by Susan Chenier
In Denver and at Saint John’s Cathedral, the story of the Sudanese diaspora goes back some 30 years. Many of the original Lost Boys and Lost Girls are now heads of thriving households throughout Metro Denver. Others have returned home to help with the famine and disaster relief efforts. Some Sudanese and South Sudanese refugees have become U.S. citizens. Others have legal status, some do not, and some, like recent high-level military officers and government officials fleeing civil war in the new nation of South Sudan are in limbo. The Reverend Ayyoubawaga (“Oja”) Gafour ministers to many in the greater Sudanese community of Denver, particularly those who worship on Sunday at 1 pm in Saint Martin’s Chapel. The Sudanese Community forms a special congregation of The Episcopal Church in Colorado.
Saint John’s clergy recently met with Father Oja to offer assistance, and an expanding group of Saint John’s parishioners has met to discuss ways we, as individual parishioners and as a parish, can address the emergent and acute humanitarian crisis. More than 40 parishioners attended a Mustard Seeds Network gathering in the Library, on February 5. Father Oja and members of the Sudanese Community addressed the group, recounting the history of Sudan’s civil wars and discussing ways Saint John’s might work for and with the Sudanese community.
Father Oja emphasized that jobs, housing, food assistance, and legal assistance are priorities. Refugees who find employment often work two and three jobs, including night shifts, so afterschool child care is a priority. He pointed out that parents rooted in tradition face acculturation issues alongside their children growing up as Americans.
Father Gafour asked specifically for:
• skilled teachers of ESL (English as a Second Language) and math
• volunteer drivers who can provide transportation to and from legal and medical appointments
• childcare providers
Volunteers are also needed to:
• assist with the documentation process (Green Cards, naturalization, etc.)
• advocate for refugees
• mentor or act as a family friend to a refugee family.
Saint John’s is working with Lutheran Family Services, African Community Center, and Spring Institute to provide assistance with jobs and housing.
How Can You Help?
Parishioners Susan Chenier and Arlin Raedeke, recently appointed to the new Standing Commission for Faith in Action, are organizing the cathedral’s direct work with the Sudanese community and the wider refugee community in Denver. If you would like to volunteer—either in direct service or advocacy, please let Susan (email@example.com) or Arlin (firstname.lastname@example.org) know how you would like to serve. Canon Evelyn Hornaday, Canon for Cathedral Life, is supervising the legal assistance fund. Please give generously.
For more information on Episcopal Church advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels, see advocacy.episcopalchurch.org/RefugeeAdvocacy.
To make a contribution toward legal assistance for local Sudanese refugees, please make your checks out to Saint John’s and mark it “Sudanese Community—EH+ Discretionary Fund.”