“It is God who has brought us to this place.” A Sudanese community leader reflects on the journey to Syracuse.

Portrait of Abraham Deng by Judy McAdoo-Pelton.

Abraham Deng is a member of the vestry of St. Paul’s Church in Syracuse. Having come to Syracuse as a refugee from Sudan, Mr. Deng is a leader of the Sudanese congregation at St. Paul’s Church. Over the coming months, we will periodically feature reflections from Mr. Deng on the experience of the Sudanese community in Central New York.

The reflection below was originally published in the May 2017 issue of St. Paul’s monthly newsletter, The Courier.

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you…and you settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit…which you harvest from the land…and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name…you shall make this response before the Lord your God: “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien…we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord…brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” …Then you, together with the priests and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house. (Deuteronomy 26)

This is what has actually happened to us. We were aliens in a foreign land. As boys we fled our villages in Sudan. We walked for hundreds of miles through the desert. There was no food. Sometimes there was no water to drink. Many of our brothers and cousins died during the journey. We walked for many weeks, further and further from our homes, south to Ethiopia or Kenya.

Finally we came to a place just over the border. It was the Kakuma Refugee Camp. Our situation was like the situation of the children of Israel who went down to Egypt and lived there as aliens. We were not oppressed as they were but the conditions were very harsh. We could survive, but just barely. There was just enough water for everyone to have a sip, but not enough to have a drink of water. There were some classes for us, but it was very difficult to learn what we needed to learn.

We had just barely enough to survive. When we arrived at Kakuma each one of us was given one thin blanket. Each night we would lie on the ground to sleep. We found that we could cover four of us with one blanket. So we saved the others, high in the branches of a tree.

Some of us had been baptized as Christians before we left our villages, but many of us had never heard about Jesus before we arrived at the refugee camp. In the refugee camp there was a preacher who read us the word of God and taught us about Jesus. We did not have a church so we met under the big tree for worship.

Many of us can remember the first day we ever met a white man. Several men came from the United States to our refugee camp. They said to us, “We are here to listen to your story. We came here because we heard about your suffering.” Some of these men were part of the United States government. They needed to hear our stories, to make sure that we were actually refugees from the war in Sudan. So we told them the stories of what had happened to us. It was like a dream, because one day we were talking to these white men who we had never met before. Then the next morning we woke up and the men were gone. And we didn’t see them the next day or for many weeks or months.

We prayed to God to be delivered from that place. We grew older and we were never allowed to leave the camp, which was small and crowded with more and more people. After one year some white men did come back. They were leaders of the churches. They listened to us again. They shared the word of God with us. They told us that it would take some time, several years, but that eventually they would help us come to America. Then they left us again. But we began to hope that what they said was true. During these years we learned that there is a time when you will be hopeless but God’s faith will bring you through.

Then one day it happened. The people of America kept their promise. The men came back to Kakuma. They told us that our day had come to leave and come to America. We flew in an airplane. After several flights we arrived in Syracuse. It was not easy, but compared to Kakuma, Syracuse was a land flowing with milk and honey. In the beginning four of us would share a single room apartment. Two of us would sleep in a single bed, because we only had two beds. We found jobs and worked hard. Now our lives are much better. Many of us have families and children. Our children have their own beds to sleep in. Many of us have our own cars.

The important thing is for us to remember that it is God who has brought us to this place. We cannot forget him. He has been faithful. We must be faithful. We must give back to God. We must build God’s kingdom in this place. Together with the priests and the aliens who reside among us we shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord our God has given to us and to our house.

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