When I came to the United States, I remember what he told me. I didn't have a difficult time anymore like what I had back home. When you see people who care about you, you feel like you are important. (That's) the way I feel here. —Justina Nayic
SALT LAKE CITY - As a little girl, Justina Nayic couldn't understand why she had to observe a religion that wasn't her own, why she saw horrific beatings in the street, and why other kids would mockingly call her a slave.
"You don't feel like it's your country," Nayic recalled.
Such was life for Nayic, whose Christian beliefs weren't well-received in what is now northern Sudan.
She one day approached her father, hoping he could alleviate the concerns that had been burning in her mind.
"Why did God create us black? Why are we suffering," she asked him.
Nayic, now 33, remembers her father's consoling response: "Whether we are white or black, God loves us the same way. The time will come and you will feel you are a child of the Most High."
Nayic's father died months later.
Nayic carried on and eventually married a man who is also Christian. As a choir director for a local church, Nayic's husband would regularly go to hospitals and prisons and pray for the people there.
Sudan law enforcement eventually arrested Nayic's husband for praying with the patients and inmates.
"They told him when he got out (of jail) he had to leave Sudan, because if they catch him again, they can kill him," Nayic said.
The couple left their homeland with their young child and went to Egypt, where they stayed for three years and had two more children. Life was better, but Nayic still longed for a permanent home and a more complete sense of freedom.
They traveled to Europe where they applied for permission to come to the U.S. Immigration officials asked the family where they wanted to live.
"Any state," was Nayic's reply.
The family gained permission to come to America and were assigned to Utah.
Nayic remembers that upon arriving, her father's response from years ago became infinitely more significant.
"When I came to the United States, I remember what he told me," she said. "I didn't have a difficult time anymore like what I had back home. When you see people who care about you, you feel like you are important. (That's) the way I feel here."
Nayic had two more children before she and her husband got divorced in 2010. She and her five children live in Salt Lake City.
Learning a new language, adjusting to a new culture and caring for five children alone have been significant challenges, Nayic says.
"I still struggle," she said. "It's not easy to be by yourself to raise kids. Sometimes, the kids need a father. Sometimes, you need help."
But Nayic says she chooses instead to focus on the blessings she enjoys thanks to the kindness of others.
"(People) come to me, they give food for my kids, they took us to the hospital, they've done a lot of things for us," she said. "When I think back of my country, there's a big difference."
Nayic began working for Deseret Industries in 2007. For two years, she worked and attended school while caring for her family. It was a challenging time, but that's not what she calls it.
"It was a big blessing," she said.
Nayic now works at Daily Foods.
Her gratitude for the support and guidance she received has since transformed into a desire to help others. As a refugee, Nayic felt she could better help others if she were to become a citizen of "one of the best countries in the world."
After living in the U.S. for 11 years, Nayic took the Oath of Citizenship Saturday. She hopes her children — one born in Sudan, two born in Egypt and two born in the U.S. — will all be citizens someday.
In the meantime, her joy is as contagious as it is apparent.
"No one knows the joy I have in my heart," she said. "I'm always smiling. I'm so happy."