Sudanese family finds refuge in parish

Trio first to benefit from church's program

March 26, 2001|By Pepper Ballard | Pepper Ballard,SUN STAFF

Joseph Madut Kuot rubbed his brow, engraved with the marks of his native Dinka tribe in southern Sudan, and recalled the struggles of his wife, Nyanut.

Before she married Joseph Kuot, her village in southern Sudan was raided by rebels, Nyanut was abducted and taken to the western part of the country and ordered to wash clothes and watch over grazing cattle. One day she escaped, hopping trains and hiding in houses far from her own. Eventually, she made her way to Alexandria, Egypt, where she married Joseph Kuot. Then they came to the United States, the first family St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Westminster has taken in. Ruth Gray, co-chairwoman of the refugee resettlement committee of the church, said they won't be their last.

According to figures supplied by the emergency response ministries refugee program, in 2000, 119 refugees were assisted with resettlement in Maryland. Of those, Kuot, his wife and child were the first Sudanese family resettled in the state by the New Windsor branch of Church World Service (CWS), a Christian refugee placement organization.

Sarah Krause, who places refugees for CWS, said she works closely with congregations in Carroll, Baltimore, Harford and Frederick counties to develop sponsorship. She said her chapter is one of 10 volunteer agencies in the country dividing refugees among them according to resources and particular case needs.

The church voted to accept a family after Pastor Leo Maley suggested that a house bought by the church would be ideal for refugees. St. Paul's committed to CWS to accept the family two months after deciding to participate in the refugee program. Once the congregation was notified of the family's acceptance, it prepared the house for its first residents.

Gray said only names, birth dates and languages spoken by the family were given to the congregation before their arrival.

"They're really awed that we would accept them unseen," Gray said.

Lloyd Helt, Gray's husband and former mayor of Sykesville, said that before the family's arrived in the United States, they were under the impression that Joseph was 45 years old and Nyanut was 24.

Helt and the congregation found out later that he had changed his age in Sudan to avoid an army draft. "Males over 40 aren't drafted, and they wanted to draft him into the army and send him south to kill Christians," Helt said. Kuot is a Christian and did not want to be involved with the slaughtering of fellow Christians, according to Helt. He said Kuot is 39.

Krause said the family was a good match for the church because Kuot can speak English fluently. The first refugee proposed to St. Paul's spoke only a Nuer dialect and no one in the area was able to translate. Krause assured that CWS places refugees regardless of whether one congregation rejects sponsorship.

Kuot said he feels very welcomed by the church's hospitality and sees nothing but promise in his new home and friends.

"Every person has his own dreams and you have to put it into reality," he said.

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