Bishop Abraham Yel Nhial, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” and an advocate, minister and church leader, painted a mental picture for the audience at the Anglican Church of the Holy Trinity on July 3 of his experience and of the religious and sectarian violence that has devastated his country for decades.
He challenged them to do as he is doing: Help meet the needs of people in that region and to thank God that they were born in America.
“Americans do not understand how blessed they are,” he said. “Children complain and want more. They take their lives for granted. They should be glad for their forefathers who fought for this nation. Parents should teach children and grandchildren that this is a nation blessed by God.”
Bishop Nhial was born in the village of Aweil in south Sudan, but he does not know how old he is.
Sudan, one of the larger nations in Africa, borders seven other countries.
“The village was my whole world,” he said. “We had no running water or electricity. We were not allowed to go to school.”
Nhial was one more than 20,000 boys who were displaced or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983 to 2005. About 2.5 million people were killed and millions displaced.
Nhial’s mother, brother and sisters were among those killed.
“Lost Boys” was a term used by aid workers in the refugee camps. Government troops and militias from the north attacked villages in South Sudan and killed inhabitants. Many boys escaped because they were away tending cattle and were able to flee.
Nhial cited three reasons for the fighting: resources were not equitably distributed – the north was much more developed; Arabization; and religion.
“The Sudan government signed an agreement with a government that was Muslim,” he said. “The mission of the radical Muslims was to convert Africans by force. North Africa was almost all Muslim.”
Nhial walked more than 1,000 miles seeking refuge. He thinks he was about 9 years old then. Over half the boys died of starvation, dehydration, disease and attacks by wild animals. Still not safe from radical Muslims, he traveled to Kenya.
“In 1981, it was the first time I had gone to school or to church. I was invited to go to church. The pastor preached and I gave my life.”
He came to America in 1992. He studied for the ministry at the Trinity School for Ministers (Anglican) at Cambridge, Pa.
“God kept us alive to witness what took place in our country, to tell about the suffering,” he said.
In 2001, he was living in Atlanta. “People were surprised that we did not seem to make a big thing of 9/11,” he said. “They did not realize we were used to bombing and killing.”
In 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Act was signed by north and south Sudan, allowing the Lost Boys (and Girls) to return to their homeland.
Nhial went back in 2008 to build up the church.
In January 2011, 99.47 percent of the people in south Sudan voted to separate from the north.
“However, the war is still going on there along the borders and in the mountains,” he said. “We need your prayers. Write to your Congressmen and Congresswomen. Something needs to be done in Sudan.”
Nhial is head of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. The Diocese of Aweil is one of the largest in Sudan. About 99 percent of south Sudan is Christian.
“Killing has been going on there for more than 50 years,” he said. “We need you to come, bring your Bibles, witness to them.”
Bishop Rob Hartley, pastor of the church in North Augusta, said there are 80 million Anglicans and five million are in Sudan.
“There is a lot going on there,” he said. “Our church is studying the area. We would love to be able to partner with Brother Abraham.”