Being My Brother’s Keeper: Towards a Theology of Reconciliation among the Lost Boys of Sudan
A Praxis Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Saint Paul School of Theology in Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Ministry
By Anderia Lual Arok, Kansas City, USA, May 20, 2016
Copyright © 2016 by Anderia Lual Arok All rights reserved
February 11, 2017 (SSB) — I am a Priest in the Episcopal Church, originally from South Sudan and now living in Phoenix, Arizona. My experiences during the 58 years I lived in Sudan, including living through the long years of civil wars has heightened my desire to pursue a course of study for a Doctoral Degree in Global Health and Wellness. When I was in Kosti (Northern Sudan) many people were displaced from the South to North, and they came naked, without food, shelter and basic needs. They would come at all hours of the day, and we would take them to refugee camps where the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) could start helping them. The NGO’s and churches registered the names of people, kept statistical data on the refugees as in some cases, people disappeared from the camps, spirited away by Islamic regime security forces who believed they were rebels. Refugees were provided with food, blankets, shelter, cooking utensils, and medical personnel were also sent to deliver health services; registrations for schools were arranged, clean water projects were set up, and environmental assessments for healthy living were also done.
Many of the people working for the NGO’s and churches laid down their lives for the sake of others. My experiences reaffirmed my belief that indeed, we have a responsibility to care for our fellow human beings. The Lost Boys of Sudan were among the refugees who suffered greatly from the civil wars. When the Arab regime in Khartoum (now North Sudan) began to attack villages in South Sudan, entire villages were destroyed and many people were killed. Those who survived these attacks fled for their lives and banded together in small groups, eventually joining other groups in other places on their journeys to freedom. They became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
Relationships between people, God, and our responsibility to care for one another are the areas of focus in my thesis project. A portion of scripture that speaks to me about these issues is that of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4. Verses 1-10 present the story the birth of Cain and Abel and their relationship with the Lord as well as with each other. Abel becomes a shepherd while Cain becomes a farmer. Both bring their first offerings to the Lord but the Lord favors Abel’s offering over that of Cain, which angers Cain and leads to the first murder and shedding of human blood in the Bible. Cain and Abel went out into the field where Cain killed Abel whereupon, “The Lord said to Cain, ‘where is Abel your brother?’ He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”1 One commentator on this passage states that the “penalty for man’s rebellion against God is separation both from God and…from other men.” 2 Here he is referring to the fall from grace of Adam and Eve who were the parents of Cain and Abel. History repeats itself when Cain murders his brother: “the sundering of the familial bond between husband and wife is now paralleled and intensified by another act of violence in the family, fratricide…. Cain’s act of violence is an attack on the integrity of the family, an offense against the divinely intended order of creation expressed in the command to reproduce. But Cain’s sin is more than a rejection of the divinely established order; in arrogating to himself the divine sovereignty over life in ending a life, Cain has repeated the sin of his parents by making himself ‘like God.’”3 I believe that when Cain killed Abel that violence was carried over into humankind and with regard to this project, to South Sudan. For when God asked Cain where his brother was, what God really wanted was for Cain to be a “Brother’s Keeper” to Abel; to be in a brotherly, caring relationship with him for the rest of his natural life. God intends for us to be in relationship with God’s self and with others; to strive to live in peace and harmony with others and with all of the created order, and to restore/reconcile relationships to the way they were before the fall of man.
The basis for my interpretation of this passage lies in Exodus 20: 1-17 (the Ten Commandments), and in Matthew 22: 36-40 (the great commandment and the second commandment). For me, it is not only the relationships between Cain, Abel, and God which have been ruptured and which are in need of reconciliation. It is also the tendency of human-kind in general to appropriate or claim without right the things which belong to God; acting or making ourselves like God which needs to be dealt with in some way. An example of this kind of action took place in 1999-2000 when word came that some of the Lost Boys would be resettled in other countries. Upon learning this, Islamic regime in the former Sudan, based in Khartoum, complained about it to entities of the United Nations. They questioned why the U.S. and other countries were trying to get these children to
safety while the regime wanted to keep them in Sudan where they would be under Islamic control and where they could be killed.4 In 2013 another senseless war broke out in Juba following the Dinka attack on the Nuer people, which in turn led to revenge attacks by the Nuer people on people from other tribes such as the Dinka, Shilluk, etc.
Thus, in my view, the actions of the Islamic regime in Khartoum and the Southern Sudanese were like Cain when they attacked the villages with the intent of killing everyone, even their own citizens, just as Cain killed his own brother.
These young men have lived through trauma; because of that they are experiencing divisions among themselves relating back to tribal conflicts (differences in ways of living, cultural, ethnic, and language differences such as being from the Nuer, Dinka, Shilluk or Bari tribes, and political ideologies). At times this affects the church here because St. Paul’s is seen by many as a “Dinka Church”, as ninety- nine percent of the young men are Dinka. Therefore, many of these young men are not interested in reaching out to non-Dinka people including those outside the St. Paul’s community. The reverse is also true however, in that others from different tribes are not interested in worshipping or being part of the community here because of the tribal differences noted above.
The willingness to reconcile differences is missing in my community. When they first arrived in the United States these boys worked for their own food, clothing, shelter and education while saving a little money to send back to others in Sudan. Some still do this, however, I have noticed a decline in the spirit of generosity to reach out and help others beyond their own “kin” or giving general support to those in need. I also feel that the “roots of Christianity” are very shallow among community members. Most practiced animistic religions before the war came and during the war they just came to church as a place of refuge and a way to ask for God’s protection, but they did not really receive the true meaning and teachings of Christianity. This has exhibited itself in the form of violent behavior, hatred, tribal divisions and revenge seeking.
In the last few years, “peace” was declared, and South Sudan became an independent country. But now an unnecessary war has broken out and people are once again being killed, or are displaced and living in refugee camps. For those who have relatives in South Sudan or for those contemplating returning there, the current situation is disheartening to say the least. In addition to the issues listed above, members of the congregation have faced culture shock, lack of good paying jobs, discrimination, and run- ins with the law. Lack of good paying jobs only exacerbates this problem, so it is a real conundrum which leads to additional stress and anxiety.
Another challenge they face is that many still have feelings of, and a desire for revenge because of the trauma they have suffered. My question is: can anything be learned from the suffering of these individuals? In Building the Resilient Community: Lessons from the Lost Boys of Sudan, pastoral theologian M. Jan Holton focuses on the trauma and suffering experienced by communities in the Sudan and examines these situations from the perspective of pastoral care which focuses on pastoral care of large groups within a Christian community. The experience of the Sudanese Lost Boys presents us with a model of the “moral obligation and care that has been passed from generations of family traditions as well as similar moral obligation rooted in the Christian imperative to love and care for one another.” 5 In spite of their experiences of stress, trauma, violence, and loss Holton notes that they have learned and experienced recovery as a community and they have developed a voice to express their collective traumatic experience.6 Addressing the effects of their negative experiences in the context of What would a reconciled community look like? The Bible provides us with a fine example in Acts 2: 42-47, which describes the early church community: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers…and all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of community is vital to enable the Lost Boys to successfully live in harmony in the community. The Lost Boys are now adults and it has been sixteen years since the first of them arrived in the U.S. My thesis is that in examining and understanding Sudanese refugees’ experiences of traumatic suffering, one can help to bring about reconciliation among them that will lead toward deeper involvement in Christian outreach. food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.” 7
The fellowship of believers describes this community in which there was hope, trust, love, unity, and peace. Fellowship formed the backbone of the community and its larger mission in the world. Charity was also exhibited in this community because they shared what they had in common: part of what money and goods they had was set aside for the mission of the church and evangelism; part was for their daily living needs and the rest was to go to the poor and needy, widows and orphans. Ideas of justice and equality were also manifested in the community as they carried out their mission without segregation of people as all were invited to join the community.
Reconciliation means that those who have been alienated or in conflict with each other have found a means by which they can once again be integrated into a community which is loving and where people strive to live in peace and harmony with others. When a community is reconciled with each other they feel free to talk across difference, to trust each other, to visit each other, and invite the other into their homes. It means they can meet together and engage in outreach projects for the common good. My project is focused on the question of how to bring about this kind of reconciliation within the Sudanese community in Phoenix.
Context and Setting
My project focuses on the Lost Boys who are members of St. Paul’s Sudanese Episcopal Church in Phoenix, Arizona. St. Paul’s is the church where I am the pastor. I have investigated the history of some of the Lost Boys from South Sudan who are now living here in Arizona, to discover what could bring about reconciliation and forgiveness among them in my congregation and in the larger community. As an ordained minister this issue is of importance to me because I believe that reconciliation and forgiveness are key elements in how we are to live our lives, following the example of Christ.
Understanding the background, history and experience of the Lost Boys at St. Paul’s will be useful for readers who are members of the Sudanese community as well as those outside of the Sudanese community to know. Another important issue that I want to address is that of gender because there were also Lost Girls in the groups of refugees in the camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and elsewhere. In fact, journalist and researcher Mark Bixler says that:
About one hundred of the thirty-eight hundred refugees in the group known as the Lost Boys of Sudan actually were girls. Many were identified by brothers who also were being resettled. Aid workers estimate that while boys made up the overwhelming majority of unaccompanied minors in Kakuma, their numbers included up to two thousand girls who missed out on the chance for resettlement. One reason the girls were not recommended for resettlement was that many of them had been placed with foster families in Kakuma who would have opposed resettlement for fear of missing out on a dowry when the girl got married. In addition, since older Sudanese men played a big part in reviewing lists to determine which refugees were in Kakuma before 1995-and which, therefore, qualified for resettlement-some aid workers suspect the elders overlooked the girls in favor of boys who may or may not have been in Kakuma in time to qualify. 8
Holton corroborates the fact that most of the Lost Girls were placed into foster households largely because of “cultural tradition intended to protect girls within the family structure.” 9 He goes on to explain the importance of this for the unaccompanied girls, their foster families, and the impact it had on their potential resettlement, stating that:
When a girl is placed into a nonkin household, her individual identity, in a sense, becomes subsumed into that of the family. She is, in most cases, no longer listed as an individual refugee, eligible for a food-ration card and the independent status necessary for resettlement. Usually, the foster household’s family size is increased in the camp records, which allows for a subsequent increase in family rations. In some cases, however, even this is overlooked, thus placing the child in the vulnerable position of taking from a family’s already-scarce food supply.10
Thus cultural tradition as well as economic advantages for the foster family helped to create a situation in which the “girls were subsumed into a family and would be able to seek resettlement only with that family. Eventually, this caused many of the girls to lose the option of future resettlement as part of the unaccompanied-minor program that brought the Lost Boys to the United States in 2000.” 11 An additional element in the mix is that the big cities were considered to be dangerous and people felt girls and women would be more susceptible to brainwashing, and they would be absorbed by their new environment. It must have been very disheartening for these girls in the camps to know that they like the boys, lost loved ones, fled for their lives, journeyed thousands of miles to refugee camps, only to learn that they were not eligible for resettlement as unaccompanied minors!
The gender roles for girls and boys that carried through to their arrival in the United States are that the general belief is that boys and men are stronger and more resistant to changes in their new environment, and that girls and women remain susceptible to cultural influences and change (for good or ill). In some cases the fears of the community elders with regard to what might happen in a large city were justified because of the Lost Boys who came to Phoenix, about three percent have become homeless, addicted to substances, have had negative involvements with law enforcement and our judicial system. On the other hand, many of the Lost Boys have returned to South Sudan with the intention of finding a life partner, marrying, and returning to the U.S. to start a new chapter in their lives. These former Lost Boys (now men) and their wives are producing a new generation of children who are called South Sudanese Americans. This is why reconciliation efforts are important, so that this new generation will be able to live in peace and harmony.
Women and children will benefit from my project through education and awareness of peace and reconciliation methods, while working together for the common good alongside the boys and men in outreach projects. This will help to unify the community and enable others to be engaged in reconciliation efforts locally and abroad.
For this project I interviewed some of the Lost Boys in my community in order to find out about their experiences as young men in South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and in the United States. I chose to interview them and not some of the other young men in my congregation because the Lost Boys have a very interesting history. Their history is one of suffering but also of solidarity and supporting one another, patience and endurance, hope and commitment to work towards a better and brighter future that is free from conflict. Their stories of resilience and their examples of commitment are important for the new generation of South Sudanese Americans now being raised.
I sent out letters of invitation to prospective interviewees explaining my project to them and invited them to participate in my research. I designed a questionnaire to gather some basic demographic information, and to capture descriptions of their journeys as refugees as they went from South Sudan to Ethiopia, from Ethiopia back to South Sudan, from South Sudan to Kenya and from Kenya to the United States. I wished to find out what experiences they had in different locales, what they did to survive, how they interacted with and helped one another, and what their relationship with God was. I asked about these particular issues because conflict in their local areas was the reason they fled for their lives and undertook their long journeys to resettlement camps. They became a generation without parents, and they had to become self- reliant, yet live and work to survive with others on the journey too. Thus they had both terrible experiences and experiences of support and care from others within their immediate groups and from “outside” entities such as Non-Governmental Organizations, Churches, militia members and other people. Through others reaching out to them in their time of need and indeed helping people in their own groups, they experienced working together for a common good…in this case their very survival. I hoped to be able to glean information from their experiences that would ultimately benefit others through a ministry of reconciliation and engaging in outreach activities for the common good.
I arranged to meet with those who agreed to participate on an individual basis, and set up a time schedule to interview them. The questionnaire was completed and I asked questions to flesh out information provided in the questionnaire. My research assistant was present during the interviews as a silent observer and note taker. For some of the interviewees, additional time was needed to complete the interviews, and extra time was scheduled for this. After each interview, the information was documented in writing and save in an electronic file for final compilation once all of the interviews were completed.
To recap, Sudan went through many years of civil war which resulted in millions of people being killed, or displaced. Large groups of young men and women became part of the sea of people who fled for their lives, traveling thousands of miles, and eventually ending up in refugee camps before some of them were relocated to the United States. They faced many challenges post resettlement in the United States, and among some of these Lost Boys in my church community here in Phoenix, there is a need for reconciliation and healing in their relationships with God, themselves, and others who caused them to be traumatized when they were very young because of the wars.
The remaining chapters of this thesis contain the following information: Chapter 2 covers how these Sudanese Refugees came to America including a brief historical overview of Sudan, how these young men became refugees, their journeys to freedom, the complexity of the situation in Sudan, and their arrival in Arizona. Chapter 3 details the stories of the Lost Boys that I interviewed, and includes information from the questionnaire about their experiences. The psychological, spiritual, and other needs of refugees in general are also covered. Chapter 4 examines a biblical approach to reconciliation, theological issues with regard to reconciliation and the dynamics and processes of reconciliation. Chapter 5 covers my proposal for a ministry of reconciliation with the Lost Boys, and Chapter 6 contains my conclusions, insights and learning, and implications for ministry
Conclusion: From the Past to the Present
Caring for others was a central part of Jesus’ ministry and it should be a central part of any ministry. The consequence of failing to adequately address the needs of all people is that there will continue to be the “haves” and the “have not’s” in the world and this inequality will lead to more civil unrest and destruction of life and property.
In the first chapter of this thesis I questioned whether anything could be learned from the suffering of the Lost Boys of Sudan I stated that in examining and understanding the experiences of traumatic suffering among Sudanese refugees, one can help to bring about reconciliation among them that will lead toward deeper involvement in Christian outreach. I also hoped to find out what can be done to bring about forgiveness, healing, and transformation in the South Sudanese community and among the Lost Boys in Phoenix, Arizona. As a Southern Sudanese citizen I believe we have a role to play in reconciliation and forgiveness. I urge the South Sudanese, those who are members of St. Paul’s in Phoenix and others in the Sudanese community in Phoenix to accept peace building, reconciliation and forgiveness as a means of living together as “brothers’ keepers”. The community must adopt reconciliation as a vehicle to allow dialog and resolution of issues, to change our perception about how to live in harmony, and peace.
In a very real sense what happened to the Lost Boys and other South Sudanese could be considered the “Black Holocaust” in South Sudan. I can state this because I am a survivor of torture, I have lost family members and I am a victim of the civil war in South Sudan. The civil war uprooted the Lost Boys (and Girls) from their home environments and caused thousands of people to flee. Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness for years, and the Lost Boys for months, not knowing where they were going, they pressed on anyway. They had to in order to survive.
When the Lost Boys arrived in the United States this country really did not know the extent of what was going on in South Sudan. After they came however, people, governmental and resettlement agencies began to ask questions about who these Lost Boys were, how they came to be known as Lost Boys, and how they came to be in the U.S. It was through their stories that people began to learn about the causes of the war, the atrocities and the bleak situation that was extant at that time…and still is today. Eventually the stories of the Lost Boys became known at the State and Federal government levels as churches took interest in their plight. Gradually addresses to the U.S. Congress were given, urging action to be taken. Still later people in the highest levels of other international governments began to understand that there was a real problem in South Sudan. Ultimately, because of the awareness of the international community and pressure to do something about the crisis in Sudan, the Khartoum government was forced to come to the negotiating table to work out a peaceful solution. This became known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which later led to the independence of South Sudan.
Credit is due to those who have helped the Lost Boys become who they are today. The first people who picked up on the stories of the Lost Boys were the journalists who went to see what was going on and who wrote about it; the United Nations who prepared the way for resettlement of the Lost Boys into other countries; the countries who agreed to accept these refugees; the various agencies who worked with the refugees to help them get settled and begin life again in a new place; the churches who provided a place for them to worship and who provided financial resources to enable them to get scholarships to schools and universities; and foster families who hosted the Lost Boys who were underage, and cared for them until they reached the age of majority.
Finally, great credit is to be given to the Lost Boys themselves because of their determination and will to survive against all odds and for their tenacity and persistence in trying to achieve new goals and objectives. Many of the Lost Boys have completed their education and have become a resource to others working for the State Department, hospitals, the U.S. military and in public safety, as translators. Still others have returned to South Sudan to work there in community building alongside NGO’S, and they look forward to building a new country, where people are free from the domination by Arabs or anyone else; a place where no one goes without food, medical care and other basic needs; to a future where everyone is treated with respect and dignity; to live and work in a country where there is no discrimination and class divisions; people live in harmony and work for the common good of all.
I encourage the government and country of South Sudan to welcome back South Sudanese, Lost Boys and others who left the country due to the war without suspicion, and discrimination, so that the rebuilding of the country can begin. I hope peace and reconciliation will prevail and restore our dignity, unity, and support of one another. To set aside past problems so we can move forward and build a nation based on freedom and transparency…to be “Brother’s Keepers” to each other.
Insights and Learning
Among the things that I have learned is that forced migration has become one of the world’s major problems because of the numerous armed conflicts that have broken out world-wide, which in turn has created huge numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and displaced persons. Often people in these groups have suffered trauma and injustices that have created a crisis of trust, faith and meaning in their lives. These injustices and traumas need to be remembered and redeemed so that healing and reconciliation can take place and people can be freed from the oppressions of the past.1 Governmental, medical, religious, social, cultural and other systems can either aid or be obstacles to people in the resettlement process, when trying to obtain mental and personal health care, employment, education and in general reconciling the past and adjusting to life anew. Too, the availability of work and other meaningful activities in a safe environment is critical to the goal of recreating a sense of purpose and identity for most persons. The needs of refugees are complex, requiring a multicultural holistic care approach in service provision.2
I have also learned that for both victims and survivors, the reconciliation process is of central importance. Reconciliation is achieved when the perpetrators have repented and the victims have forgiven.3 Also, forgiveness opens the door for reconciliation, and in order for trust to be restored, the truth of history must be told and repaired. 4
I learned from the interviews, that there was great solidarity among those who journeyed from South Sudan to Ethiopia; Ethiopia to South Sudan; South Sudan to Kenya and from Kenya to the United States. These young men learned how to be independent and how to care for themselves. When moving in groups they learned how to be supportive of one another for the common good thus carrying out the moral obligation to love and care for one another, that had traditionally been passed down from one generation to the next. Some of them laid down their lives for others, especially when fighting wild animals, and crossing crocodile filled rivers on their treks, they also shared what little food they were able to obtain with others. In the midst of suffering, they did not forget God and worshipped when and where they could, using prayer and discernment as tools to guide them.
Ethnically the Lost Boys identified themselves as being from different territories and tribal groups: the Nuba Mountains, Nuer, Equatorius, Chollo Kingdom, Jur-Chol and Dinka etc. Through the difficult journeys they worked together as biological brothers and I view this as their true identification because they cared for each other, living together in groups, sharing resources and they buried each other as they were struck by multiple forces of death. Although they are a generation that grew up in war, along the way, they became a new generation of individuals that today’s leaders can look to because of their resiliency.
These survivors have a great deal of experience which others need to read about and hear about. The skills they developed in order to survive, and lessons learned can be useful to others. In this way then their suffering years ago has been redeemed, but there are other challenges they face today that need to be addressed.
The Lost Boys missed being raised by parents. In Sudan as in other countries, children between infancy and the age of fifteen are normally raised by their parents, who will give them advice and discipline them as appropriate teaching them what is right and wrong. When they go to school, parents look over the homework and keep track of what the kids are doing in school as well as at home. The Lost Boys became a generation without parents, thus they did not have the guidance of their parents to help them negotiate many of life’s problems. The corpus of basic knowledge that they have today has been influenced by their experiences. They have a limited perspective, and some suffer from psychological problems as a result of the traumas they have been through.
On the positive side they have had the experience of living and working together in order to survive. After arrival and assimilation here in the U.S. however, they began to go back to the older (and less mature) ways of dealing with issues. The importance of family values has decreased and divisions have arisen, resulting in a lack of community esprit de corps, which has also spilled over into the church. Some of the Lost Boys have a spirit of revenge because of what happened to them. Tribalism has arisen to the extent that if one ethnic group has a majority of people in a church, they view the church as being theirs (such as, this is a Dinka or Nuer church) or another group might come from a different region and then the divisions take place on a regional level. This makes community life difficult, and this is why I hope that our ministry of reconciliation will bring about changes that result in the community living in peace and harmony rather than being divided.
During the interviews I conducted everyone spoke about peace and reconciliation.
This does not mean that the interviewees do not have difficulties and issues to resolve. It does mean though that many of them are willing to set these difficulties and issues aside in order to work for the common good of everyone. For example, interviewee #1 recently lost his father in Bor, Jongeli State (he was killed by members of the Nuer tribe), but he is still open to reconciliation and wants to work for peace so people can live together in harmony. Interviewee #6 indicated that for him, there is no other way to survive and live together in one community but by reconciliation. Reconciliation is the solution for living in community today.5
Implications for Ministry
In light of what I have learned I have identified some areas in which my practice of ministry can be expanded. As mentioned in the previous chapter, locally my congregation can establish a council of elders to whom problems can be brought if they cannot be resolved between parties in another way. Differences that exist between the Lost Boys and members of the larger South Sudanese community need to be worked out to bring about peace and reconciliation. Also we can sponsor children and youth who wish to go to church camp and take them on outings to enrich their lives. In South Sudan, the practice of ministry might be modified through the establishment of community centers, delivering water filters and medicines and other projects to address the needs of the community.
In the larger community members of society need to help those fleeing from persecution, human rights violations etc. Too, efforts need to be undertaken to extend invitations for reconciliation between parties that are in need of reconciliation. Further, I recommend fostering religious dialog between Christian and Muslims because the suffering the Lost Boys endured was a result of religious differences, and the political, economic, sociological ambitions to impose one culture upon another. The church in general needs to be in the forefront in combating racism, human rights violations and the help those in need to obtain professional care and counsel in putting their lives back together in a meaningful way. All of God’s people need to work together to create communities of solidarity committed to building a future together.
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