How Christianity anchored the South Sudanese in Toowoomba
FAITH is the foundation stone upon which a thriving South Sudanese community has built its home in Toowoomba.
Speaking from the lounge room of their home in East Toowoomba, Dr Paulo Barac and his wife Sisilia both agree it was their Christianity that gave them and their fellow South Sudanese a common thread around which to build a new life when they migrated to the Garden City in 2000.
"When you bring those two culturally diverse groups together (the South Sudanese and Australian communities), there had to be a factor that unites them," Dr Barac said.
"And it was faith that united us."
Dr Barac's comments echo Toowoomba Regional Council mayor Paul Antonio's sentiments in Saturday's edition of The Chronicle, where he pointed to "the many Christian churches in Toowoomba... who left no stone unturned to make refugees feel welcome".
But to say it was faith alone that anchored the South Sudanese to Toowoomba when they first arrived would be an oversimplification.
The pioneering South Sudanese families of Rita Sula, Aguil Chut, Angelo Gang and Machar Piok all laid the groundwork, immersing themselves in the city's social and cultural life.
Through their roles in the church, the original families, including the Baracs, formed a group of volunteers who helped clean up yards for elderly people in the community.
Then, it was the goodwill of individuals like Mary Wagner and Mark and Amber Copland who became referees for the South Sudanese as they went about finding employment, Dr Barac said.
Their "give-anything-a-go" attitude was on display, picking fruit in the Lockyer Valley for a living, before moving into other lines of employment.
But it was the small acts of generosity - from donated driving lessons, to landlords opening their homes to refugees without references - that ultimately led to the successful integration of the South Sudanese into socially conservative Toowoomba.
"We say thanks to them. They are part of what makes Toowoomba unique," Mrs Barac said.