Lost Boys of Sudan: Our Story
What happens when you move from being unknown and isolated to becoming famous? Are you defined by your tragedy or by your discovery? For us, what we have become is directly related to what we have been through. We believe that one needs to know the past to move forward.
In 1987, a civil war drove an estimated twenty thousand young boys from their families and villages in Southern Sudan. Most were no more than six or seven years old when they fled attacking militia groups from Northern Sudan. To stay would mean certain death or induction into slavery by the northern forces. As young boys tending livestock we witnessed and heard the attack on our village and ran and hid in the forest. But, we were not the only boys who ran. Over the next days, weeks, and months, more and more of us found each other and we formed a human exodus waling a thousand miles through lion and crocodile country, eating mud to stave off hunger, drinking urine to quench our thirst. After many months we found ourselves living in a refugee camp in Western Ethiopia. However, a civil war in that country erupted and we were forced at gun point and death to make our way back into Sudan. By this time, our numbers had grown into the thousands and determined not to be caught by the northern militias we headed for Kenya.
Wandering for years, half of us died before reaching the Kenyan refugee camp, Kakuma. We became the survivors of this tragic exodus which became known to the world as the Lost Boys of Sudan. In 2000, the U.S. government began bringing the Lost Boys of Sudan to America. Broken into small groups we were resettled all across the U.S. Today, Sudanese youth can be found in nearly every state. Since we came to America we have attended high school, some of us have gone on to college and others have found work in various business settings. A number of us have become U.S. citizens. But one thing we all share is a lingering question that we will never know the answer to: Why and how did we survive the ordeals we faced?
Jacob’s Story: A Tail of Personal Tragedy and Trial
When I was about six years old my parents were killed by Northern Sudanese Arabs militias waging war on Southern Sudan. They entered my village killing men and kidnapping the women and children before burning our homes to the ground. That day, I lost my father and several of my siblings. One of my sisters was carried away and to this day is thought to be a slave to an Arab Sudanese family in the north.
But I was lucky. Early that morning I had left with my older cousin, Michael, to take our goats and cows to find grass and water. When we heard the attack and saw the smoke coming from our burning village we ran into a nearby forest to hide. For three days they remained in that forest alone, scared, and hungry. From that day on, Michael and I formed a special relationship. He became my protector and during our thousand mile journey to Ethiopia. When my legs got tired he often carried me on his back for six or seven hours at a time. We could seldom rest. The northern forces were constantly following us so we often hid during the day and walked through the dangerous dark of the night. But we were also in danger at night from the attack of lions. To protect ourselves when we rested we made a timetable and decided who would sleep while the other was awake. One night while I was sleeping a lion began attacking our group. Michael slapped me in the head very hard to wake me up. It was pitch black and all I heard were people yelling, “Lion! Lion!”. I jumped up and ran like a scared rabbit. I could not see where I was going and ran into the broken branch of a tree. It penetrated deep into my leg to the point where I could see my bone. There was no hospital, no first aid kit, but there was Michael and he helped me until my leg healed. Today, I look at the scar on my leg and think of all Michael and I went through. When I look back on my life I can honestly say that Michael saved my life many times.
When we both arrived in the U.S., Michael went to Nevada and I went to Michigan. I had become so dependent upon Michael that I was depressed by our separation. I remember calling Michael and asking him whether I should move to Nevada or would he come to Michigan. Michael moved to Michigan and we supported each other through our journey not as Lost Boys, but as boys lost in a new country and culture. After high school I went on to attend and graduate from Spring Arbor University. Michael joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Iraq. Of course, we remain very close to each other because, we are family.
Our Relationship with God
We have been called lost boys, but I really we don’t feel lost. Although we lost parents, many things were lost by all of us Sudanese Lost Boys: parents, country, village, work, food, family, and friends. When we came to the United States, we did not even know the term “Lost Boys of Sudan”. we started realizing the name while watching a special about us on 60 Minutes. Today, we travel the country speaking at schools, colleges, churches, synagogues, and to civic and professional groups about being one of the original “Lost Boys of Sudan”. Some people have even associated us as being one of “lost boys” from Peter Pan. But really, we don’t feel lost. Even though we suffered much and lost many things dear to us deep down in our hearts we know that we have never been lost from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God has been our father and mother. We know he was and is always there for us because he protected us and brought us to the United States.