Immigration Ministry Clears the Road to Bethlehem

Immigration Ministry Clears the Road to Bethlehem


UMC Missionary Mike and his wife, Grace, were helped by TJ Mills of Justice for Our Neighbors to resolve a visa issue.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on the National Justice for Our Neighbors website. JFON is an immigration ministry of the United Methodist Church that provides free or low-cost, expert immigration legal services to low-income immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. They also engage in advocacy for immigrant justice, and offer education to communities of faith and to the public. To learn more about the work of the NYAC office of JFON, click here.


Mike is a U.S. citizen. Grace is a Palestinian Christian. They met and fell in love in the United States, married in Bethlehem, and began their married lives in that storied city; Mike as a UMC ordained pastor and missionary, and Grace as a professor at Bethlehem Bible College.

Grace wanted to accompany her husband in his missionary work, but the restrictions placed on holders of Palestinian passports made that nearly impossible. Having a U.S. immigrant visa would allow her to travel more freely. So her husband petitioned for a visa for her at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. They were then told – repeatedly – that she was ineligible because her husband did not reside in the United States.

Stymied at every turn, yet anxious to remain together throughout his missionary work, Mike found JFON New York and its renowned immigration attorney, TJ Mills.

With knowledge gained from decades of experience in immigration law, Mills knew that while there is a residency requirement for spouses petitioning for family-based immigrant visas, there is also an exemption for missionaries serving abroad.

Mills interceded on Grace’s behalf, contacting the U.S. Department of State’s legal office in Washington, D.C. and directing them to certain statues, regulations and State Department cables.  Thanks to his well-known perseverance, Mills was able to convince the legal office of Grace’s eligibility, and they, in turn, contacted the embassy in Jerusalem and told them to issue Grace her visa.

“I’m so grateful to TJ and JFON New York,” said Grace. “This will open up so many more possibilities for us.”  

Finally, the best Christmas present ever: Grace received her visa on December 26. She immediately wrote us to share the good news and to wish us a very Merry Christmas.

“To be in Bethlehem at Christmas," she told us, "is amazing and beautiful. The spirit of Christmas is everywhere.”

“Our hearts will continue to do this work,” she added. “We are here for God's kingdom and to be a light to the people born in this land.”