Photo Credit: Laura Seitz for Deseret News
[ACNS] In 1987, some 20,000 boys who fled the Sudanese civil war became stateless – their parents and families had been killed, and there was no prospect of being reintegrated in the country they had fled to avoid death or forced conscription into the northern Army. Some of them were eventually resettled in the USA and now one of these, Gabriel Garang Atem, has now been ordained a deacon by the Bishop of Utah.
Addressing the congregation at St Mark’s Cathedral, where he was ordained alongside Aimee Marie Altizer, Atem said that he and many other Sudanese people had been made welcome by All Saints Episcopal Church. The congregation, he said, “welcome the stranger, those who come from far away, those whom you have seen today.
“When we came to this country [the USA] they considered us as brothers and sisters. And today, our diocese and the whole world have seen us as one – brothers and sisters in Christ. I thank you all.”
Many people speak of God in a conceptual manner, “a subject of discussion or debate,” the Bishop of Utah, the Rt Revd Scott Hayashi, said during the consecration service. But, addressing Atem, he said: “For you, God is a fact and a source of light. Whenever you speak about God, there is never any doubt in the room that God is present and I love that about you.”
Atem leads the Sudanese Dinka-language congregation at All Saints Church in Salt Lake City, where he will now serve as deacon.
In an interview with Marjorie Cortez for Deseret News, Atem explained that there was no question about how he would respond to God’s calling; saying it as a response to God’s intervention as a refugee.
“It was not safe for us [in Sudan] because there was no way you can protect yourself. You do not have weapons. You are not grown up enough so that you can defend yourself. It wasn't really a good life for us," he said. “When God called me, I accept the call because since I was a little boy, I knew I wasn’t going to live on my own without the help of God through people.”
He said that the refugee camps had a “place for prayer. We go under the tree and pray. We have our hymnals [and] we have our Bible translated in our [Dinka] language.”
Atem’s journey to Salt Lake City came via Ethiopia, Kenya and Richmond, Virginia. He, and a number of other “Lost Boys” worked as a machinist but were made redundant when the company relocated to Canada, which wasn’t covered by his US Green Card visa. He visited some other Lost Boys in Salt Lake City and decided to remain.
Now a US citizen, Atem met the lady who would become his wife when he made a return visit to Africa. He married Alek Kuir Akouch in 2006 and the couple now have twin 19-month-old sons, Atem and Kuir.
- Click here to watch video highlights from the ordination service