Wilbert Winston Lynch is a man of the world, working in 81 countries as a missionary social worker for the Oklahoma-based Cornerstone Community Church.
He was born in Guyana, and had lived in Kenya for 38 years.
Saturday, he became an American citizen with 25 others from 20 countries in an always moving ceremony at the Charlotte Museum of History.
“It is a joy, a privilege to be an American,” said Lynch, 62, who’ll keep Kenyan citizenship too. Lynch’s wife of 40 years is an American and lives in Charlotte. He’s waited two years to become a citizen.
“America to me is the number one nation in the world and I’ve been to 81. Everywhere I go, people talk about America in high esteem. Even in Russia. The Russians I meet – and I’ve been there 17 times – would love to be Americans.”
Saturday’s ceremony at the Charlotte Museum of History was administered by the Charlotte field office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The local office naturalizes 3,000 people a year in western part of North Carolina. They hold two ceremonies a week at the field office in Charlotte, and an occasional ceremony outside.
Paper flags made by students at Briarwood Academy and wrapped around pine tree out front greeted the 26 immigrants and their families.
During the 45-minute ceremony, they saw a video about America as a nation of immigrants. They stood and took the oath of allegiance and the pledged allegiance to the American flag.
Finally, before receiving their citizenship certificates they heard videoed remarks from President Barack Obama welcoming them as the country’s newest citizens.
Field Officer Director Leander Holston welcomed them too.
“You have finished the leg of one journey,” Holston said. “Your life’s journey is not over. As of today, new opportunities, new adventures, new challenges are available and ready for you to meet them.
“Now as a U.S. citizens, you can knock on those doors.”
The ceremonies are all moving to Holston.
“What’s refreshing to me is to see their faces when they say the oath,” he said. “They start to smile as they say the words – their realization that they’re becoming citizens of this country. It’s important to them.”
Lynch has a Global Entry passport, allowing him access in and out of the country. He’s never paid much attention to the country’s politics, but he plans to begin now that he can vote.
“This citizenship will enable me to see what difference my vote can make,” he said. “A vote can make a difference in the future of a nation.”
For Tun Win and Khaw Bawi, both immigrants from Burma, their certificates represent a new life.
Neither could find work in their native country.
America for Bawi is “freedom for opportunity.”
For Win, it “means freedom to be happy.”