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‘What happened to us was really a miracle’

Sitting in a conference room of Congressman Tom Garrett’s office in Charlottesville last Friday, Pastor Hassan Abduraheem and Abdulmonem Abdumawla described a very different situation they had been in just months ago compared to the one they were in now.

Abduraheem and Abdumawla, who are from Sudan and are Christians, had experienced imprisonment on charges of aiding an organization considered a security threat to the Sudanese government after pursuing humanitarian efforts.

Sudan, located in North Africa, has experienced human rights conflicts and abuses, particularly in Darfur.

Through a series of favorable events, Abdumawla and Abduraheem, and their families, currently reside in the Heart of Virginia, in Buckingham County just on the Cumberland County line.

They live at a home owned by a nearby pastor in Cumberland. Since their arrival to the States in late November, the families have attended churches and have seen and, in the case of their children, played in the snow for the first time. During the morning of the meeting between the pastor and Garrett, Garrett made calls to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to aid Abduraheem and Abdumawla in getting drivers’ licenses. Abduraheem said his children are being enrolled in schools in Buckingham.

Abduraheem, whose wife, mother and children had traveled with him to the States, said he was grateful for the situation.

“We believe in God, because what happened to us was really a miracle,” Abduraheem said. “I believe it was God’s purpose, it was not just something without any meaning, that God did this because He wanted to show the world what is happening in Sudan.”

For Garrett, his experience in meeting Abdumawla and Abduraheem began with a Facebook post.

Flanna Garrett, Tom’s wife, had first seen a Twitter post by the Voice of the Martyrs about Abduraheem’s imprisonment. The Voice of the Martyrs is a Christian organization that reports instances of those affected by religious persecution, according to Congressman Garrett’s communications director, Matt Missen.

Garrett currently serves on the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations foreign affairs subcommittee.

“The wild part about this is that Mr. Garrett sprung right into action,” Missen said. “Having a seat on the foreign affairs committee was certainly helpful, but Mr. Garrett, not being in federal politics ever before, he drafted a letter, and he got in his vehicle and went from Capitol Hill to the Sudanese Consulate in Washington, D.C., and when he arrived and knocked on the door, the Sundanese were obviously … dumbfounded because Congressman Garrett, was, according to them, the first member of Congress or member of an administration to come to the Sudanese Consulate in D.C. in over a decade.”

While Garrett spoke with the Sudanese Consulate in Washington, D.C., and the government in the Czech Republic, even traveling to Sudan to speak with the Sudanese government regarding the release of Abduraheem and Abdumawla, it wasn’t until Abduraheem and his family landed in the States that they and Garrett first met.

Releasing Abduraheem, Abdumawla and a pastor from the Czech Republic who was also imprisoned, Petr Jasek, was an ongoing process, first beginning in January 2017 and continuing until Abduraheem and Abdumawla’s entry into the U.S. in late November.

Jasek was returned to the Czech Republic.

According to Missen, Garrett has been grateful to people in the Heart of Virginia for their generosity in helping Abduraheem, Abdumawla and Abduraheem’s family. The families are not funded by taxpayer dollars.

One of those people is Diana Shores, of Farmville, who attends Faith Bible Fellowship.

“How we got involved was Tom asked us to help them find a place to live,” Shores said. “So our church actually are their official sponsors, Faith Bible Fellowship, in Farmville. And so our church filled out all of the paperwork for them to come here under humanitarian parole.”

“It’s been a great experience,” Shores said.

She noted that a network of churches in Farmville and Cumberland have sought to help the family. Even the refurbished home in which they live in Cumberland is owned by the pastor of Tar Wallet Baptist Church.    

“It’s a house owned by the pastor of Tar Wallet Baptist Church, in Cumberland, but it had been sitting empty for a long time,” Shores said. “So we basically got a team of people together from various churches and spent about three months fixing up and refurbishing the house.”

Shores said she and her family see Abduraheem and Abdumawla’s family all of the time.

“They’re doing great,” Shores said in a December interview. She noted that the family has had new and familiar experiences in the States. “They celebrate Christmas, they had their first Thanksgiving here.”

Detailing the troubling prison sentence in Sudan, Abduraheem said last Friday that he and others were not allowed to go outside unless they were called out to be interrogated. Jasek, he said, was beaten, had his wedding ring removed and eventually was moved to a solitary cell.

“You have a voice here to spread a message here,” Garrett said to Abduraheem. “It’s not exclusively about Christianity; it’s about anybody who’s oppressed because they believe a different thing than the state.”

Garrett thanked Abduraheem and Abdumawla.

“To have the opportunity to work with you, I just want to know at the end of my life that I’ve done something to help people,” Garrett said.

A GoFundMe page was made by Shores for the pastor’s family. It can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/pastorrelieffund.