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Although the Presbyterian Church has historically had the strongest missionary ties to southern Sudan, Nuer in the United States worship at churches of a variety of denominations.1 In Minnesota, many Nuer have established congregational communities affiliated with Lutheran churches. The Lutheran Church has long been associated with cultural diversity, acceptance of immigrants, and charitable and social service programs.2 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) has played a significant role in the resettlement and adjustment process for many immigrants in the United States, including the large populations of Somalis and Hmong in the Twin Cities area.3 Though none of the Nuer in Faribault were relocated there with the help of the LIRS, the Lutheran Church is attractive to Nuer refugees for a number of other reasons.
“I asked [Wal] once, ‘Why did you gravitate towards the Lutherans?’ And he said, ‘Because they’re the ones who helped us.’ He remembered seeing the name ‘Lutheran’ on the crates of food and supplies in the refugee camps. And then it was the Lutherans who helped many of them to come to America.” —Pastor Steve
For example, Wal joined the Lutheran Church because when he moved to the Midwest he was unable to find a Presbyterian Church, but wanted to continue practicing Christianity. Before moving to Minnesota, Wal lived in Tennessee for a number of years, a place with a great deal of Presbyterian churches. In Minnesota, with so few Presbyterian Churches, the Lutheran Church seemed to be a good replacement. Furthermore, as Wal indicated, the Presbyterian Church was not as accepting of new immigrants as was the Lutheran Church. Wal explains, “And then when I come here [there was] no Presbyterian [church] here, and I decide to change…most people in Midwest they go to Lutheran. They leave Presbyterian, they leave it and also sometimes Presbyterian couldn’t accept us, more, like other denominations.”
“Jon D. Holtzman, Nuer Journeys, Nuer Lives: Sudanese Refugees in Minnesota (Boston: Pearson Education, Inc., 2008), 127. ↩
“DeAne L. Lagerquist, “Lutheran Churches,” Encyclopedia of Religion in America, Ed. Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, vol. 3 (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2010), 1291. ↩
“DeAne L. Lagerquist, “Lutheran Tradition and Heritage,” Encyclopedia of Religion in America, Ed. Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams, vol. 3 (Washington DC: CQ Press, 2010), 1306. ↩