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The sale of handcrafted baskets in local markets made it possible for John Kenyi to get an education in Sudan. Today, he manages Ten Thousand Villages in Saskatoon. Joanie Peters

The sale of handcrafted baskets in local markets made it possible for John Kenyi to get an education in Sudan. Today, he manages Ten Thousand Villages in Saskatoon. Joanie Peters

Series of miracles leads to new life in Canada

Gladys Terichow
July 7, 2008

SASKATOON, SASK— When John Kenyi was a child growing up in Sudan, his mother walked 90 minutes to a local market to sell handcrafted baskets. The sale of these baskets made it possible for him and his six brothers and one sister to go to school.

Shortly after arriving in Saskatoon Kenyi went into Ten Thousand Villages at the MCC Centre in Saskatoon and saw baskets made in Uganda—baskets identical to the baskets his mother made in Sudan.

Although he was a newcomer to Canada and exhausted after working the night shift sanding tables at Superior Mill Cabinets Kenyi started working at Ten Thousand Villages as a regular volunteer.

“I started volunteering because I wanted to help families who need this income so that their children can go to school,” said Kenyi. A year later he was appointed store manager.

Kenyi and his family arrived in Saskatoon in March 2005 under Mennonite Central Committee’s (MCC) refugee assistance program.

Starting a new life in Canada, he explained, is one of many miraculous events in his life. In1998, newly married and father of a three-month old son, he was working in the Meridian Hotel in northern Sudan when he and other employees were forced to join the military.

“This wasn’t purely military training,” he said, explaining this was a military training camp that was preparing soldiers to wage a war against Christians. “They were training us to kill our own people—the Christians,” he recalled.

He managed to escape and spent the next four years hiding from the military. He didn’t know this at the time but following his escape from the military training camp, the people who were looking for him went to his home and tortured his wife, Elizabeth Saliman. “She didn’t know that I had left the army—I had no way of contacting her,” he said.

Saliman does not like being in photographs or participating in interviews but she has given her husband permission to share her story. With the help of a friend, Saliman managed to get travel documents in 1999 and fled to Cairo, Egypt where she established a life for herself cleaning a house for a family from Belgium—a job that gave her enough money to meet basic needs.

Kenyi did not know that his wife and son had fled to Egypt but when he got his travel documents in 2002 he took the train to Egypt. A few days after arriving in Egypt he met an acquaintance from Sudan who told him that his wife and son were in Cairo. Later that day he was reunited with his wife, son and sister-in-law.

“It was a miracle, just a miracle,” he said. “When I think of that I say God is very good. With God all things are possible.”

This family reunification created a flurry of excitement in the Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon—a church that had started the process of sponsoring Saliman and her young son.

When Saliman had arrived in Egypt in 1999 she wrote a letter with detailed descriptions of the 11 days of torture in Sudan and other events. She did not know anything about MCC when she was given a list of organizations that sponsor refugees. She mailed her letter to only one organization on this list—MCC.

The detailed account of dates and other details prompted Elaine Harder, coordinator of MCC Saskatchewan’s refugee assistance program, to respond to this letter. Through assistance from the MCC office in Cairo the details in the letter were verified and the application process started.

Kenyi’s name was added to the application and three years later the family arrived in Saskatoon.

Kenyi and Saliman now have three children. Kenyi still does not know the whereabouts of his mother and seven siblings and hopes and prays that one day he will be reunited with them as well.

In the meantime, he is grateful that he and his family are establishing a new life in Canada and are part of a church community that welcomes refugees. He is also grateful that he can work for fair trade organization in Canada that helps families in other countries earn fair wages and have a steady source of income.

“We need to do as much as we can to make this world a better place for others,” he said.