NOTE – The following is a rather long story. However, let me encourage you to read through to the end! I’m confident that you won’t be disappointed!
Email from my friend, Myrna (received on August 13th, the day we started on our trip):
Have caught up on your "doings" and as usual, you amaze me. God is certainly smiling because of your willingness to share His love for those who are so often misunderstood and unloved. God bless and keep you and will be praying that you will stay well.
Love in Him, Myrna
Introduction to Deng Deng
The peaceful village of Mark Deng Deng Meyer was attacked in 1997, during the civil war in South Sudan. At the innocent age of ten, Deng Deng’s family was wiped out. He personally witnessed some of them being viciously killed. The tranquil life he’d known, that of primarily tending his family’s cattle, suddenly came to an end. He and an uncle were captured and chained up for weeks; Mark bears the scars on his legs to this day.
One night, they managed to escape. Mark, who was mourning the loss of his family and the only home he’d ever known, was also scared for his life, confused, exhausted, hungry, and dealing with the horrific memories of what he’d witnessed. They were on the run for two to three months, hiding from the rebels in the daytime and only traveling at night. Often they’d go days without eating anything of substance. Actually, it was more important for them to find and carry water as they crisscrossed hundreds of miles on foot.
When they finally reached Kakuma Refugee Camp (in the Northern Frontier of Kenya, near the Sudanese border), Deng Deng and his uncle were registered as refugees. They were able to relax a bit. Like thousands of others that had also fled, they were given a food ration card, a blanket, a plastic basin (for bathing and laundry), a sufuria (pot for cooking), and a few other bare essentials. Mark, who was able to attend primary school, began to learn two foreign languages – English and Swahili. Things settled down into a new sense of normal for this young boy.
Off and on, the neighboring Turkana tribe raided the refugee camp and stole food the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) supplied to the refugees. Apparently the Turkana felt like these strangers had invaded their ancestral land. At the peak, there were 100,000 refugees – 75% Sudanese, but also Ethiopians, Ugandans, Rwandese, Burundians, Congolese, and Somalis. To top it off, the refugees were given free food from the United Nations, while the Turkana were barely surviving.
In 2003, the violence escalated and many were killed, including Mark’s uncle. On that fateful night, pandemonium broke out in the refugee camp. Many refugees fled, including Mark (who was now 16 years old). Some ran back to Sudan, saying they’d rather return to the ruins and ravages of an ongoing war than face the Turkana raids. Mark and others were given a free bus ride to Nairobi. He arrived in that city of 3.5 million for the first time in his life. He didn’t know a soul!
Absolutely alone in the world, petrified, and far away from his home, Deng Deng had no idea what to do. A policeman told him where he could find other Sudanese that had just arrived in the city. Soon after he found this group (near the Wimpy’s hamburger joint), a “Good Samaritan” invited him to his house, offering him shelter and food. Once again, he settled down into a new normal and eventually he was able to attend school.
[I marvel at the way Sudanese willingly reach out and help complete strangers. They’ve established a fairly well-run, yet informal, network of assistance and dispersing news. I guess it’s because they’ve all suffered so much.]
In God’s sovereign design, Mark found Karen Vineyard (2006) and started attending our homegroup. Besides me, at that time our group consisted of some young Kenyan men and a few other refugees (Sudanese, Ethiopian, and Burundian). We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Deng Deng. He’s a quiet and humble young man, with a great sense of humor. He’s a very serious pupil at school and very respectful towards his elders. My friend, Kim, aptly uses the word “stellar” to describe Mark. Kim and I especially got close to him and came to greatly admire him.
Mark had endured so much in his short 19 years of life. Yet he never complains. He has accepted his circumstances and does not expect handouts or sympathy. He doesn’t have the attitude that the world owes him something. In the time we’ve known him he’s been without shelter and daily food on more than one occasion. But his primary concern and focus is always his education. In fact, he’ll pass up an offer for a free lunch because he wants to study.
[No matter how long I stay in Kenya, I don’t believe I will cease to marvel at how disadvantaged African youth highly value their education!]