Sudanese Christian Refugees Appreciate Freedom to Worship in America

sudanese-presbyterian-pastor.jpg

Bol Lam Puk, a native of the Sudan, goes to church on Sunday openly
worshipping God in his own way. He has not always been able to do that. In fact, it is an act that could have meant persecution in Sudan.

Puk arrived in the United States 13 years ago, settling in Middle
Tennessee as he fled his home country’s civil war. He spent eight years
in an Ethiopian refugee camp.

Now, along with his fellow church
members, Puk will celebrate the seventh anniversary of the Sudanese
Presbyterian Church in Gallatin on Sunday.

“There was no freedom
to worship your God as you wished,” Puk said of Sudan. “Here I have the
freedom to pray to my God 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Much of Puk’s time is now spent at the Sudanese church in Gallatin; a church he said that has changed his life.

“It
has given me a lot of experiences,” Puk said, adding that he also has
the privilege of serving his fellow congregation members and the
community.

The Sudanese civil war that broke out in 1953 pitted
the northern provinces, which were Muslim, against the south, populated
mainly by Christians. The north came to power and the persecution of
Christians began.

A group of Sudanese refugees who had escaped
their country came to Middle Tennessee in 1997. Many of them were
Presbyterian, as missionaries from that denomination spread
Christianity to Sudan in the early 1900s.

Forming the church was
not easy for members of the Sudanese community, said the Rev. Dr. E.B.
Newsom, who serves as pastor of the Gallatin congregation.

“Fifteen originally came to Nashville and wanted to worship in their own language in their own way,” Newsom said.

Other
Nashville-area churches helped them form a congregation and the group
met at the Old Hickory Presbyterian Church for two years. Although not
Sudanese, Newsom, who served on a committee helping the group, was
called as their pastor.

While the Sudanese were grateful to other
congregations for allowing them the use of their buildings, they wanted
a church building of their own.

“We looked at about 30 different sites, and we found the one in Gallatin,” Newsom said.

What is now their church was once a welding shop, but it had plenty of open space,
2 acres of land and a lot of potential, the pastor said.

In November 2001, the 40-member church purchased the building with the financial aid of other area congregations. “It was as if God was leading us to that exact spot,” he said.

Pastor feels blessed

For Newsom, serving as the group’s pastor has been both a blessing
and a challenge. Formerly a Navy chaplain, he said the military
leadership skills he learned have come in handy as he helps his
congregation.

He finds that he is part spiritual leader and part
social worker as he guides members in finding the help they need to
thrive in their new homeland.

Now with 118 members, drawing from
Murfreesboro to Nashville, the Gallatin congregation takes pride in
their place within the community.

“We feel at home here,” Puk said, adding that the Sudanese enjoy sharing their heritage.

Recently
sponsoring a Sudanese festival at the church, congregation members
enjoyed showing those in the community some of their traditions,
language and culture. They regularly visit other congregations, telling
them about Sudan and the struggles of Christians to survive and worship.

According
to Newsom, giving back to the community is important to the Sudanese,
because the people of Middle Tennessee have given so much to them.

They also want people to understand how lucky they are to have as one of their rights the freedom to worship.

“There is nothing like that in Sudan,” Puk said.

Source: The Tennessean

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