About 7,000 miles separate Grace Episcopal Church here, where the Rev. Zachariah Jok Char preaches most Sundays, from the small town of Duk Padiet in Sudan, where he was born.
The tally of the miles started about 21 years ago when Mr. Char was 5 and militias backed by the Sudanese government attacked his town during the civil war in the south. He saw the explosions from the field where he was playing, and he fled. He met other boys who had escaped similar attacks, and they started walking.
“I still remember what I was wearing then: red shorts and a T-shirt,” said Mr. Char, sitting in an empty pew one afternoon at the church. “I didn’t have shoes. Some were naked.”
The orphans, mostly boys, walked more than 1,000 miles to Ethiopia from Sudan over three months, Mr. Char said. Later, they were forced to walk to Kenya. Thousands died. The West called them the Lost Boys.
Those boys are men now, and here and in cities like Atlanta and Burlington, Vt., the 3,800 who were resettled in the United States beginning in 2001 are trying to build lives and weave communities. For many, their Christian faith, often Anglicanism, is at the heart of their efforts.
Even as they struggle with school, work and frequent bad news from home, recent Sudanese immigrants have moved rapidly to establish congregations, often with the help of local Episcopal parishes. For the Sudanese, church is a place where they can be themselves after being Americans all week, where they can hear Scripture in their native language and where they can reconstitute a culture they only began to know as children.
“We want to pray God, God who brought us here,” Mr. Char, 26, said of the formation of the congregation at Grace Episcopal. “It was not a human decision but a God decision that we are here.”