‘Lost Boy’ finds way to Southern Wesleyan University
With Abraham Deng’s broad smile and enthusiastic manner, he doesn’t seem lost at all.
He is a student at Southern Wesleyan University, excelling in his studies, excited about his spiritual growth and happy to spend time with his friends.
He is, however, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a refugee from Africa.
As a 6-year-old, Abraham was forced to run for his life, orphaned by war. Southern Wesleyan University is the latest stop on Abraham’s tough journey -- one that has taken him across several African countries and all the way to Central, S.C.
Born in 1981, Abraham lived with his family in a Christian village in Duk, a small town in Sudan.
War broke out in Sudan in 1983. Four years later, when Abraham was age 6, his village was attacked and destroyed. Abraham and many other boys were away from home at a cattle camp when the attack occurred.
“I got separated from my family. My village was attacked. I ran into the jungle,” he said.
Abraham was one of an estimated 20,000 Sudanese boys, ages 6 and 7, who were orphaned or separated from their families. The boys were forced to flee on foot through the wilderness to Ethiopia, a walk of a thousand miles. About half of the boys are thought to have died trying to find their way to safety. Abraham and the other Lost Boys faced starvation, dehydration and fatigue. They faced the threat of being shot or captured and enslaved. They were also prey for hyenas, crocodiles and lions.
Abraham lived with other refugees in Ethiopia from 1987 to 1991, then moved to a camp in Kenya in 1992, where he lived with others from Sudan, Somalia and other countries.
At age 12, Abraham received news that his father had died in the village attack, along with Abraham’s five uncles. He still had no idea what had happened to his mother, his brother and his sisters.
|“Education is my mother and father.”
- Lost Boys proverb
In the refugee camp, Abraham had some education and became fluent in English. He and his fellow refugees were fed one meal a day of either corn or beans. There was very poor sanitation in the camp. Now a biology student, Abraham is amazed that the camp of 60,000 refugees only had one microscope and one clinic. Books and pencils were also scarce.
Then, a program was introduced that would bring 4,000 Lost Boys to the United States to gain an education.
“This is a process designed by the United Nations and the U.S. government,” Abraham said. “They looked at us and said, ‘This is not sufficient. Their suffering is enough and they should go to a place to continue their education.’”
After filling out paperwork, going through an interview process and explaining his hopes and dreams to the officials, Abraham was selected to come to the United States.
He arrived in the U.S. in 2001, first living in Florida, then in Atlanta. Abraham’s only relative in the United States, a cousin, lives in Atlanta.
In 2001, Abraham heard a piece of amazing news. A fellow Lost Boy living in Virginia told Abraham that he had located Abraham’s mother, brother and sisters living in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. After a phone conversation and exchanging photos, there was no doubt that Abraham and his mother had found one another after 14 years apart. His brother, now age 13, and his sisters, ages 20, 18 and 16, live with their mother.
After settling in to American life and attending a community college, Abraham became interested in attending a university with a Christian emphasis. A friend from the Lost Boys’ Foundation, Ed Bryant, recommended Southern Wesleyan University. Bryant’s connections with the university run deep. He grew up on the Southern Wesleyan University campus. His father, Clyde, was a pastor at First Wesleyan Church and a member of the university’s board of trustees. Ed’s mother and sister both graduated from Southern Wesleyan.
“I think highly of the university. It has a smaller, caring, Christian environment and community,” Bryant said.
|“He is known as one of the ‘Lost Boys’ but, in truth, he never was lost to God.”
- Dr. David Spittal, university president
Abraham began his first year at Southern Wesleyan University as a sophomore in the fall of 2004. He is majoring in chemistry and biology and hopes to become a physician’s assistant and then a doctor. So far, Abraham has earned a 3.85 grade point average at SWU.
Bryant is pleased with Abraham’s success at the university.
“It has been a real privilege for me and my family to see Abraham succeed academically. It has been a joy to see how the Lord has worked in his life,” Bryant said.
This summer will mean more studies for Abraham. He’ll be living in Florida and taking classes to become a certified nurse assistant.
He sees his life going in a direction that will help the people from his homeland. Abraham hopes to become a U.S. citizen and work with an international medical group to bring help to African refugees.
Abraham’s dream of one day becoming a doctor will help him bring people closer to Christ, he said.
“People sometimes are very ill and they lose hope when they are sick,” Abraham said. “I would like to encourage them to have faith in Christ.”
Abraham finds special inspiration in the scripture passage Matthew 17:20, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Southern Wesleyan University President David Spittal is inspired by the faith that brought Abraham to Central.
“Abraham has been a blessing to this campus and his vital faith has challenged all of us to trust God fully and completely,” Dr. Spittal said. “He is known as one of the ‘Lost Boys’ but, in truth, he never was lost to God. Abraham’s long journey led him to this campus and I believe God has a significant purpose for his life.”
Today, the north and south factions of Sudan have signed a peace agreement, but there is still genocide in the western part of the country, Abraham said. He believes peace will not come easily or swiftly to Sudan because of the deep religious differences between the Muslims and the Christians.
“Peace is more than signing a piece of paper,” Abraham said. “Being over here, we Lost Boys are the instruments of Sudan. I wish we could raise more awareness to ensure that the next generation will not have this situation.”
While there are many things Abraham enjoys about living in the United States, from pizza to cooking spaghetti, his favorite thing about life here is the opportunity for education. And education is also his biggest challenge.
“In America, your education is your personal responsibility,” he said. “It is an individual’s responsibility to set goals for his life. You have to figure out what direction your life will go in.”
Paying for his university tuition worries Abraham the most, he said. Southern Wesleyan University has provided a scholarship for him to which donors may contribute. Abraham also struggles to pay for things like his car insurance and his cell phone, he said.
But he enjoys living and learning at Southern Wesleyan University. When he’s not busy working or studying, Abraham loves spending time with his friends.
“This is a great experience, to live with people who have Christ-like attributes. It’s been wonderful,” he said. “All my professors have been nice. They have extensive knowledge of the material.”
As he works toward his goals in the United States, Abraham often misses his friends and family in Africa. The plentiful food and clothing that Abraham has found in the United States would be even more satisfying if he could share them with those he left behind, he said.
“If I had wings, I would give these things to my friends in Africa,” he said.