There are about sixty Nuer-speaking adult immigrants from South Sudan living in the Portland area, along with their children and grandchildren born here. They emigrated from the eastern part of Sudan where 19th century Presbyterian missionaries brought them into the Christian faith, and from refugee camps in neighboring countries. Once in Portland, they sought a church home. They were hosted by local congregations of other Protestant denominations, while yearning for connection to their Presbyterian heritage. In 2004 they approached Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church in Topsham, and Sudanese Presbyterian Fellowship of Portland came into being. Presbytery supports it, as does the Mid-Coast congregation which helped to form a Steering Committee of an equal number of Nuer leaders and members of Mid-Coast. Other Presbyterian congregations contribute financial help.
The Sudanese experience in Maine is like that of immigrant groups throughout America. They are strongly connected to their wider families in Africa, where the new nation of South Sudan has emerged and then fallen into strife. What financial resources that can be raised are sent home. Leadership in the Fellowship has shifted as members returned to Africa, moved to find employment elsewhere, or left Maine for educational opportunities. New immigrants take their places. Employers in Portland have reduced their need for the skills some have acquired; housing conditions have changed; governmental resources have been reduced. The vision and challenge remain.
Some of the group had developed loyalties to local welcoming host Protestant congregations. Three clusters at first moved apart, but new occasions are bringing them together again, still with the aid of Mid-Coast Presbyterian Church and the Presbytery. They meet as a joint worshiping community under Nuer-speaking leadership, and are finding their way toward renewed cooperation. The Steering Committee continues to function and Presbyterian money is helping them worship and minister with weekly services at Williston Immanuel Church each Sunday afternoon. The Sudanese strongly support one another and serve one another as a valued ministry of PNNE.
Composed by Matthew D. Long, lay leader, with help from Edward Campbell of the Steering Committee, April 2015