sunshine. They crowded the rails in hopes of seeing the final destination come near. No one was below deck reading calmly, or quietly doing needlepoint. There was no place they would rather be than in the thick of the action, and getting that all-important first glimpse of the statue that was the harbinger of entry to their new home.

Immigrants eagerly anticipating arrival to their new home.

The journey is almost over! They can see their new land!

Oh, the joy!
Above, Immigrants seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. Source
When the new Ellis Island building was completed "on December 17, 1900, officials estimated 5,000 immigrants per day would be processed. However, the facilities proved to be able to barely handle the flood of immigrants that arrived in the years just before World War I. Writer Louis Adamic came to America from Slovenia in southeastern Europe in 1913 and described the night he and many other immigrants slept on bunk beds in a huge hall. Lacking a warm blanket, the young man "shivered, sleepless, all night, listening to snores" and dreams "in perhaps a dozen different languages". The facility was so large that the dining room could seat 1,000 people."

Immigrants queuing at Ellis Island, The Guardian

Immigrants had to be examined one-by-one to make sure they were fit to enter. They were closely checked!


After the medical exam, there was a legal inspection. "One by one, the passengers were called forward to speak with a uniformed inspector seated on a tall stool behind a high desk. Interpreters helped the immigrants communicate. Twenty-nine questions were asked of every immigrant." (Source) It was a serious moment. They had to account for themselves. The Judge compared their answers to the ones written in the manifest. There could be no deviations or inconsistencies or the judge would know.


Hundreds of people worked at Ellis Island, waiting for the immigrants to arrive and ministering to them after they were processed.

Depending on how the interview went, some immigrants were rejected and not allowed in. As the new arrivals were processed, depending on their final destination, they were escorted to the stairs, known as the Stairs of Separation. The detainees were walked down the center aisle. Immigrants who were allowed in were directed to the left or right sides. But for the unfortunate few who failed the health or legal inspections, Ellis Island became the "Isle of Tears."
"An area on the first floor of the building became known as "the kissing post." It got that nickname because it is where family and friends waited for their loved ones to emerge from the processing station. After months or years apart, they kissed and hugged and shouted with joy and relief. For the immigrants, the long journey was finally over." They had arrived. (Source)

Immigrants running to reunite with loved ones. Source
I hope by now that you realize that this tale is not just a pictorial essay recounting the travails my ancestors endured to make it to America. The biblical allusions are many. We are not of this world, we are seeking a new country. We are aliens and strangers here on this world, eagerly anticipating a better one. We must travel a long and dangerous road to get there. All along the way, we constantly think of and speak about our future destination, heaven. Upon arrival, we must be examined by the Judge. Books will be opened. Our names will be found on the manifests. Those who are found fit, will be rewarded, but called to account for every careless word and all our works will be brought to light and good ones rewarded and false ones burned up. Then we will reunite happily with our brethren, in joy, and be ministered to by angels.

Others who find themselves failing the examination will enter the stairs of separation. They will be cast to outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Brethren, if the immigrants from Italy, Slovenia, Russia, Greece...chose to make such an arduous journey and endure so much to arrive at the place where they believed a better life awaited, what of us? We are sojourning to the best place of all. We leave behind the world we knew, laboring within it but not loving it as much as we eagerly anticipate the blessed Hope, the new land, the wondrous glory.

"Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." (1 Peter 2:11)

"because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth..." (1 Peter 1:16-17).

The unsaved will be judged at the sheep and goats judgment, where there WILL be separation, and weeping and tears. The sad fact is that none of the sojourners in my family who immigrated from their homeland in Italy or England to America will make it to the Promised Land. They gave up so much to leave their home and risk the journey, but they fell short. Their departure down the center aisle on the Stairs of Separation will be very real on judgment day. They almost made it. They came so close but the distance coming up short is eternal. I hope that won't be you. Jesus is coming soon, it is time to repent, and ask forgiveness of your sins to the Judge who judges impartially.

Take some time to go back and look at the photos with the verse in mind. We are strangers in a strange land, eagerly anticipating the next. How much will you risk to leave your homeland behind and set out for the new one?


"Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:1)

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left." (Matthew 25:31-33)

"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:12

"But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:12)

"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak," (Matthew 12:36)

"And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile," (1 Peter 1:17)

"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." (2 Corinthians 5:1-21)