Every year more than 2 BILLION dollars goes unclaimed in U.S. lotteries.

This means that a lot of Americans don’t realize what they have . . .

Could this be you?

In 1997, my friend Chinye won the lottery.

No, not the Powerball jackpot or the Mega Millions grand prize.

She won something better: a green card in the U.S. Diversity Lottery in Nigeria. Although she had a less than 1% chance of winning, she won.

But for Chinye, a green card wasn’t enough. She wanted more. So in 2003, she became an American citizen.

As we celebrate this Independence Day, I hope her story will help you realize what you have as an American and make you feel truly grateful, all over again.

***

Why I’m grateful to be an American: Chinye’s story


“Lord, please take me far away from here.” I often prayed as a child.

But I never dreamed God would actually make that happen.

Then one day I received a letter saying, “Congratulations! You’ve won the Visa Lottery.” All I could do was breathe. I mean, what were the odds?

(Later, I learned that the odds of my winning the right to apply for a green card, were less than 1 %. But SADLY, over half of this 1% did not qualify. Thankfully, I did.)

I felt happy, but also afraid. It meant leaving everyone and everything I had ever known.

I wondered, “What if America isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?”

But I decided to go because deep down I knew this was God’s will for me.

I boarded the plane in Lagos, trembling. I had never flown before and the plane was huge—so much bigger than I imagined it would be.

I gripped the armrests with both hands as we fired down the runway and took off, not having the slightest clue what lay ahead of me.

When we finally arrived in Detroit, we had to unload on the snowy tarmac and wait in line to get into the terminal. The temperature was in the single digits. Since I’d grown up in the tropics, I didn’t even own a coat.

As I stood there shivering, I wondered:
Will heat be available in my sponsor’s home?
Will they have enough food to share with me?
Will I be safe from gangs?
Will I be able to find a job?

In Nigeria (and in over 85% of the world) these are very real, daily concerns.

After making it through customs in Detroit (without having to pay a bribe), the agent smiled and said, “Welcome to America, I hope you enjoy your new life here.” Then I flew on to Nashville, where I was surprised to find live music and rocking chairs right in the middle of the airport, along with abundant food options. I had never seen the like.

I moved into my sponsor’s home in Hendersonville, TN. She helped me get a job, buy a car and eventually get my own apartment. 

But it was a very lonely time for me.
Everything felt so foreign, so new.

At 21 years old I was totally on my own.

My first birthday cake, ever!

While I really enjoyed the superior living conditions here, I soon learned that there’s far more to America than just that.

Unlike other countries, America was founded on a set of ideas, rather than on ethnicity. (For example, anyone can become a full-fledged American in a way that you can’t become an Englishman or Frenchman.) 

I believe in the foundational American ideas of justice, mercy and freedom. These biblical ideas align with my faith.

So in 2003, I became a U.S. citizen. While I could’ve stayed here without becoming a citizen, I wanted to claim this country permanently, for myself and also for my children.

So this Independence Day, here’s why I’m grateful to be an American:

1. Generosity: The World Giving Index ranked the U.S. as the “world’s most generous country.” I agree.

One of my first jobs was as a cashier in a grocery store. After sending a few dollars home to my family each month, I was strapped for cash. That winter a huge snowstorm delayed the mail and thus, my paycheck. So that week, I had nothing to live on. To make matters worse, there was a deadly explosion in Lagos, Nigeria, but I didn’t even have $5.00 to call my family to check on them. I was worried sick.

A customer in my checkout line noticed my downcast expression and asked me what was wrong. After listening to my story, she gave me a hug and a $20 bill, so I could call my family. It seemed like $500 to me!

She gave me her phone number so I could let her know if my family was okay. Later, she invited me to her church and to her home for my first Thanksgiving Dinner. And she’s just one of the many people here who have been overly generous to me. The American spirit of generosity inspires me to be more generous to others.

2. Safety: while no place in the world is 100% safe, I feel very safe in the U.S. I do not fear being stopped by a gang or a crooked policeman. The bridges and roads here are nicely paved, well-lit and well-marked. No one asks me for papers or to pay exorbitant tolls—I’m just free to go wherever I want.

And if something were to happen to me here, at least there would be an investigation. While the American justice system isn’t perfect, it’s pretty good. In Nigeria, people often die or disappear and there is no justice for them.

3. Cleanliness: Clean water is standard for all Americans. During the dry season in my village our well usually ran dry, so I had to fetch water from the river. I prayed all the way because the trail up the steep canyon was so dangerous—especially when you’re carrying a full jerry can. We strained our water, but it often made people sick. Cholera outbreaks were common, so we took Combantrin (a de-worm drug) every six months.

I’m thankful to fill my lungs with clean air every day. Since air pollution is the 2nd leading cause of death in Africa, it’s a wonderful blessing from God I can’t take for granted.

4. Education: It’s amazing that many fine schools in America are absolutely free! There are also many excellent private schools, arts schools and trade schools. Back in Nigeria, there were not many options. Sadly, over 30% of the people are totally illiterate. Student loans are unheard of. Special education programs and internships are rare.

After I moved to Tennessee, the guidance counselor at school helped me apply for a Pell grant for nursing school. I couldn’t believe that I could go to a good college for free. My professors actually cared about my learning. No one asked me for any favors or bribes.

5. Opportunity: America is called the “land of opportunity” for a good reason. Inventions such as electricity, telephones, TVs and airplanes were created right here because the opportunities are open and endless.

If you don’t believe it, just try to start a business, or open a bank account, or apply for a business loan, or even return an item to a store in the 3rd world. The soul-crushing lack of opportunity stifles innovation and creativity.

6. Personal Freedoms: No matter what your social status, or where you born, or how much money you have, all Americans are guaranteed personal freedoms by the Constitution. In America I can vote, own land, speak out and worship freely. 

Some people ask me if I celebrate the 4th of July and I always answer, “Why wouldn’t I? There’s so much to be grateful for!” Ironically, unless you were born abroad, it’s difficult to truly grasp the blessings America provides. Since being grateful is God’s will, I use Independence Day as a day of thanksgiving.

7. It’s easier to be a Christian: In Nigeria, there’s a lot of pressure to compromise your beliefs. Many people there combine Christianity with divination or sorcery (due to fear). Bribes and “favors” and hush money are often necessary for survival. I realize that there are similar pressures here too, but believe me, it’s on a much lesser scale.

My faith has grown and deepened since I’ve been here. I’m so grateful to God and to the other Christians who have reached out to me. I now belong to a wonderful church and attend a weekly Bible study. I strive to pass on the blessings that God has given me to others—especially to those in the foreign community.

Only one country is perfect—the kingdom of Heaven—and I celebrate my citizenship there, most of all. But I also treasure my American citizenship because it’s the greatest country on this earth. I realize God brought me here both to bless me and to bless others* through me.

This Independence Day, I want to recognize what I have and how God has blessed me. I hope others will do the same.

***

Thank you for sharing your amazing story, Chinye!

As we celebrate Independence Day, may we realize what we have and celebrate the holiday by being truly grateful.

 

*Chinye generously supplies food for family members and friends back home.

RELATED: Why You Can Be Grateful to Be an American, Why You Should Teach Your KIDS to Love Their Country