I have a very hard time imagining or empathizing with the difficult and tortured lives which political refugees have to go through. Many leave their homes and countries because of the terrible violence which could easily kill them and their families. Then in the refugee camps, where some of them have to live for 20 or more years, there is little security. This certainly was the case for Hellen. She fled the Sudan as a little girl during the terrible violence of the civil war in the 1990’s. She ended up living in a refugee camp in Kenya with hundreds of thousands of other displaced people.
Refugee camps can be dangerous places for young girls. The only way to really protect yourself is to partner with a man who will protect you. Hellen found a great fellow and they partnered together in the camp. In the refugee camp there is no possibility for a marriage since this is something that the family does according to tribal customs. So they lived together and cared for each other and the two children they had.
But then one sad day Hellen’s partner and her son went for a walk outside of the security of the camp. Both were attacked and brutally beaten. The father was killed and the young boy severely wounded with cuts and bruises. Though Hellen was able to nurse her son back to health, they had beaten his head so badly that day he still has significant cognitive impairment. But now she had lost her protector and became very vulnerable.
Fortunately, it did not take too long and she met Emmanuel, a Christian man. They partnered together for a while but it was not long and he was told he could immigrate to Canada. He really did not want to go without Hellen and her two children, but if he did not go now he might never get a change to immigrate. So, thinking that perhaps Hellen and her children could possibly come later, he moved to Toronto, Canada.
For Hellen and the children it was just more waiting.
Yet, after a year, she was told she could immigrate to the United States. She and the kids were sent to Texas, which she soon learned was a long way from Toronto. She was part of a refugee resettlement program and as soon as her program was over she moved to Grand Rapids because she knew of some people living there from her tribe in Africa. Once she settled in Grand Rapids, Emmanuel could come and visit her on some weekends but he had to return on Sundays to get back to his employment. Still, as a result of these visits Emmanuel and Hellen had two more children over the next few years.
Emmanuel was getting very tired of traveling every few months to Michigan and wanted to move in with his family. So in January, 2019, he vacated his apartment, quit his job and moved in with Hellen and his family. He knew he was taking a risk but he thought that more than anything he wanted to be by his family.
They wanted to get married now and Pastor Umoh, from Strong Tower Ministries, and Pastor Gerry, from Trinity CRC, began to talk about giving them a wedding that would be a great blessing for them. Pastor Umoh counseled then and Pastor Gerry made the arraignments for the wedding. The church was reserved, volunteers found Hellen a beautiful wedding dress, and food was prepared. The day was a spectacular spring day. The South Sudanese community gathered for a wedding at Trinity CRC. Though there was very little time to do much planning, they celebrated with Sudanese music, cheers, lots of pictures and great ethnic food along with barbecued chicken.
The entire event will go down as one of the most wonderful weddings ever held because after 17 years of turmoil, death, and distance they were together as a family.
This is certainly not the end of the story.
Emmanuel has to try to get legal status in the U.S. which is not an easy thing to do anymore. But we pray that for all the years that were taken from them, God will now multiply the years of joy in front of them.
Submitted by Kathy Jelsema
Strong Tower Ministries a church plant that our classis supports.