Nov 18, 2008

Refugee of Sudan shares journey of faith

by Brooke McDowell

Mayom is a man lacking the most basic of personal information. He does not know his age and home is a vague memory damaged by years of distance. As a young child, Mayom fled from his home and family in order to save his life. He has not returned in 21 years.

Born Mayom Bol Achuk into the Dinka tribe, he has been told his age is roughly 27 years. In Bor, Sudan, most people are uneducated and do not record birthdays. After coming to the United States in 2000, Mayom’s age was approximated and he was given a birthday.
Mayom and a group of about 25,000 other “lost boys” from Sudan ran away to Ethiopia after a war broke out in their city against the government in 1983. Many family members of the boys died during the war.

“(The government) imposed a lot of bad things on African tribes. (The tribes) don’t see themselves being Muslim,” Mayom said.

“They have a goal to take over the whole continent and turn it into an Arab nation. The government declared Sudan was going to be the center of Islam in Africa and it will influence the rest of Africa,” he said.

People in his tribe started to rebel because they did not want to comply with the government, which caused the second civil war in May, 1983.

“They sent troops down and said, ‘Go wipe out everybody,’” Mayom said.

“They started putting buildings on fire.” Their cattle camps were also bombed. Cows are very valuable in their culture, he said.
Government troops were told, “If you only have one bullet, use it on boys because they are the ones who will grow up and try to fight back,” Mayom said.

Rebels came in and tried to protect them and help evacuate boys.

“The boys had no safe haven anymore,” Mayom said.

All they could do was run away. Without clothes or even a pair of shoes, the boys ran to Ethiopia, where the rebels are trained. It took Mayom about a month, but others up to three months to reach the camp in Ethiopia. Some boys never reached the camp at all.
“I left my dad in the village,” Mayom said. He later learned his father died in the war. He also had brothers and cousins who were killed.

Along the journey, Mayom and others saw a great deal of death. He said they lost people to diseases, starvation, those who just could not keep up, crocodiles trying to pass through rivers, attacks by other tribes along the way and psychological problems.

Mayom explained how some of the boys with mental disease acted. “They would just start screaming a name ... whatever name that came to his mind … He would be crying, running around mentioning that name, not wanting to eat anymore, not wanting to drink.

After two days you would see him changing color — not even black anymore — getting whiter and whiter. Finally, later on you would find him dead.”

“If you got injured, no one would take care of you,” Mayom said.

Water was scarce along the way. Boys resorted to drinking mud just to try to get water out.

“(I got through it) through God. I was not sure I would make it … It was horrible. Very difficult,” he said.

Mayom and the others with him were the first people to the refugee camp in Ethiopia. After reaching their destination, they found there was no food there. They had to “start from scratch,” he said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees came and took pictures for documentation, also giving them medicines and oral salts.

“We were hungry. We needed food, not oral salts,” Mayom said.

The boys were still a target for the government. After living and going to school for four years in Ethiopia, they ran through Sudan to Kenya to another camp, which was an eight-month journey, where they studied in school for nine years. Education was very important to the rebel leaders. “According to rebel leaders you want boys to go to school because they say if you get money to get education, you will be the future leaders to win this war. Mayom said they say ‘Pen is better than gun.’” At the new camp, things were looking up.

“Things improved a little bit even though there was still starvation. Food was not enough but the education was very good in Kenya. It was better than Ethiopia,” he said.

“The goal of the UN for the refugee was just to keep them alive, but not to satisfy their needs. So education was a minor thing for them,” he said.

Attacks by local people still occurred.

“(The Turkana) killed a lot of people too. They were jealous. They didn’t understand why we were there,” he said.

Catholic missionaries, who visited the boys in Ethiopia, came back to the states with a proposal to bring the boys here. The proposal was approved in 1997. In 1998 they went to the boys and told them they would be coming to America. The people did not have positive initial reactions.

“At first people didn’t want to go,” he said. He explained that they thought they were being deceived.

Looking back on his experience, Mayom said, “We had been suffering and God had a plan for us.” He added, “I will put all my trust in God …Wherever God wants me to go, I’ll go”

He arrived in the states on Dec. 4, 2000.

“We didn’t even know where we were going,” he said. He lived with four cousins and friends in an apartment in Michigan first.

“We had never been in cities. We didn’t even know how to switch the light off and on. We had never used a refrigerator,” Mayom said. “Even now I’m still not used to everything.”

After passing the English as a Second Language exam, Mayom passed the GED test, qualifying him to attend a community college in Michigan where he studied for two years.

He then attended Calvin College for four years studying economic business and international development. After graduating in December 2006 he worked three jobs to send money back to his family in Sudan.

“I was one of the (lost boys) who was not happy with life in America,” he said. Mayom hopes to visit Sudan in December and eventually return after finishing seminary at Liberty.

“If I want to go back to Sudan, I need to get my education done. I am going to Sudan soon to help people,” he said.

Mayom quit his jobs in Michigan on Aug. 8, 2008 and came to Liberty on Aug. 12. However, he was not always familiar with school.

The controversial issue of homosexuals in the ministry being ordained began to discourage Mayom with the Christian church. He started looking up information online to see what other people thought on the issue and Jerry Falwell’s name kept coming up with his views.

“I ended up reading all his articles … about it,” Mayom said.

Since he agreed with almost everything Falwell stood for, Mayom looked into the college. It took him about two or three years to decide to come here for seminary, which he is paying for through financial aid and student loans.

Mayom lives on campus and is able to build relationships with the other people on his hall.

“Mayom is neat to have on the hall,” hallmate Charlie Goss said. “He’s very talkative, that’s for sure. He was able to tell me and a bunch of my friends about life in Africa. He sings for the (Thomas Road) choir and is pretty involved with that church.”
Ultimately, his goal to go back to Sudan remains.

“I have to go back to see the country, see the people, see how life is back in Sudan, and then come back and prepare myself to go. That is my goal,” Mayom said.

“To build peoples’ lives is the most important thing,” he said.

Despite the adversity Mayom has faced in his lifetime, he continues to look to God for his strength.


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