Lost Boy’s journey leads to divinity school in Georgia after surviving Sudan’s civil warcomment (0)
July 12, 2012
International students who have endured war and disease in their homelands are nothing new at Mercer University. But Abraham Deng can claim that and more: as a child, he survived lion, hyena and crocodile attacks along with starvation and disease — all while evading hostile troops hunting him through 1,000 miles of African plains and jungles.
Deng, 31, is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group made famous by a childhood exodus from war-torn Sudan that landed them in refugee camps before being scattered across the globe. There were about 30,000 in all and almost 4,000 landed in the United States.
And one of them — Deng — ended up at Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology, where he is currently working on a master of divinity degree.
Deng is also a religious minority at McAfee because he is not Baptist. He is an Anglican who attends an Episcopal church where he often preaches Sunday mornings.
But denominational differences mean nothing to him.
Heaven and denominations were not even part of Deng’s belief system as a child. He was born to a family of sheep and cow herders in an area of southern Sudan where traditional African spirituality held sway.
“I remember very well my parents had a small god and a shrine in the home,” Deng said.
“When I took care of the cattle and sheep, I would look into the sky and clouds and I would think the spirits of my ancestors were all around protecting us.”
There seemed to be very little protecting Deng and his friends and family the day in 1987 when government troops and militias attacked his village, Duk, and others in the region.
The strife was part of an ongoing civil war between Christian and Muslim forces that had begun four years earlier.
Deng was 6 at the time and tending the herds when terrified children began running past him. Within moments he found himself running too.
“I was just following the group, thinking that the war would come to an end and I would return home,” he said. “It did not happen the way I anticipated.”
The disbelief and confusion Deng experienced was common among his peers, said Joan Hecht, author of the 2005 book “The Journey of the Lost Boys” and founder of the nonprofit Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan in Jacksonville, Fla.
They were forced to flee on foot across great distances while avoiding wild animals, government-backed militias and rebels.
“They have lived such uncertain lives,” she said. “Almost every Lost Boy and Girl carries scars on their bodies from their journeys.”
Deng said his scars are largely emotional and stemmed from seeing a cousin and many friends die from starvation, disease and wild animal attacks.
Lions and hyenas usually pounced at night, when the children learned to walk to avoid daytime air attacks by government planes, he said. “In some instances I saw the limbs of kids eaten by the lions — the heads and the hands and the feet.”
At a refugee camp, Deng met a 16-year-old Anglican evangelist and fellow Lost Boy named Barnabas. His teachings about Christ and Scripture began to help Deng process the ordeal.
“The Bible became part of my life and I put God first,” he said.
After a likely graduation in December, Deng plans to study to become a physician’s assistant. He plans to take his spiritual and medical training back to Sudan to serve communities that have neither trained clergy nor doctors.
Deng said he never tires of telling his story because he knows it is inspiring to others. Also he said he is called to be a witness to the atrocities and tragedies he witnessed as a child.
But Deng said he still struggles with the ordeal he endured in Africa and is most troubled about why he survived and thousands did not.
Even after becoming a Christian and adopting the name Abraham, Deng said he became angry with God about the squalid refugee camps and the violent deaths he witnessed getting there.
“I was 7 and I said if God is there, why was there so much suffering, why am I separated from my family — why did God do that?”
He has since accepted that he cannot know why those things happened, a fact aided by learning that his mother and other relatives are still alive in Sudan.
He has also come to believe that questioning God can be spiritually healthy.
“Asking questions of God is not bad because that’s how we find out what God wants from us, and this is how we become closer to God.”