‘When I first came, I said, ‘Oh my goodness, all these white people. Are they going to accept me?’ I’ve become their friend now. We are family.’
Country of origin: Sudan
Arrived in Canada: 1999
Attends: Knox United Church
I grew up in Omdurman, Sudan. My grandfather’s land is in the Nuba Mountains. We would go visit my grandparents in September when the corn was harvested. When I was 11 years old, my dad left to join the army in South Sudan. One day, my mom went to the Nuba Mountains with some of my siblings. While she was away, the government blocked the road and we were separated. The Sudanese Arabs wanted to get rid of us black people, to make Sudan officially an Arab country. They said that we were supporting South Sudan, and that’s why they closed the road. It was closed for nine years. I was with my two siblings in Omdurman. We thought that we had lost our parents, so we lived with my uncle; he was an alcoholic. At 11, I became like a mother to my two younger brothers. I dropped out of school and worked all kinds of jobs just to send them to school. Life was not easy.
At that time, I didn’t know anything about Christianity. My family was Muslim. There was an Anglican church close to our house. It had a women’s Bible study every Tuesday. One of the leaders was a relative, and I asked her a lot of questions. One day, I asked her, “Can you pray for us so that my mom can come back? My dad is far away — we don’t know where he is now. My brothers cry all the time because they miss my mom.” She taught me how to pray in Arabic, so then I started going to the church. I never missed a Sunday. Sometimes my uncle would say, “You’re not going to church!” I would just tell him my brothers and I were going to my friend’s house.
At the church, I met a woman named Gwen from England and her friend Ellen from Scotland. They invited us to their house in Omdurman and asked me if I wanted a job at the leprosy clinic. They said, “We need your help with the patients. You can clean the wounds if you can handle that.” I trained at the local hospital, and then I started working at the clinic.
My mom came back in 1994 and my dad in 1997. I don’t know how they made it. The army of Sudan was not killing people on the road anymore. Gradually, the road to the Nuba Mountains was opened again.
I met my husband through a friend. He has family in Omdurman, but he was living in Libya, working in a hotel kitchen. Because I worked at the clinic and was well known, they recommended me to him. He came to Omdurman [in the state of Khartoum] for a visit; we were married, and then he went back to Libya. He couldn’t go back to Khartoum because he was among the people who had supported the government of South Sudan. If he went back, he probably would have been killed. Instead, he sponsored me to come to Egypt. We stayed in Egypt for seven months, and then we came to Canada.
When we got to Winnipeg, there was snow. I was shocked. For three days, we didn’t go outside. I said to my husband, “This is real life? What am I doing here? I left my family, my sisters. I’ve never been away from my entire family. We’re going to live in the freezer like this?” I was sick for two weeks. But I’m still here. Now I have three boys. They are taller than me now, growing so fast. The oldest one is practising for his driver’s licence.
At first, we went to an Anglican church. Then, when my husband left me, I started coming to Knox United. When I first came, I said, “Oh my goodness, all these white people. What am I going to do? Are they going to accept me?” I’ve become their friend now. We are family.
I’ve been in Canada 18 years. I’m glad to have my children in a peaceful place. As a single mom, I don’t know how I would manage in Sudan. Sometimes if you’re in an abusive relationship, they force you to stay because of the children. I found my freedom here, freedom to say no if I don’t want something. Freedom to have a voice.
The interviewer, Josiah Neufeld, is a journalist in Winnipeg.
‘What amazes me is that when I look back, I see where God’s been, and I wasn’t aware of it.’
Country of origin: England
Arrived in Canada: 2001
Attends: Noel United Church
Location: Noel, N.S.
My father grew up in East Noel, N.S. He was a Canadian soldier. My mother was a British war bride. They married in England, because of me, and he had to come back to Canada to be discharged after the war. It took several months for the paperwork for my mother to come through, so I was born in England but moved here in September 1946 when I was four months old. I don’t think the work was too brilliant in this area after the war, so within two years, we moved back to England.
David and I married in 1964. We have two children and three grandchildren.
In 2001, we stayed at a friend’s cottage on Lake Charlotte [east of Halifax], and it was so beautiful, so peaceful. We thought we would like to move here. The pace of life is so different, and we couldn’t afford to retire in England. It was just like coming home.
We went home and sold up and were back within four months. We came with 12 boxes and a keyboard. We stayed in Cole Harbour, N.S., with my cousin for the winter and moved to Upper Stewiacke, N.S., in May 2002. We bought a 36-acre farm.
We got a visit from Rev. Natalie Buchanan-Rutherford, and she invited us to church at Upper Stewiacke United. It very quickly became part of our lives. We rarely missed a service. Eventually, Natalie mentioned to David about going through the Christian Leadership Education (CLE) program. In conjunction with that, he did the Licensed Lay Worship Leader program.
I was with him all the way through, because I typed all his papers and went to his CLE meetings. I always went with David when he was leading a service. I was always telling him how he should do something, so one week I decided I’d do the service. When David was laid up for a year, I covered services all by myself. That really gave me the confidence to go anywhere we get called. I do this work, lay worship leadership, because I feel called to do it.
I begin each day with daily devotional reading. It usually takes me around an hour to read my devotions. I find if I’ve had a problem the previous day, I’ll find the answer in what I read. It’s never failed me, and it can be so definite. I’m not a journal person; it’s reading, and if I find something I like, I type it up and put it in a file.
We lived in Upper Stewiacke for 12 years, but we had to leave the farmhouse after David had two bad heart failures. For eight of those years, we lived in a mini-home. A friend who is a real estate agent asked us to come and look at a house, which was the Noel United Church manse. It had been empty for four years, but it just felt right to us.
The old school [in East Noel] is now a museum. I went in to have a look and opened up a newspaper. There was a photograph of my [paternal] grandmother and grandfather on their 50th wedding anniversary. People said I look like her, and when I looked at it — ah! — almost a double. One morning after I did the service in Upper Rawdon, this elderly lady came up to me and said, “Corrine, all the while you’re alive, your grandmother will never die.”
Back in 2001, when we said we wanted to move back to Canada, our children said, “Good on you.” My son [visited] when David had a heart failure in 2006. We haven’t been back home in 12 years. They do know if they wanted us for any reason, we would go in a heartbeat. I miss my children and grandchildren, but they have lives of their own, and we have such a full life here.
I am surprised how involved I am in the church. What amazes me is that when I look back, I see where God’s been, and I wasn’t aware of it. That fascinates me. For the last year in England, every time I walked past a particular church where we lived, I felt a pull to the church.
When we got involved in church here, I read a scripture that said, “When you serve me, you leave everything behind.” That’s exactly what we did.
The interviewer, Sara Jewell, is a journalist and author in Port Howe, N.S.
‘I fell in love with the country. I saw diversity I’d never seen.’
Rev. Ellie Hummel
Country of origin: The former West Germany
Arrived in Canada: 1984
Attends: Wesley United Church
Serves: Concordia University as a chaplain
I grew up in a town called Sindelfingen, which is just on the outskirts of Stuttgart in what was then West Germany. I grew up in a nice, liberal, white, Christian, middle-class environment. I was very involved in the Protestant church. I spent a lot of time volunteering. In 1981, I spent three months of Grade 11 in Toronto and went to a school downtown. That’s where I fell in love with the country. I saw diversity I’d never seen.
My friends tell me I was a real pain when I came back, because all I talked about was Canada and how wonderful Canada was. I had big maps of Canada in my bedroom.
I was almost 19 when I came back in 1984 to work as a nanny, first near Kamloops, B.C., then in Victoria. I started looking for a church because church was really important to me. I ended up being a member at Victoria’s Oak Bay United. [The first time I went], visitors were welcomed and asked to identify themselves. I said, “I’m a nanny. I just moved here from Germany.” Everybody clapped. Everybody sort of flocked to me and said, “You gotta join our young adult group, you gotta do this.” I said, “Okay, I’m in!” Looking back, they were open to women in ministry; they seemed engaged in social justice.
I still love this openness. I love the wilderness. The big dream had always been to work in Canada for a year, cross the country, go home by boat somehow and live in Germany happily ever after. And I would have had a really good life. There was nothing wrong. I didn’t leave because of persecution. But there was something that kept me here, a sense of community. I really felt I belonged. I could almost reinvent myself. And again, that sense of diversity. People had possibilities.
In April 1987, I got my permanent residency and was a landed immigrant. I started at the University of Victoria that June. All my electives were Canadian stuff: Canadian history, Canadian politics, sociology. I just wanted to learn more. It was a bit of a stretch because I had never heard of any of this stuff: Champlain, who was he?
After that, I went to St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon to become a minister. It was very progressive. I was by then in a relationship; I met my partner in 1994, the year I was ordained. She’s also a minister. I served in the ministry for five years in Saskatchewan. I love the Prairies for many reasons: the sky, the northern lights, the horizon. I still love Saskatchewan because it’s the cradle of universal health care and the co-op movement. Those are really my political convictions, too, and I think that as a country we have lost some of those values.
I’ll always be an immigrant. I’ll always be someone who moved here from another country and chose this country. I really feel I chose it, and I chose the United Church. In my current job [as the chaplain and co-ordinator of the Multi-Faith and Spirituality Centre at Concordia University in Montreal], I have the privilege of engaging with students in questions of faith, religion, values, spirituality and meaning. I see many students from around the world. I find them inspiring. They come here, and a year after they land, they do things like help refugees settle and find jobs, in ways I never did. I always get moved at those stories of immigration, when people find a home.
What I like about my current church, Wesley United, is that they are really inclusive. There’s diversity around ethnicity, around family configurations. They do a lot of work with kids.
I’m no longer German. When I became Canadian, I could not have dual citizenship from Germany, and I willingly gave it up. This is my sense of belonging. I’m very proud of it. I get leery about saying it’s the best country in the world. Because Germany said that in the 1930s and early ’40s, and it wasn’t a good thing. I still think there are other great countries, but I love Canada, and I usually say it’s the right country for me.
The interviewer, Bertrand Marotte, is a journalist and editor in Montreal.
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