Church opens arms, doors for refugee family

September 02, 2004|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Five members of a Sudanese family who have been living in a Syrian refugee camp for five years were supposed to arrive in Waynesboro today to start a new life, but, for reasons unknown to their local sponsors, were unable to leave Syria.

"We don't know what is happening," said Sharon Van Dam, associate pastor at Evangelical Lutheran Church at 43 S. Church St., the sponsor for the Sudanese family.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church established its national refugee resettlement program in 1972. The local church started its program in 1974.

Alan Dudley, director of Tressler Refugee & Immigration Services in Mechanicsburg, Pa., an agency that works with the Lutheran Church to connect refugees with local church sponsors, said he lined up the Sudanese family for the Waynesboro church.


"We don't know why they aren't coming. Right now, they're in Damascus," Dudley said Wednesday. "Sometimes, there are medical conditions that need to be addressed. Sometimes, they change their minds about leaving. Usually, what happens is that they rebook and travel a little later."

The family was interviewed and cleared by U.S. immigration officials, he said.

Van Dam said the Waynesboro church has sponsored a dozen families from Eastern Europe, Iraq, Cambodia and Vietnam, among other countries.

The church bought half a house adjacent to its parking lot and refurbished it to house refugee families.

The Sudanese family includes the father, Rashad Mohamed Ali, 41, his 30-year-old wife, their two babies, 18 months and 8 months, and a grandmother, said Alice Jones of Waynesboro, who serves on the church's refugee committee.

The family is Muslim, she said.

A Bosnian family that had occupied the house moved out to take jobs in New Jersey, Jones said. Church members asked Dudley to arrange for another family, and he came up with the Sudanese.

As is the custom, the Bosnian family took all of the furniture with them when they left, Van Dam said.

Van Dam said church members donated furniture and items for the new family.

A tour Wednesday showed a house full of furniture, new curtains, a fully-stocked refrigerator and pantry, bed and table linens, kitchen utensils, dinnerware, a telephone, television and computer, plus toys for the babies.

"Families often cry when they see the house and all that is here," Van Dam said.

"We have everything ready for them," Van Dam said. "This is like a punch in the stomach."

She said if the Sudanese family can't make it, the church will arrange for another family.

The national refugee program has brought more than 7,000 refugees over the years, Dudley said.

Dudley praised the local church members for their work in helping refugees start new lives. Many become U.S. citizens.

"We give them a place to live, food and clothes, we arrange for their medical needs, food stamps, help them to find employment, teach them English, get their children into school, do whatever they need to get into the system," Van Dam said.

"We want them to be self-sufficient by the end of three months. We usually ask them to pay some rent at the end of that time. One family we brought in was able to buy their own home in the first year," she said.

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