‘We are refugees helping refugees. Finland is my parish.’
USPG is supporting the work of Fr Amos Manga, a refugee from Sudan, who is working with Sudanese and Syrian refugees in Finland. In this article, Fr Amos tells his story.
I left Sudan in 1999. I had been preaching Christianity – this is before independence in South Sudan, when Sudan was ruled by Sharia Law. But there were people who wanted to stop the growth of Christianity so I became a target.
I received death threats; I was arrested, tortured and beaten. So I decided to take my family and escape. I drove across the desert, crossing the border into Uganda, with six people in my car.
For three years we stayed in a refugee camp in Uganda; Ugandans speak the same language. I joined the Episcopal Church there and worked as a lay reader.
But we were still living with uncertainty and fear, so a number of us went to Cairo to the UN office and they accepted our case. Some of us went to Australia, some to America, and we went to Finland. We were the third group of Sudanese refugees to be given a home in Finland.
It was difficult when we first arrived. We didn’t understand the culture and we weren’t used to the extreme cold. I also had to learn the language.
I started to pay visits to the Sudanese communities living there. Then we started worshipping together – all denominations – the important thing was that we could be Christians together. Then I approached a Lutheran church and we started meeting there once a month.
When the Lutheran priest, Arpad Kovics, found out I belonged to the Episcopal Church, he informed the then Anglican chaplain in Helsinki, Rupert Moreton, and I was sent to England for training for two months.
I was ordained as a deacon in Nottingham in 2006. Then back to Finland I was ordained as priest the following year.
We are refugees helping refugees, which means we help each other. We advise them on how to respect their host country and how to integrate into society. Simple things: we show them how to use buses and advise them always to carry their address in case they get lost. We advise young people to avoid bars and nightclubs because Sudanese refugees can attract a lot of unwelcome or unnecessary attention. I’m talking from experience. Some people ask why we are there, and once I was even asked: Why are you black? When this sort of thing happens, we offer advice on how not to get angry. I tell the men that avoiding a fight doesn’t mean they are cowards – it just means you are not that sort of person.
Now the refugees are building good relationships and making friends in their schools, communities and work places.
Finland is my parish. I travel a lot because we refugee communities in different cities. I go to be with them, to pray with them and share the word of God, and sometimes I lead services in the local Lutheran church and offer communion. So the car that USPG helped to fund is extremely helpful.
Unlike some countries in Europe, Finland is very welcoming to refugees and does its best to help. For example, the government provides accommodation and food and helps to meet other basic needs, even providing Finnish language courses.
Recently, I was asked by the Lutherans to help with the refugees arriving from Syria, who also speak Arabic – like the Sudanese – so I am able to help.
In all of my ministry, I don’t consider that I’m doing it alone. God’s spirit helps me, encourages me and supports me.
My view is that a priest is here to serves others. It’s my duty to help, to be a counsellor for those in trouble, to remind people that God is our helper. I often say to the refugees: God has been helping you on your journey, so please remember to pray and follow God’s way.