By Joe Isenhower Jr.
“Nancy,” the Missouri Synod Lutheran in Montreal who for the last three years has faced the threat of being deported from Canada to Iran, where she could be persecuted or killed for her beliefs, is now free of that threat.
Nancy was granted a United States visa just before Christmas and heard from Canadian immigration authorities Jan. 23 that her third application for refugee status had been accepted and that she was free to apply for Canadian citizenship.
Since October 2002, Reporter has run several articles about her plight.
Nancy (not her real name) is retaining her anonymity because she also may apply for Canadian citizenship for her husband and two children, who remain in Iran.
Nancy immigrated to Canada from Iran in 2000 and almost immediately was threatened with deportation, unless she could prove to Canadian authorities that she is a Christian and would face danger if she returned to Iran.
In Iran, it is legal to be Christian, but illegal to “convert” to Christianity from Islam, which Nancy had done.
She appealed through Canada’s Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) program, which would qualify her for refugee status and enable her to apply for citizenship. Her appeals were denied twice.
Her third PRRA appeal was granted, which led to the Canadian immigration authority’s decision this month that allows her to apply for citizenship.
“God answered all my prayers,” Nancy told Reporter in a Jan. 27 phone interview. “I am so happy. Thank you so much to all my brothers and sisters in Christ for all the prayers. I don’t know how I can say this. It is a miracle. God is great.”
Nancy’s pastor, Rev. Harold Ristau of Ascension Lutheran Church, Montreal, stood by Nancy throughout her three-year ordeal, supporting her claim to be Christian.
“The timing was all truly perfect,” Ristau said in an e-mail the day Nancy received the final decision from Canadian immigration. “In the midst of all the legal chaos we were encountering, the Lord was truly working it all according to His timing.”
Ristau said that Nancy’s being granted the PRRA on the third try “is practically unheard of. She may be the only person ever succeeding at this level — truly a miracle.”
Ristau said that Canadian authorities apparently were on the verge of deporting Nancy last fall, after her second PRRA rejection, but decided not to act because she had applied for a U.S. religious workers visa. She had an offer to work among Muslims in Utah from People of the Book Lutheran Outreach, an LCMS mission society based in Michigan that reaches out to Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.
Nancy’s visa interview at the U.S. consulate in Montreal was on Oct. 24. Rebecca Varner, the counselor there, “was surprised that Canada was not accepting me,” Nancy said.
Ristau said that after Nancy was granted the U.S. visa, Canadian immigration authorities decided to invite her to apply for permanent residency in Canada, although she will not be able to leave the country until she is a permanent resident, which could take a year.
Nancy had a two-hour hearing at Canadian immigration offices Jan. 8, and got a phone call Jan. 22 from Canadian Immigration and Citizenship asking her to come to their offices in two days.
The immigration officer who greeted them Jan. 24 “looked so serious,” Nancy said, as he carried two armloads of files documenting her case.
“He said ‘you are accepted,’ and I screamed ‘what?'” Nancy said, recalling that the officer congratulated her, said that her PRRA had been accepted and that she could apply for Canadian citizenship for herself and her family.
“I can’t explain the feeling to you,” Nancy told Reporter between sobs of joy. “I never thought it would happen. I can only thank God and all the people who prayed for me!”
Two days later, in comments after Ristau’s sermon, Nancy thanked the members of Ascension Lutheran Church for their prayers and support.
Nancy said she intended to apply for Canadian citizenship by Feb. 1 and for a work permit “as soon as possible,” so she can resume her former profession, nursing.
“I want to work and tell people about Jesus,” she said.
Ristau said that Nancy’s case had a “fairly high profile … in immigration circles,” due to media involvement and the “voices” that supported her. Among those who wrote letters on her behalf to Canadian authorities were LCMS President Gerald Kieschnick, Missouri Synod SELC District President Carl Krueger and Lutheran Church–Canada East District President Allen Maleske.
The cost for Nancy’s citizenship, according to Ristau, will run about $2,200 (Canadian dollars).
“Any donations are always welcome,” he said. “But the greatest donation has been your prayers and letters and interest.”
Posted Jan. 30, 2004