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Sudanese Refugee Freed by Congressman of US, Finds New Life in US with Family

Abduraheem says his work was spreading the gospel; the Sudanese government accused him of espionage, and he was detained along with two other pastors in December 2015.

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Pastor Hassan AbduraheeN
Pastor Hassan Abduraheem, second from left, is shown in prison of refugees in Sudan. VOA.
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Six weeks after arriving in the United States, Hassan Abduraheem takes a seat in the back pew of Tar Wallet Baptist Church. Tucked into the woods along a country road in rural Virginia, the church holds about 50 worshippers.

On this cold November Sunday, Abduraheem and his family of eight noticeably increase the congregation’s size. They do their best to follow the unfamiliar English of the old Baptist hymns, which are very familiar to their new neighbors. And they share the hymns from their former home — Sudan.

Standing in a single line in front of the altar, the family fills the church with Arabic song.

“Unbelievable,” Abduraheem says repeatedly, as he describes his journey from a crowded prison cell in Sudan to a fixed-up house on the farm of his new pastor. “Unbelievable” seems like the only word that could describe the turn his life took, thanks to a Facebook post and a U.S. congressman.

Abduraheem’s work as a former pastor is not outlawed in his native Sudan, but Christians are a minority in a diverse country that has suffered through multiple civil wars. According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, there has been “an escalation in the Sudanese government’s persecution of Christians,” since the 2011 secession of South Sudan.

Abduraheem says his work was spreading the gospel; the Sudanese government accused him of espionage, and he was detained along with two other pastors in December 2015.

“The first day when they took us to the prison, they beat us,” he says softly.

Abduraheem was shifted from prison to prison. For five months, he wore the same clothes he was wearing when he was arrested. His eyes became damaged from the harsh prison light. Yet, despite constant interrogations, just two meals of beans a day and a tiny cell with barely enough room to sleep, he says the worst part of prison was not knowing.

“It was a very hard time for me, thinking of my family, because I [didn’t] know anything about them,” he told VOA in his first media interview in the United States.

But even after numerous delays to his trial and an eventual 12-year prison sentence, he couldn’t shake a sense of faith.

“No one told me, but I had the peace that something [was] going [on] outside,” Abduraheem says.

An enormous effort

Far away from Sudan, a Facebook post telling Abduraheem’s story reached just the right person.

“I didn’t know any better, so I got in my car and drove to the Sudanese Embassy and asked to speak with the ambassador,” Representative Tom Garrett, a Republican in Virginia’s 5th Congressional District, told VOA. Garrett first saw the story on the Facebook page for Voice of the Martyrs, a Christian organization whose African regional director was imprisoned with Abduraheem.

It was the first time a member of Congress had spoken to the Sudanese government in 10 years, according to Garrett’s office.

After thousands of messages, hundreds of work hours and a trip to Sudan, Garrett collaborated with nongovernmental organizations to free Abduraheem in May 2017. The congressman also worked to secure humanitarian parole status to bring the pastor and his family to the United States.

“I commend the Sudanese government to the extent they were willing to acknowledge that mistakes have been made in the past, and there’s a need to reassess how religious minorities are treated. That’s progress,” says Garrett, a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee.

It’s also an opportunity to advance the relationship between the United States and Sudan, he adds.

“As a result of sanctions dating back to the nineties, Sudan is eager to distance itself from a dark past,” he said in a statement.

Sudanese Refugees
Congressman Thomas Garrett, from left, meets with Pastor Hassan Abduraheem, another Sudanese pastor, Robert Johansen, Adburaheem’s new pastor at Tar Wallet Baptist Church. VOA.

Building a new life

Abduraheem and his family visited the congressman in Washington, D.C., last month to see where their life in the U.S. became possible. While it was their first time in the American city, it also was a new experience for their congressman.

“You can love a bill, you can believe in a bill, you can advocate on behalf of a bill, but you can’t say a prayer with a bill, have dinner with a bill, shake hands with a bill. It was sort of surreal,” Garrett says of meeting Abduraheem at the airport.

Five churches in Garrett’s district banded together to fix up a home for the family, launching a GoFundMe page to pay for food, clothing and other expenses while the family waits for work authorizations. In the meantime, family members have been adjusting to the incredible change of leaving Sudan to build a life in America.

For them, everything is new — from discovering constant running hot water to buying winter coats for the snow they will soon see for the first time. But those immense changes are grounded by Abduraheem’s certainty.

“Even though it is hard for us to leave our country, I think it is also better,” Abduraheem says of his family. “I don’t want them to grow there and go through a lot of difficulties like I went through it. Here, I know they can have a chance.” (VOA)

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Dubious Care And Big Bucks By GoFundMe: Study

The American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer, said it's important to consider what may drive some patients to turn to unproven remedies.

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cancer, cellphone
A radiologist examines the brain X-rays of a patient. In a small study, patients with brain tumors were given genetically modified poliovirus, which helped their bodies attack the cancer. VOA

People seeking dubious, potentially harmful treatment for cancer and other ailments raised nearly $7 million over two years from crowdfunding sites, a study found.

Echoing recent research on campaigns for stem cell therapies, the findings raise more questions about an increasingly popular way to help pay for costly, and sometimes unproven, medical care.

Soliciting money on GoFundMe and other sites eliminates doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and other “gatekeepers” that can be a barrier to expensive treatment, said lead author Dr. Ford Vox, an ethicist and brain injury expert at Shepherd Center rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. He calls it “the democratization of economic power through social media” but says it can pose an ethical dilemma.

Online fundraising “has a big bright side” when it helps patients pay for legitimate care, he said. “Communities are really being able to rally around people in rough times. That’s fantastic, but there is this very clear dark side” when treatments sought are worthless or even dangerous.

Breast Cancer
This undated fluorescence-colored microscope image made available by the National Institutes of Health in September 2016 shows a culture of human breast cancer cells. For the first time, one of the new immunotherapy drugs has shown promise against breast cancer in a large study that combined it with chemotherapy to treat an aggressive form of the disease. VOA

His study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

GoFundMe says campaigns for medical care are increasing and are among the most numerous on its site. They include solicitations for conventional treatment and for unproven alternative therapies.

“We always encourage people to fully research whatever it is they are raising money for and to be absolutely transparent on their GoFundMe page, so donors can make an informed decision on what they’re donating to,” GoFundMe said in an emailed statement.

The researchers examined campaigns posted from November 2015 through mid-December 2017, mostly on GoFundMe. They focused on five treatments sought in about 1,000 campaigns: homeopathy or naturopathy for cancer; hyperbaric oxygen for brain injuries; stem cells for brain or spinal cord injuries; and long-term antibiotics for persistent Lyme disease.

 

Cancers
Women receive cancer treatment at The National Oncology Center in Sanaa, Yemen. VOA

 

While some patients swear they’ve benefited from some of the treatments, there is no rigorous scientific evidence that any of them work for the conditions involved, the researchers said.

The most numerous were solicitations for homeopathy or naturopathy for cancer — 474 requests seeking more than $12 million. About one-quarter of that was raised.

Homeopathic products typically contain heavily diluted drugs, vitamins or minerals said to promote healing, although some have been found to contain toxic amounts. Naturopathy, another alternative medicine practice, sometimes uses homeopathic products, herbs and dietary supplements or body cleanses.

Michelle Drapeau has raised about $7,000 on GoFundMe for homeopathy and other alternative remedies since being diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer in February 2017. The 45-year-old investment banker from West Palm Beach, Florida, credits them with keeping her alive since she stopped chemotherapy over a year ago.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient, flickr

“I wanted to make sure I explored every and all options,” Drapeau said. “It’s vital for everyone to have that opportunity.”

Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society’s deputy chief medical officer, said it’s important to consider what may drive some patients to turn to unproven remedies. U.S. health care costs are exorbitant and many patients run out of money trying to pay them.

And despite considerable progress against cancer and other illnesses, conventional treatment can’t cure every patient, he noted.

“We should not be judgmental and come out and say this is terrible,” Lichtenfeld said.

Also Read: Nature Gives You A Major Boost In Improving Your Mental Health

“No one wants to hear, ‘You have cancer,’ and especially no one wants to hear that there’s no treatment available that can help you,” he said. “You begin to understand why people may turn to unproven treatments and you can understand why others reach out to try to support them.

“What we need to do is to better inform, even better care for our patients and their families, so they don’t feel this is what they need to do.” (VOA)