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At last they arrived! A Michigan congregation joyfully sponsors a refugee family from Uganda

by Susan Wersan

John and Sarah Chuol and their children and John's brother, Michael pose for a photo upon their arrival at Genesis UMC, Ada, Michigan.
John and Sarah Chuol and their children and John's brother, Michael pose for a photo upon their arrival at Genesis UMC, Ada, Michigan.
Image by: Courtesy Elizabeth Smith

At last, "They arrived and the joy and gratitude is just spilling out of them!"

So commented Andrea Smith of Genesis UMC in Ada, Michigan, after the long awaited arrival from Uganda of John and Sarah Chuol and their sons Michael -13, David -11, Ruon - 2 1/2 , daughter Nyamuoc (Mary) -6, and John's brother, Michael -22.

In September of 2001, the Chuols, a refugee family from Sudan living in asylum in Uganda received word that they would travel to the US that month. John Chuol decided to move his family of seven from the refugee camp to a one room accommodation near Kampala so they would be conveniently situated for final processing and travel to the US where a United Methodist sponsor - Genesis United Methodist Church in Ada, Michigan - was awaiting their arrival.

Then came 9/11 and the world changed. All refugee travel to the US for resettlement was halted by the federal government. When the government reopened the program in 2002, it was with new, complex security measures. Soon the Chuols, along with thousands of other refugees, were caught up in seemingly endless delays. Each week, John would walk to the US Consulate to see if they were cleared to travel, and the weeks and months lengthened into three and half years during which the Chuols eked out their existence sharing one room.

11.7 million refugees remain in camps across the world; 7 million have remained in camps for 10 years.

Less than one half of one percent of refugees - those in most dire situations - are resettled each year.

Co-sponsorship with a local refugee affiliate office continues to afford a local congregation opportunity for a meaningful, hands-on ministry with refugees.

Genesis UMC (now ten years old) had already sponsored one family in 1999, and was anxious to welcome the Chuols. Concerned about any feelings of abandonment the Chuols might have, church members sent letters and cards to the family that first Christmas along with a care package from the 5th and 6th grade Sunday school classes. The family reported that it was the messages from Genesis UMC that kept them going. The cards they had received were part of the possessions they brought with them when they finally arrived in Ada on May 19, 2005. (In the interim, the church had sponsored a family from Iran in 2003.)

Three weeks later, the family continues to be positive and joyful. Ms. Smith attributes this in part to a strong sense of inner peace that is particularly evident in Sarah. When the family arrived at the airport at 1 pm after a two hour delay added to their long, exhausting flight, Sarah went to each of the 40 people who had waited to greet them, looked each person in the eye and said, “Thank you.” After the pastor had drawn everyone into a circle for a prayer of thanks, Sarah began to sing a lovely, haunting song of her homeland. Her voice and free, joyful ululation is heard regularly in worship services - and the congregation is no longer surprised by it.

For more stories about Genesis United Methodist Church, see: "The Porch Light Is On", Keeping the Porch Light On, and Keeping the Welcome Light Burning for Refugees.

See Also...
Topic: Christian love Family GBGM programs Human rights Immigration Refugees UMCOR United Methodist Church
Geographic Region: North Central U.S.UgandaUnited StatesSudan
Source: UMCOR

arrow icon. View Listing of Missionaries Currently Working in: Uganda    United States |    Sudan |   

Date posted: Jun 22, 2005