Sunday, August 19, 2007

No longer lost, a refugee accepts call to leadership.

Yesterday, I returned to my digs in Ciszek Hall after three months away from New York. I'm still tired and kind of disoriented, so I'm going to postpone my official "back to school" post for a couple days. In the meantime, I do want to call your attention to an article in today's New York Times about a 26-year-old Sudanese refugee, one of the celebrated "Lost Boys," who was recently ordained an Episcopal priest in, of all places, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here is some of what the NYT had to say the young cleric and his ministry:

About 7,000 miles separate Grace Episcopal Church [in Grand Rapids], where the Rev. Zachariah Jok Char preaches most Sundays, from the small town of Duk Padiet in Sudan, where he was born.

The tally of the miles started about 21 years ago when Mr. Char was 5 and militias backed by the Sudanese government attacked his town during the civil war in the south. He saw the explosions from the field where he was playing, and he fled. He met other boys who had escaped similar attacks, and they started walking.

. . .

The orphans, mostly boys, walked more than 1,000 miles to Ethiopia from Sudan over three months, Mr. Char said. Later, they were forced to walk to Kenya. Thousands died. The West called them the Lost Boys.

Those boys are men now, and here and in cities like Atlanta and Burlington, Vt., the 3,800 who were resettled in the United States beginning in 2001 are trying to build lives and weave communities. For many, their Christian faith, often Anglicanism, is at the heart of their efforts.

Even as they struggle with school, work and frequent bad news from home, recent Sudanese immigrants have moved rapidly to establish congregations, often with the help of local Episcopal parishes. For the Sudanese, church is a place where they can be themselves after being Americans all week, where they can hear Scripture in their native language and where they can reconstitute a culture they only began to know as children.

"We want to pray to God, God who brought us here," Mr. Char, 26, said of the formation of the congregation at Grace Episcopal. "It was not a human decision but a God decision that we are here."

The Sudanese want their own to lead them. So at a ceremony on June 16, the bishop and clergy members of western Michigan laid their hands upon Mr. Char and welcomed him as a priest in the Episcopal Church, among the first of the Lost Boys to be ordained.

Mr. Char has taken on a burden, as he ministers to his people while attending college and working at a meat-processing plant, both full time. His work as a priest makes it possible for the Sudanese church members to receive communion and have their baptisms, weddings and funerals in Dinka, their language.
To read the rest of the article, click here. Reading about Father Char inevitably made me think of own work with refugees this summer and during my time as a novice. Though very few of the refugee clients I served in San Jose were Sudanese, during my time at Catholic Charities I met many people from southern Sudan who came to the United States as refugees and who have had to work hard to rebuild their lives and to learn how to survive in a new and sometimes threatening social and cultural environment. Though none of the Sudanese refugees that I got to know in California have followed Char's path into ordained ministry, all were individuals of deep and genuine faith. Their struggles mirrored those of Father Char and his congregants: trying to support themselves and their families by working low-wage jobs, putting themselves through school, learning a new language and adjusting life in America while dealing with the trauma of the refugee experience.

I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to provide help and companionship to African and Asian refugees going through the difficult process of resettlement, and I continue to pray for the individuals and families I worked with and for all refugees. I hope that you will join me in praying for refugees. If you'd like to do more, you may want to think about volunteering with Catholic Charities or with other refugee resettlement agencies in your area. AMDG.


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