Submitted by Pr. Fred More, co-chair
Refugee Ministry Task Force
St. John Lutheran Church
Winter Park, Florida
Abdurazak Kedir Abdu, a refugee from Ethiopia, arrived at Orlando International Airport on October 17, 2017 where several members of St. John Lutheran Church, Winter Park, were on hand to welcome him. That warm reception marked the beginning of a 20 month story of strangers meeting for the first time, becoming a blessing to each other and resulting in a friendship that would last well beyond their time together. Abdu, which he prefers to be called, was on a refugee’s journey and the people of St. John would walk with him every step of the way.
The people of St. John soon learned that Abdu is a tireless advocate for human rights, especially the rights of women, children and individuals with disabilities. His writings, challenging many of the practices and policies of his native land, evoked concern within some circles of the government. Abdu soon got the message that he must cease and desist his writing. Because he was not willing to do that, Abdu realized he had placed himself in some danger and needed to take steps to protect himself. Consequently, he made the life changing decision to flee his country.
Abdu, who was granted the status as a refugee under the auspices of the United Nations, initially spent some months in a refugee camp in Kenya. He was then transferred to India where, for two years, he waited to hear the disposition of his case. Imagine his relief and joy when, in early 2017, he got the news that his case would be lodged in the United States and that the United States Department of State had further assigned his case to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. Now things began moving very fast. LIRS assigned Abdu’s case to Lutheran Services of Florida. Lutheran Services of Florida, which already had an arrangement with St. John Lutheran Church in Winter Park, asked St. John if they would sponsor two single men from Ethiopia. St. John, which
was hoping they would be assigned a family, agreed to sponsor the two men. At that point LSF informed St. John that one of the men, Abdurazak Kedir Abdu, was not only a refugee, but that he was totally blind. So the question had to be asked, “Knowing that Abdu is blind, will St. John still be willing to sponsor him?” After conferring with St. John’s Refugee Ministry Task Force, the answer came back, loud and clear, “Yes, we will.”
Abdu is a very gifted and personable young man who proved to be an exceptional partner and friend of St. John as they worked together to start Abdu on his journey that would, one day, lead to Abdu’s becoming a citizen of his new homeland. St. John also learned that Abdu was an outstanding scholar having received a masters degree in law from the University of Pretoria in South Africa. From the outset Abdu knew that, if he wanted to practice law in the United States, he would have to get a law degree in the United States. So he let it be known that when he adjusted more completely to his new life, he planned to apply to law school, pass the stringent bar exam and earn the right to practice law in The United States. He also expressed a deep desire that when he earned a law degree, he wanted to do so as a citizen of his new homeland.
Fast forward to July of this year. Abdu had applied to and been accepted at seventeen (!) different law schools including Charleston, Elon, Western New England, Widener Commonwealth and the University of Mississippi, among others. Each one of the seventeen law schools said “Yes” to Abdu and they all offered him scholarships that covered 50% of his academic expenses. As encouraging as these responses were, there was something missing. Abdu had grown to love and trust the Lutherans who had supported and loved him ever since that small group met him at the airport in October some twenty months earlier. Wanting to continue the mutually blessed relationship with Lutherans and aware that its law school had a very high reputation in legal circles, Abdu applied to and was accepted at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, a university of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
By June of this year, Abdu’s intentions and energies were focused on getting to Columbus and to finding a suitable residence before his classes started in late August. On the evening of August 4th, Abdu arrived in Columbus, yet again to be welcomed by a small but supportive group, this time from Clinton Heights Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio and Epiphany Lutheran Church in Pickerington, Ohio. These new friends made sure Abdu’s apartment was furnished, received and set up Abdu’s household goods, stocked the refrigerator and made sure everything was in the right place. A bridge had been successfully built between Orlando, Florida and Columbus, Ohio and Abdu, with a little help from his friends, has made it across. Now living in a small efficiency near Cap’s law school, Abdu is more than ready to begin his studies in the laws of the United States, the next step to achieving his lofty goals.
Abdu’s journey is by no means complete. Four years of graduate study lay before him. The challenges of being blind will demand the best of him as will the rigors of his studies and learning to thrive in yet another strange place. But Abdu has faced many challenges during his 34 years and he has shown, over and over again, that his very positive attitude, his remarkable intellect, his ability to use challenges as stepping stones, and his quiet faith in God will see him through. No one who has ever gotten to know Abdu, would ever speak to that a word of doubt.