'Lost Boys' to young men
April 12 2002 by Craig Bird , Special to the Biblical Recorder

'Lost Boys' to young men | Friday, April 12, 2002
  • Listening helplessly to the cries of another young boy, perhaps your own brother, being dragged into the bush by a hyena;
  • Standing on the banks of a swift-running river knowing four things: you'll be shot if you don't get across, you can't swim, crocodiles own the water, and there is no safety on the other side either, just more opportunities to die;
  • Staggering through land so harsh you live for weeks at a time on tree leaves and damp mud (when you can get them) and force down swallows of urine (when you can get it) because there is no water.

    Approximately 4,000 Lost Boys, the surviving remnant of 35,000-45,000 "instant orphans" severed from families and homes in 1987 by civil war, have come to America over the past 18 months. The U.S. State Department and Catholic Social Services Refugee Resettlement Office officially assigned 40 of the young men to Charlotte.

    Many folks at St. John's Baptist Church think God providentially sent most of those boys to them. And vice versa.

    That's where living "with" fear comes into play.

    After 13 years, the young men no longer must invest all their physical and emotional energy in a frenetic, daily (and often minute-by-minute) struggle to survive, but the images of terror still lurk in their minds.

    Living "with" fear is more subtle - vague feelings and anxieties. It resists being seen except in private nightmares and defies logic. It may disappear from consciousness but it doesn't go away.

    Living with fear is:

  • Hesitating over an invitation to "come on in, the water's fine" until you're assured no crocodiles lurk there, and declining to enter a park until you're convinced lions or jackals don't crouch in the bushes;
  • Discovering that the richest and most generous nation on earth still has homeless and hungry people sleeping on the street, and wondering if that fate could await you;
  • Approaching your 30th birthday with no biological family to guide and support you, no resources to afford a wife - and no suitable woman available to be your bride anyway.

    When nearly 50 members of St. John's opened their arms, hearts, homes and checkbooks to tall young men with names like Ajak, Luom, Mayen, Awar, Makuac and Jok, they expected to teach the young men to cook, ease them into high school or college classes, sit with them a t church and feed them an occasional meal.

    They didn't expect to be accepted as parental figures or to discover pockets of seemingly irrational terror from time to time.

    The first - and continuing - impressions one gets of the young Sudanese are of quiet maturity, compassionate resourcefulness and a respect for others.

    Mentors Phillips and Leslie Bragg's description of James Lubo Majak is typical: "He is a wise soul, a kind soul, a gentle soul." Maggie Bond refers to the entire group when she asks: "Can you explain to me why they are not angry young men? That blows me away, I would be overflowing with rage if I had been treated the way they have, but they aren't."

    Good question.

    The Lost Boys have a common answer: their Christian faith. "The United Nations and America saved our lives," Joseph Bol, 22, explains, "But God is with us." Not "was with us" but "is with us." The spiritual relationship that sustained them when they lived in fear still grounds them as they learn to live with fear.

    They don't wonder where God was when troops of the Muslim government in Sudan began attacking Dinka villages, "castrating the men like bulls and cutting off the breasts of the women;" or when they weakly scratched too-shallow graves for their companions who died by the thousands; or when the world forgot them as they starved in refugee camps.

    Instead they worship with a depth that awes St. John's members, and they insist that though all else failed about them, God was always true.

    The point was first made when St. John's decided to use the Sunday School hour for "life lessons," practical teaching about balancing checkbooks or making peanut butter sandwiches. Politely the young men resisted. "They go to church for one reason and one reason only," Bond remembers, "to worship."

    Now life lessons are part of a monthly luncheon or taught in the mentor's homes. Sunday School is for Bible study and church is for praise.

    "The insights they bring to class are incredible," says Susan Lancaster, who leads the study. "When we discussed what keeps people from God they talked about hunting lions and playing soccer," she explains. "When we wondered what God looked like they shared images of warmth and love and grace."

    The Sunday the passage came from Revelation and the question was what heaven might look like, Majak drew a scene dominated by a huge rainbow. Why? "Because heaven will have all kinds of people, people of all different colors," he replied.

    The first time the Dinkas took part in worship burns in the memory of everyone there. Caroletta Partain, head of the church's Sudan Relief Committee, recounts: "They were sitting together on a pew near the front when James Chol stood up and walked to the front of the sanctuary. He addressed the altar in three different directions before starting to sing in the most beautiful voice I have heard in any church. The other guys answered him in song - all in Dinka. Then the others joined him.

    "They continued singing, James leading with solo phrases and the boys answering in unison. All the while they all were moving fluidly to mesmerizing drumbeats provided by two of the guys. The congregation was spellbound, silently listening to and watching what, to us, was a totally new way to worship.

    "All of a sudden we 'heard' it. The words were Dinka but the melody was 'I have decided to follow Jesus.' I can't tell you how moving it was."

    Maybe in 1987 the 5-, 7- and 11- year-old boys didn't have any other options but to trust in God. They couldn't trust in the parents who weren't there. They couldn't trust in their own government who stalked them. They couldn't trust in world opinion that ignored them for four years and forgot about them for nine more after they entered the refugee camp.

    But in 2002, in Charlotte, they have food in their apartments. They have jobs. They have friends at St. John's. They have a choice now.

    But when the panic starts creeping into their stomachs, when they can't score high enough on entrance exams to get into college; when the need to hear their mother's voice or feel their father's touch wakes them up at 2 a.m.; when anxiety for their future assaults them, they confront again the fear they live with.

    And eventually they overcome it with two declarations.

    "God is with me."

    "I have decided to follow Jesus."

  • Friday, April 12, 2002

    'Lost Boys' to young men

    By Craig Bird Special to the Biblical Recorder

    The Lost Boys of Sudan no longer spend much time living "in" fear because they no longer roam the dangerous wilds of East Africa.

    But living "with" fear looks to be a longtime, possibly even a lifelong, situation even after - and sometimes because of - coming to America.

    Several years and at least 10,000 miles now separate them physically from:

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    4/12/2002 12:00:00 AM by Craig Bird , Special to the Biblical Recorder | with 0 comments
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