Emily was almost 100 when I got to know her. Every time we would talk, she would always tell me: “We were slaves in Norway.” 
Why would Emily say such a thing? I would listen. And she would tell me about how her family had worked for wealthy landowners in the old country who left them very little for themselves. The ground the family worked was steep and full of rocks. And they were always hungry. When her mother baked bread, she would add sawdust to make it go farther for the family.
Finally they crossed the Atlantic, and settled in northwestern Minnesota, in the woods and the swamps. It was a hard life there, but they worked harder, even with the ravenous mosquitoes in the summers and the bitter winters. But they were not slaves of any rich landowner anymore. Here, they could work hard and get ahead and build a better life ... without ever baking with sawdust again.
As a young girl, she would go to pick blueberries in the woods. On one of these expeditions, she crawled under a bush to get some. After a moment, there was motion beside her. And the face of a sleepy black bear rose up to meet her gaze. The two of them stared at each other for what seemed to be a long time. Then Emily cautiously crawled out from the bushes and walked away, leaving the bear to go back to sleep.
Other times, she would watch a moose standing in the river. They would use their antlers to scoop up waterplants and then eat them.
In this new land, she could go freely with her family to worship. Whether there was a pastor or not, one of the first things most Scandinavians did was to build a church in their neighborhood. Back in Norway, the government ruled the churches. The government paid the salaries of the pastors and regulated where they would serve. There was a history of jailing people for preaching without government approval, or for leading unauthorized Bible studies. By the time Emily left for Minnesota, there were still government restrictions on who could legally preach and teach, and in which places.
When she was a child, Emily and her family left a beautiful land. But it was also a place of oppression, exploitation, hunger, and heavy-handed government control. She came with her family to a place where they could work hard and survive and their lives could improve. They came to a place where their worship could depend on Scripture, and not depend on the government. 
Emily is one of the many reasons that I am thankful for America. Emily appreciated the opportunity here to work freely, to worship freely, to speak freely, and to live freely according to her conscience. I pray that God would keep on blessing this country for more generations, and use America to bless people around the world. 
Pastor Ken Hart
Faith Lutheran Church