Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The "Lost Boy" in My Office--Dialogue Column 6.12.07

This past week, I sat down to talk with Daniel Mapur, one of the leaders of the Sudanese community in St. Joseph. You may remember Daniel from his visit to our church on Pentecost Sunday when he offered a greeting from his congregation and one of his members read from Acts 2 in their native Dinka language.. He leads the Sudanese worship service at First Lutheran Church each Sunday afternoon. During his years living in a refugee camp in Uganda, Daniel was trained as an evangelist and a deacon by Anglican church workers. He is currently pursuing ordination here in America. Daniel is a soft-spoken and thoughtful young man who smiles easily, but his spare words reveal a depth of wisdom gained from years of hardship that exceed what most Americans will ever know.

During our conversation, Daniel shared with me a bit about the journey that led him from southern Sudan to St. Joseph. Sudan was rent by an over 20 year civil war between the largely Muslim and Arab north and the largely Christian and Black south. Daniel and his people come from southern Sudan, but they were forced out of their ancestral homes by the fighting and most fled to refugee camps in neighboring countries. Daniel’s wife remains in a Ugandan refugee camp awaiting a visa to travel to America and join him. She has been waiting for several years.

I asked Daniel if he had heard of the so-called “Lost Boys of Sudan.” He smiled and said something that surprised me, “Yes, I am one of them.” I heard of the “Lost Boys” in media reports over the last several years and was shocked that part of that amazing story was sitting in front of me. Called “Lost Boys” after the characters in Peter Pan, Daniel and hundreds of young men like him were separated from their families during the war. Some saw their families killed in front of them; others were out tending herds when villages were attacked. The girls were usually taken away to be sex slaves. The “Lost Boys,”—they were mere children at the time, Daniel was 7—joined into groups and fled first to neighboring Ethiopia until they were forced out and then back to Sudan where they were again forced out and then to Kenya and Uganda. How does a child survive such a journey? Hundreds of boys died along the way.

Daniel and boys like him grew up in refugee camps, and many of them were allowed by special provision to emigrate to the United States. Daniel and some of the others were brought to Fargo, North Dakota (what a change from arid Sudan!) where they found jobs in manufacturing. Daniel began leading a worship service for the Sudanese at First Lutheran Church in Fargo, so when he and his colleagues came to St. Joseph seeking better jobs, they naturally went to this town’s First Lutheran Church for space to worship in. First Lutheran Church and its pastor Roger Lenander deserve special credit for the warm welcome they have given the Sudanese.

I spoke with Daniel about how First Christian could also help him and his people. He said that there is a need for furniture and household items, along with clothing for adults and children. Having limited incomes, the Sudanese came to St. Joseph with what they could carry in the few cars people in the community possess. Things like furniture and extra clothing were left with other Sudanese in their previous towns. Daniel also requested a computer (new or gently used), so he could learn how to type and use the internet. If you have any of these items, please contact me and we can make arrangements to get them to Daniel and his folks.

When I left New York to come to St. Joseph, I wondered how it would be to move away from the vibrant immigrant communities of that city and their connections to the world outside our borders. Upon arriving here, I was joyfully surprised to discover that an amazing immigrant community was already here and growing on a daily basis. It truly is an amazing world we live in, when the events in a far off African nation can impact our lives here in America’s heartland. The bonds of God’s love truly know no borders.

Grace and Peace,


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