Can you imagine your children trying to survive in the wilderness without you or any adult? What if they had to wander for years without protection, often without food or water?
Unfortunately for almost 30,000 boys and a few girls, this scenario isn’t a nightmare to imagine, it was a horrific reality they were forced into, and less than half of them survived. They are known as “The Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan.”
The Lost Boys and Girls are young war refugees who survived a 23-year genocide in southern Sudan, a civil war that cost the lives of 2 million people. Forced to flee their villages, almost 30,000 children as young as 5 and 6 walked more than 1,000 miles through the desert.
Most were orphaned during the violent attacks, so they formed makeshift families, relying on the older boys for leadership. They lacked food, water and shelter; many starved or were killed by lions and hyenas. Only 11,000 survived. After 12 to 14 years in refugee camps, 3,800 were brought to asylum in the US, and 70 of those settled in San Diego.
Daniel Ukang and Benson Deng, two of the Lost Boys of Sudan living in San Diego, shared stories of their journeys at a recent chapel service at Mariners Christian School.
Thirteen-year-old Brooke Olson of Newport Beach couldn’t fathom children her age dealing with such horror.
“It’s so hard to believe it really happened.” She said. “They walked in herds to find food and water, but a lot of time they couldn’t find any, so they had to eat mud and drink urine.”
Brooke was also struck by their awareness of God throughout their ordeals.
“Without God they couldn’t have done it, they really felt God’s presence. They also really looked out for each other.” Brooke said. “ I realize how much I take for granted, like water. When I’m thirsty, I just go to the sink. I’m so grateful for everything I have.”
Thirteen-year-old Nick Schroeder echoed that sentiment.
“I am so thankful for all God has given me,” Nick said. “I’m so glad that they came and shared their experiences. It really makes me want to give time to help others. I am grateful to live in America.”
Nick couldn’t imagine what The Lost Boys lived through, as well as what they lived without.
“They had to leave their homes without their parents or any adults,” Nick said. “They walked under such extreme circumstances. But God guided them, even across a crocodile-filled river that was full of blood.”
Janine Schroth, a parent at Mariners Christian, arranged to have Daniel and Benson speak.
“After I saw the video ‘God Grew Tired of Us’ about the Lost Boys I wanted to adopt all the boys,” Janine explained.
Instead, she started a local support arm to raise awareness and funds for the Foundation that provides education for The Lost Boys in San Diego. They also have matching funds available for other schools interested in having them speak.
“The Boys’ burning passion is to help their families and their homeland, so the best thing we can do is to help them with their education.” Janine said. “I thought it was a good fit for the school. They have a powerful message. They are living survivors with amazing stories of incredible faith.”
Daniel, now 29, and Benson, 30, were both just 7 years old when they had to flee for their lives when war broke out. Benson recalled looking back at his village and seeing the glow of fire burning it down.
“I remember being so cold without a shirt and that my bare feet hurt so badly from walking so far and so many sharp objects,” he said.
“I remember my sadness when my friend, Bol, just gave up.… He dropped to the ground in front of me and he was only 7 years old. I could not help him…. He died at my feet,” Daniel said.
Throughout all the trials and miles, both sensed God’s presence.
“Even though I was only 7, God was with me the whole time,” Benson said. “As I look back, it was God who guided me through the bush. There were so many fireflies in the jungle and they … helped me to see my way.”
Daniel and Benson appreciate the opportunity to speak to students. “I want to show kids that, no matter what they go through, others are suffering too in other parts of the world. Make the most of whatever you have and then God will guide the rest,” Daniel said.
Benson is one of the authors of “They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan.”
Education is paramount to all The Lost Boys.
“I want to help my people at home the way God helped me,” Daniel said. “With an education I want to help with a medical clinic in my village.”
To learn more, visit www.californialostboysandgirlsfoundation.org
Cindy can be reached at [email protected]