In 1987, 8-year-old Daniel was at church with his family when government-funded militiamen attacked his village in southern Sudan.
“In the evening we attended church,” Daniel says, “and armies from the north–they came and surrounded the church. We were praying. They entered the church and they started killing the people who were close to the door. So at that time I just jumped out of the room, and I ran to the bush.”
Sudan is the largest country in Africa, and its Arab-Islamic government, centered in the northern city of Khartoum, has struggled with the largely Christian, black Sudanese in the south for centuries because of religious and cultural differences. In the late ’80s, the government also wanted control of the oil found in southern Sudan.
Armed with machine guns and the government’s financial support, militiamen called Murahaleen arrived on horseback, burned entire villages, and murdered more than two million people. But some villagers were able to run.
“I met the pastor who was preaching in the church,” Daniel says. “I met him hiding in the bush, and we went to Ethiopia. So I left my mom and my parents; I didn’t know where they were in the church, but most of them ran away because they were fearing to be killed.”
Those who escaped walked east to Ethiopia to find refuge. “It took me 15 days to go to Ethiopia,” Daniel says. There was no food and no water along the way. As they walked, refugees encountered land mines and other obstacles. “It was very hard for us,” Daniel says. “We crossed a lot of ways and a lot of roads, and we dodged a lot of bombs along the way until we came to Ethiopia.”
In Ethiopia, Daniel stayed in a camp with more than 20,000 other refugees for four years, until a civil war began between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Daniel’s refugee camp received a warning that Eritrean rebels were going to attack, so they fled back to Sudan.
“We walked… a long way from Ethiopia,” Daniel says, “and on the way I remember one thing that I will never forget: There was a river [the Gilo River] that we had to cross. [The Eritrean rebels] were forcing us to cross that river… they were killing a lot of people. So when you see people dying, you just jump in the water to go to the other side. More than 2,000 people remained in that river. During that time I think God helped me to cross it because I didn’t know how to swim very well.”
Thousands of refugees arrived in Pochalla, Sudan, after surviving the journey from Ethiopia. But six months later, the Sudanese government attacked Pochalla. “They had a lot of helicopters and planes to bomb that area, and we saw a lot of people die,” Daniel says.
With 16,000 other refugees, Daniel fled Sudan again and walked a grueling journey over 200 miles southeast to Kenya. “It was very hard for us,” Daniel says. “A lot of people were killed on the way. But I think when you pray and talk to God I think God helps a lot. We were supporting each other on the way, but I think it was through God that we can pass all this.”
Daniel lived in a Kenyan refugee camp called Kakuma for nine years. In 1997, the United Nations started a program for refugees that allowed about 4,000 lost children to be relocated to cities in the United States. Daniel moved to America in 2001, when he was 21-years old. Because many of the refugees were young boys, they soon became known as the Lost Boys of Sudan.
“There were some churches that committed to bring us here to America,” Daniel says. “When I came here I heard that my Mom is alive in Uganda as a refugee. But my Father is not alive. My Father is dead during the war. My mom is alive, and my brothers are there too … I talk to her on the phone.”
Daniel sensed God’s presence during these difficult times, and his faith grew despite his circumstances. “Sometimes,” Daniel says, “you think that maybe God is giving us a punishment … because when we left home, many of us were seeing a lot of people dying. … But when you look at it, it’s because of the system in Sudan, not God. If there was no God, I would not be alive.”
“God will always employ other people to do His will,” Daniel says. “I heard about Billy Graham when I was in Africa. … When he went to Africa … he used to have a lot of people attend his services. A lot of people knew about him in Africa because he was a true believer of God, and he really talked to people directly. Many people believed his words.”
Daniel was able to read the Bible and worship with other believers in the refugee camps and while they were walking. “I remember in one of the chapters of a book in the Bible, it says if one limb of your body is suffering, the whole parts of the body will be suffering,” Daniel says. “When other people see the world like that–if other people are suffering somewhere and they need their help–even if they’re not your friend, they’re not your relative … one part of your body is suffering, the Sudanese. You need to go back and help them.”