Nuer Community

COMMUNITY IN SUDAN

The Nuer word cieng is the term most commonly used to refer to “community,” and among the Nuer community is largely based on the kinship system.1 Two kinds of kinship relations exist: mar, which describes a relationship between individuals that can be traced through lineage; and buth, a relationship between individuals when actual lineage cannot be traced.2  As Evans-Pritchard describes, the rights, responsibilities, and proper behavior of the Nuer are often determined by this kinship system.3 Village members are linked together in a network of kinship, and thus kinship plays a significant role in the formation of community.4 Yet when Nuer refugees are uprooted from their villages in Sudan and forced to immigrate, these communities are dismantled.  Although traditional notions of community have disintegrated, language, culture, and shared experiences tend to draw the Nuer together to form new communities in the United States.5

COMMUNITY IN FARIBAULT

The key issues for the Sudanese people are jobs and housing. And if somebody loses a job, chances are they’re going to move. Or if something happens with their housing. I realize that tomorrow, something could change and they could all be gone. —Pastor Steve

According to Wal, the Nuer community in Faribault was composed of about eight families in 2012. However, not all of these families attended Nile Our Savior Lutheran Church. The size of the community in Faribault, as well as at Nile Our Savior, waned in the years approaching 2012. At one time, says Pastor Steve, the Sudanese services drew about 30 worshipers on a Sunday. In 2012 however, these services only hosted about 10 to 20 Sudanese worshipers. Both Wal and Pastor Steve worried about the affect that this diminishing population could have on the community at Nile Our Savior Lutheran Church and their relationship with the English-speaking congregation. According to Pastor Steve, “The key issues for the Sudanese people are jobs and housing. And if somebody loses a job, chances are they’re going to move. Or if something happens with their housing. I realize that tomorrow, something could change and they could all be gone.”6  

Wal echoes Pastor Steve’s comments about the difficulties for the Nuer in Faribault. Although he insists that “Faribault is a good community” and the Faribault community has accepted the Sudanese, Wal acknowledges the two most significant difficulties for Sudanese immigrants are jobs and housing.7 With respect to finding a job, Wal explains that because Sudanese immigrants in the United States are refugees and have lived most of their lives amidst the destruction of the Sudanese Civil War, they have not gone to school or received the equivalent of a high school education.8 Unfortunately, many jobs in the United States require a high school diploma or GED, in addition to an English proficiency test, all of which pose serious problems for recent immigrants. Job and housing insecurities force many Sudanese immigrants to lead rather transitory lives in the United States. As a result, it has been difficult to create a stable Sudanese community outside of the church. 

Wal explains: “No community, no outside community.  We don’t have a Sudanese community.  We tried that at first, and then later on it fall apart, fall apart.  We didn’t succeed yet, only church succeed.  The rest, they didn’t.  We tried very hard to bring it, people come together… Still now [in 2012], we don’t have a very good Sudanese community in the Midwest."9 

Faribault Central Avenue

Central Avenue: the main street of Faribault’s Historic Downtown District on a quiet Friday afternoon in 2016.

As a result of the difficulties that Nuer immigrants face, many have moved out of Faribault. Despite efforts to build community among Sudanese immigrants in Faribault, Wal says there does not exist a sense of community among the Sudanese population. Only worship services at Nile Our Savior Lutheran Church have been successful at bringing a small group together. 

COMMUNITY AT NILE OUR SAVIOR LUTHERAN CHURCH

One of the most significant sites that has served as the basis for community formation among the Nuer living in Minnesota is the church.  For the Nuer, the church provides perhaps the only continuity between life in Sudan and life as a refugee in Minnesota.  While most Nuer in Minnesota are Christian, many grew up following the traditional Nuer religion.10 Although missionary efforts have converted most Nuer to Christianity, religion remains an integral part of how the Nuer make meaning of everyday life.

As I listened to Wal’s sermon one Sunday, I heard the word “community” spoken in English emerge many times from the Nuer-language sermon.  After the service, I asked Wal if he could tell me what he had addressed in his sermon.

  1. Jon D. Holtzman, Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota (Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), 42.

  2. Jon D. Holtzman, Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota (Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), 42.

  3. E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951).

  4. E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Kinship and Marriage Among the Nuer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1951)..

  5. Jon D. Holtzman, Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota (Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), 44.

  6. Steve Delzer, Personal Interview, April 29 2012.

  7. Wal Reat, Personal Interview, May 6 2012.

  8. Wal Reat, Personal Interview, May 6 2012.

  9. Wal Reat, Personal Interview, May 6 2012.

  10. Jon D. Holtzman, Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota (Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), 125.

Wal talks about his sermon and what "community" means to him.

Show Transcription

“I’m talking about, my communities.We are, we are a community called Nasir community, where in 2001, we had some disagreements. We split into many small groups. Now those small groups, they still are split too. It look like we gonna have nothing. Yeah, and then I connected with what Jesus said. So if somebody said ‘Hey, you’re foolish,” you gonna send to the fire. And when we split into, when we split into two, our community divided into two, we used a lot of words, you know, when you face yourself with other person. And God said, if somebody kill someone, he will send to the judge. And if someone said, uh, said bad word to the person, you will be sent to the judge. And the person who said you’re foolish, he will be sent to the fire. And, also when you want to give your offering in the church, and it come on your mind that you have problem with someone, so before you give your offering go back to that person, so, go back, you know, to discuss the problem, and then forgive yourself, you and that person. And then come back to the church and give your offerings. And we have that for eleven years. How many gifts we give to the church? Many. You see. And also we need to pray to God, you know, to bring love back to our communities. So now everything is going to be destroyed, and we will have nothing, so we leave God behind. So now we need, you know, to pray for God, and to bring peace between each other, you know, in the community.”