Relevents: Christina Schweitzer
Christina Schweitzer, director of Employment Services for the Salvation Army’s Buffalo, N.Y., Corps, talks about her experiences as an immigrant, the power of faith in action, and working with terminally ill children and their families.
I was born in Belgium to Greek immigrants. We lived in Belgium until my father moved to Germany to find work in the auto industry. Our first home in Russelsheim, Germany was made from two train boxcars with no running water. The mother of a childhood friend stopped her from playing with me because, as a guest worker’s kid, I was an “ausländer,” or an outsider. Ironically in 1975, when I returned to Greece in my late teens, I stood out for a different reason. Having been raised in German culture, my jeans, sneakers, and black punk rock clothing looked unusual compared to what conservative Greek women wore. Today, I can relate to the struggles of immigrants in the United States because I’ve experienced those feelings of isolation in my own way.
The biblical story of the wedding at Cana is special to me. It’s about putting faith into action for the good of others. When the wedding party had run out of wine, Mary asked Jesus to help. He hesitated, saying His time to reveal Himself had not yet come. We all feel that way sometimes; that it’s not our time to help. But we should put our faith into action as Jesus did.
I worked at a pediatric hospice in Buffalo for over ten years. I was told that I would be good for this job, and that the hospice had never had a “bad death.” I thought this thinking was insane; the thought of seeing dying children every day was unimaginable. But I prayed, knowing God would be with me through every hardship, and I accepted the job offer. We never had a bad death because we provided comfort to families, helping them deal with the most difficult situation a parent can go through. Losing a child is devastating, but through the transition from life to death, we helped children and their families create positive memories.
After graduating college with a degree in social work in 1991, I came to The Salvation Army in Buffalo, N.Y. I worked for the SAFE program, helping parents better themselves so they could get their children back from Child Protective Services. Twenty-two years later, after working different jobs, I returned to the corps where I had begun. I thought, this feels right. Churches had always provided a great deal of comfort for me.
I came to the U.S. when I was 19 to live with my husband, Randy, whom I had married while he was stationed in the U.S. military in Germany. When I was 12, I remember looking through a picture book on life in the United States. I saw an image of a young black child walking past a laundromat sign that said “Whites Only.” I had thought it meant that you could only wash your whites there. Years later, I learned about racial segregation. These painful realities simply could not mesh with the beauty of American life I had heard so much about. Nevertheless, in 1998, I became a U.S. citizen because I wanted to vote.
interview by Hugo Bravo