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The notion of hospitality always has been central to the Rev. Steve Klemz's understanding of Christianity.

Hospitality took Klemz into north St. Louis, where he ministered to inner-city residents overwhelmed by daily living. It took him to Juarez, Mexico, where his youth mission team built a house, and to East Africa, where he spent a sabbatical experiencing the goodness of his fellow Lutherans in the Third World. It was there he learned the word karibu, which is Tanzanian for "Won't you please come into my space so I can share with you what is of value to me?"

Then came Norma Gonzalez, soon to become Norma Klemz.

In that relationship, the painful problems of immigration became personal for Klemz, pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Salt Lake City.

Klemz's wife of four years came to the United States from Mexico years ago to care for her ailing father and stayed - without permission.

"I knew the complexity of justice issues but I hadn't realized how acute it is with immigration," Klemz says. "It's made me active in ways I didn't anticipate."

Undocumented immigrants are vulnerable - often attacked and critiqued as if they are not human.

When Norma Klemz went alone to get her Social Security number, the clerk waved her off without even looking at all her documents. But when she returned with Steve Klemz, the same clerk treated him with deference and gave her the necessary paper without a problem.

That and other maddening experiences have made Klemz wonder how people without financial and social resources can navigate the system.

Now Klemz wants to help his church and the public reframe the discussion of immigration from fear to faith. Bishop Allan C. Bjornberg of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Rocky Mountain Synod appointed Klemz to head a committee studying immigration proposals to present to the congregations. Klemz has a 6-inch-thick file of news clippings, paperwork and position papers on the issue as well as an array of Bible verses that talk about how to treat strangers.

"Hospitality was a crucial practice among the early Christians," Klemz says. "The word for 'stranger' in Greek also means 'guest' and 'host.' This guesting and hosting happens time and again when Jesus eats with others. He arrives at a wedding as a guest but when the wine runs out, he provides more wine and becomes the host."

That kind of mutual hospitality "embraces and transforms those who enter into it," he says.

After Klemz married Norma in 2002, he joined her in the bureaucratic black hole that was her effort to become a legal resident. The couple prepared a petition to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, now part of Homeland Security. The government wanted to know if theirs was a marriage of convenience or a real union. They put together scores of photos showing their family life and hundreds of letters from friends attesting to the genuineness of the marriage. They hired a lawyer.

They have a trial date next April to determine whether Norma will be deported.

"Norma and I believe God brought us together and we will always be together - maybe not in the U.S., but together," he says.

For now, Klemz continues to work on practicing what he preaches. It hasn't been easy.

"It's been a spiritual discipline for me," he says, "to live in faith, not fear."


* PEGGY FLETCHER STACK can be reached at or 801-257-8725. Send comments to