| By Mandy McLaren and Sara Wise |
The worshippers arrived in their Sunday best. Bibles were readied, children were shushed, and, with the beat of an African drum, Easter services began.
The congregation alternated easily between bowed prayer and risen song, as the sounds of Dinka – the language of South Sudan’s largest ethnic tribe – resonated in the eaves of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where prayers had echoed in English just hours before.
The more than two-dozen South Sudanese seated among the church pews hold this time together sacred. They gather weekly at St. Paul’s in Alexandria. There, they reconnect to a place their hearts never left.
Just six years ago, South Sudan gained its independence. Many refugees here and across the U.S. believed a long-awaited return home was finally in reach.
“When you get that country you’ve been waiting for for years, it’s an unimaginable feeling,” said Chol Isaac Achuil, 36, one of the nearly 4,000 South Sudanese refugees resettled across the U.S. in the early 2000s. Known internationally as the “lost boys of Sudan,” many earned college degrees at American universities, intent on one day rebuilding their country.