By Abraham Deng
It is a great miracle that I am still alive today! I am one of thousands of orphaned Sudanese children who spent their childhood escaping civil war by trekking from one refugee camp to another. I was six years of age when I was separated from my parents in 1987 due to civil war between Christians and Muslims in Sudan. I was at the cattle camp tending cows when Sudan's government military and militia forces attacked my village of Duk in southern Sudan. Due to the confusion of war, I joined the groups of other children and we all ran into the jungle to seek protection. I walked in the jungle barefoot for 3 months, which was over 1000 miles. I was only wearing a pair of shorts and had no shoes. I did not carry any food with me, which forced me to survive from leaves, roots, fruits, birds, dead animals, and whatever I could find. In extreme situations, I drank dirty water and wet mud in order to stay alive from thirst. Trekking in the jungle with other thousands of unaccompanied children from southern Sudan, I was also subjected to aerial bombardments, disease, starvation, rains, extreme cold and mosquitoes. At various occasions, I became exhausted to the point that I did not want to walk any further. My feet were so rough that they constantly kept bleeding despite how many times I tried to wrap them with tree barks that did not last for too long.
In spite of the extreme conditions I was subjected to, I had two fundamental things in mind that kept me strong, which my father constantly reminded me: disgrace to the family and damage to one's reputation that would be passed on throughout many generations. He always wanted me to face any circumstance with courage and the spirit of resilience. There were, however, times when I cried not because of starvation or thirst or other external causes but because of my parents and siblings whom I thought to be dead as a result of the military and militia attacks on my village. There were times that I saw the extremities and other remains of the kids eaten by the lions and hyenas. There were also other instances I saw dead bodies placed horizontally on the paths and others tied on the trees. Oftentimes, my cousins, who were older than me, would normally sit beside me on the side of the road and wait until I regain some energy. I saw kids who were very exhausted and would sit on the side of the road and become easy prey for the lions or hyenas or get killed by men from different tribes. Although there were a few older boys between ten to thirteen years of age to care for the young ones, majority of the kids were between the ages of five to nine years old. We slept during the day and walked at night. There were over 20,000 of us, who got separated from our parents and forced to seek refuge for our dear lives.
I finally made my way to Ethiopia after three months of walk and settled in a Pignudo Refugee Camp in Ethiopia. Fortunately, the United Nations provided us humanitarian relief through Ethiopian government. I had to live on individual kernels of corn and a few beans every day. I would still go to the jungle to get leaves, roots, and fruits. Sadly, my world of hope was turned upside down when I lost my cousins and friends as a result of disease and starvation. I could not believe when I participated in digging my cousins and friends' graves and put soil on their dead bodies when I was seven years of age.
The UN provided us free elementary education in the second year. We had to learn under the trees and write on the dirt. On the third year and fourth year, we learned in mud huts thatched with grass. We had to share writing items. Each person got a piece of a pencil, an exercise book and eraser, all of which were meant for the entire year.
Unfortunately, life became more difficult due to the civil war in Ethiopia. We were forced out of Ethiopia at gunpoint back to Sudan in1991 when the new regime came into power. We trekked six months across Sudan barefoot to Kenya in 1992. We were chased into Gilo River back to southern Sudan. I did not know how to swim and had decided to die on the other side of the river. But another older lost boy encouraged me to hold on his shoulder and that I should have faith in God. I immediately recalled Daniel's story when he was thrown into the lions' den and was rescued by the Angel of the Lord; and the story of Shadrach, Abednego, and Meshach, who were rescued in Fiery Furnace by the Lord's Angel. By faith, we both jumped into the water while holding on his shoulder and kept kicking my legs into the water. Only by the Lord's grace, love, and mighty power, both of us made it to the other side of the river safely. Unfortunately, about 2000 children died in Gilo River on that day as a result of enemy shootings, crocodiles and drowning.
I walked for six months from Sudan to Kenya in 1992, where I stayed for nine years as a refugee at Kakuma Refugee Camp. Out of over 20,000 children to start with, only 12,000 of us made it to Kenya according to UNHCR (United Nations Refugee Agency) estimates. Unfortunately, 8,000 boys and girls lost their dear lives during our journeys. Most importantly, the UNHCR provided us humanitarian aid and free education. We were given beans, corn and wheat flour. The learning materials, however, were not enough; each person was given a pencil with eraser, a pen, a writing exercise book (for one or two subjects). About four to five people would share a book; all these were meant for the whole year. In Kenya, the UN gave us the name the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
I completed both my primary education in Kenya in spite of living on one meal a day. The United Nations in conjunction with the United States government initiated the resettlement program for the Lost Boys of Sudan to where they would have better security, good life, and to pursue some opportunities to help themselves and their people back home. I was chosen in 2001 to come to the USA along with some other Lost Boys and Lost Girls of Sudan. Currently, over 4000 Lost Boys and Lost Girls of Sudan are resettled to the USA.
I stayed in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya for 9 years. It was in Kenya that I learned of my father's death along with my five uncles when the government of Sudan carried out multiple attacks on my village of Duk. Most importantly, I learned in 2001 while living in Florida that my mother was alive and was living as a refugee in Pignudo Refugee Camp in Ethiopia since 1993. I talked to my mother for the first time in 2001 since we last saw each other after fourteen years. Through the help of Southern Wesleyan University that I attended, I reunited with my family in 2006 after nineteen years of separation.
As I struggled to save my dear life through whatever I could find in the midst of my subjection to such horrible conditions without parental supervision and care, I became quite inquisitive in questioning my existence and God's superpower and responsibility over the creation. I had been down to earth with streams of tears rolling down from my eyes as I prayed to the Lord to provide answers to my questions as to what had become of my life. In the darkest days of my life, I would ask myself questions, “Why did God separate me from my parents and bring me to where I should be surviving from leaves, roots, and fruits birds, and dead animals, while my parents have cows, goats, maize and sorghums?”
My search for the true God was fully revealed when a 16-year-old Christian evangelist named Barnabas Aluong Bol led me to believe and have strong faith in God while residing at refugee camp in Ethiopia. Barnabas impacted my life to a greater extent in knowing and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Savior for my life regardless of what I was going through in life. Barnabas would answer me, “You may not understand the reason behind what you are going through, but God has special plans for your life and that someday you will meet your family.” Over the years, I have come to realize that my exposure to different kinds of horrible circumstances brought me closer to know the deepest love and care of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. In my day to day life, when my heart's desires and expectations seem to be at odd than what I expect, I come before the Lord's throne of grace and pour out my praises of thanksgiving for the amazing things that the Almighty God has done in my life.
As I was deeply searching any Christian institution that would provide me strong Christian foundation in God's Word, I found out that Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology is the best choice for me because of its excellent academic reputation, outstanding educational programs and Christian spiritual growth! Through my initial connections with Dr. Kathy Meacham, Nathan McMahan, and active involvement and interest of Dr. Craig McMahan, Dr. Alan Culpepper and members of McAfee Admissions Office, I eventually considered McAfee School of Theology an exceptional place that I can call a true home. I would not know what to do without the provision of McAfee scholarship!
The distinguished and caring faculty and committed staff provide nourishing environment for spiritual growth of the hungry souls. The McAfee class teachings, chapel worship, preaching and presentations impact my life to a greater extent in terms of my spiritual growth and development. By hearing and reflecting on the Lord's message being preached and expressed in spiritual hymns, I feel satisfied, strengthened, spiritually empowered, drawn closer to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, brought closer to experience other people's hurts, immersed into the family of God, constantly reminded to always live Christ's life of love, humility and care for the destitute. There are times I have endless internal dialogue with my inner worlds. As we share our prayer requests and concerns, I am always reminded of the unwavering spirit of togetherness of Jesus Christ's disciples. With our communal gathering as the Body of Christ, I feel my burdens less and less heavy on my heart as we pour out together our prayers at the Lord's throne of grace. By having fellowship together as a community of faith bound together by the blood of Jesus, we gradually see mighty interventions of God in our lives individually and communally. My coming to McAfee School of Theology is a choice well considered!
I considered education to be my top priority to serve other people and give them the blessings that God has given me. I furthered my studies at Southern Wesleyan University in South Carolina and graduated Cum Laude in Biology/Pre-medicine in 2007. After my theological studies at McAfee, I will apply for physician Assistance program. I want to return to the Republic of South Sudan, where educational literacy is about 23%. I want to be a blessing to those southern Sudanese by touching their lives both spiritually and medically.
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing . . .!” (Isaiah 43:18-19).