Pastors at St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arlington, Massachusetts, say a hate group will not end the church's ministry to Sudanese refugees.

Associate Pastor Susan Henry says the church has 21 Sudanese members, many of whom are "adopted" and cared for by local families. Several live in church-owned housing, and the church often is a center for gatherings.

Local members of National Alliance, a West Virginia-based neo-Nazi group, spread leaflets targeting the 175-member church after 19-year-old Majok Daniel Kachoul was arrested in the rape of a 20-year-old woman August 24. He has been charged with one count each of rape and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Police charge Kachoul with sexually assaulting the woman with his finger and burning her hand with a lighted cigarette, according to the Arlington Advocate.

Kachoul has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

If convicted, Kachoul could face a maximum of 20 years in state prison for the rape charge and up to 10 years for the assault and battery charge, according to Emily Lagrassa of the Middlesex district attorney's office.

A member of the church, Kachoul came to Arlington in February as part of a U.S. State Department resettlement of about 3,800 "Lost Boys" fleeing Sudan's civil war. He is part of a group sponsored by the International Rescue Committee, a nonsectarian humanitarian organization that works with refugees and others fleeing racial, religious, or ethnic violence.

National Alliance distributed the leaflets September 1 after The Boston Globe covered the incident. The group called Henry a "race traitor," saying "the Lutherans don't care if these new converts rape and infect your daughter with HIV." The National Alliance had targeted Jews in an August literature campaign.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks hate groups in the United States, National Alliance has ideological ties to Timothy McVeigh, convicted and executed for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. National Alliance founder William Pierce wrote The Turner Diaries, a race-war novel that depicts a truck bombing similar to the Oklahoma City bombing. An SPLC report says McVeigh was "an avid fan" of the novel.

Still, church leaders say, most of the 45,000 residents of the predominantly white middle-class community west of Boston continue to support Kachoul and the church's work. The church contributed about $8,000 to a bail fund for Kachoul. Volunteers who work with the adult refugees raised the remaining $42,000 in three days.

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"These are people who just cared very deeply for this young man," Henry says. "We wanted Daniel to be able to move as quickly through the system as anyone else could do."

"I would say the town's response to it was really positive as far as the church is concerned," says Ross Goodman, senior pastor of St. Paul. "The town was on board with the resettlement anyway."

Police officers collected three trash bags of leaflets that had been left on neighborhood doorsteps. Town leaders and the city's Human Rights Commission spoke out against the literature. About 2,500 people attended a September 16 candlelight rally sponsored by the commission and prompted by the incident and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Residents have called to say they support the church's ministry, Henry says.

"We had a high number of e-mails and notes. People said, 'We are so appreciative of the kind of ministry you are doing,'" Henry says.

"We did receive some hate mail, but the good stuff outnumbered it by at least ten to one," Henry wrote in the church's online newsletter.

The refugees often minister to church members through their "sense of God at work in their lives. They are convinced that God has brought them through tough times," she says. "That's a wonderful thing to experience for Americans."

Henry says Kachoul is continuing to study for his high-school equivalency diploma as he awaits his trial. The court has found a court-trained interpreter who speaks Dinka. Kachoul's next appearance will be October 17. There is no trial date yet.

Goodman says the church will continue to help Kachoul. "He's a part of our family, and we're going to stand by him all the way," Goodman says. "We're going to support him and pray for justice."

Henry says the church also has sympathy for the rape victim. "We don't know her name, but we've been intentional about asking others to keep her in prayer as well."

Herb Snedden, vice president for U.S. ministries at World Relief, says negative media stories about refugees can create emotional responses.

World Relief, the international assistance arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, resettles refugees in 27 areas in the United States and helps them connect with local churches. The organization helps an average of 25 refugees a month. Snedden says situations like the one in Arlington are rare.

"Whenever there is a negative thing that happens, that creates kind of a negative backlash," says Snedden, who has worked with World Relief-sponsored refugee resettlement programs for 20 years. "[People who help] realize they are doing it for Christ, and they are in it for the long term."

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Goodman says the church—which is not working with World Relief—could not have anticipated Kachoul's situation. "We expect there to be some bumps along the road," he says. "This was a pretty tough one."

LaTonya Taylor is editorial resident at Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere:

See the Web site for St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Christianity Today recently reported that an estimated 4,000 Sudanese refugees will be resettled into America this year.

The International Rescue Committee has online information on its resettlement of Sudan's "Lost Boys."

World Relief has more on Sudan refugees and how to help.

The hate group National Alliance is also online.

In 1999, Christianity Today examined the challenges and potential rewards of resettling refugees.