“I miss Sudan.”
He was feeling reminiscent today, nostalgic even. Sometimes we chat about tests he’s studying for or issues with friends in the dorm. Often it will be the ups-and-downs he experiences in his walk with the Lord. We focus on accountability and the constant struggle of sin in our lives. Once in a while the conversation might turn to that girl, the one everyone assumes he likes but he insists is just a good friend.
Not today. Today, he wanted to talk about home. Sudan.
Of course, any mention of the word home with MKs exposes a broad range of meanings. For this student, at least today, home meant Sudan. This is where he spent most of his childhood. In the years before coming to RVA, he lived on a farm outside of the city and commuted to an International day school. His best friend, another MK from Switzerland, went to school with him. This is the period in time he remembers as the good ole’ days, though as he describes his life there, it’s hard to believe why.
He remembers, with what can only be described as fondness, the harsh living conditions; if they had relied on rain for their water supply, they would’ve died of thirst. It was a remote place, a hard place, but it was undoubtedly the place their family was most needed. The Sudanese people they served were not Christian, and their ministry was making an impact. They were helping people. His dad was training them to raise crops in an unforgiving environment, how to get clean water, and how to conserve.
A place where rain would fall only a few times a year and the mercury would climb higher each day, the air so thick it was hard to breathe – this is the place he was homesick for today.
At certain points in the conversation, I couldn’t tell if what he was missing more was a time or a place. Growing up for this young man has been a series of goodbyes. Goodbyes to people, farewells to places, and see-you-laters to chapters in his life he won’t likely see again. It was a simpler time, though, and a younger version of himself battled less with the unknowns and the what-ifs of a teenager. He smiled as he explained how he used to be able to relate to just about anyone, as long as there was a soccer ball involved; it was the one language in which everyone was fluent.
South Korea doesn’t feel like home, although that’s what his passport says. South Sudan, where his parents are now working, doesn’t either. Kenya is where he goes to school and has spent the vast majority of the last 4 years, but its not home either.
The reality is - he can’t go home. In December of 2012, his family, along with all other Christians, humanitarian aid workers, and anyone affiliated with anything that wasn’t Muslim, were forced to leave.
“We were told to leave, but we couldn’t because they were holding our passports.”
It was a purging of the country. The government wanted to make it a Holy Nation, and in Islamic terms, that meant no infidels. Everybody out. They were forced to go to the airport and wait for someone who promised to bring their passports to them. As it turned out, that ‘someone’ didn’t show up that day. So his family spent the night in the street across from the South Korean embassy.
He chuckles as if the significance of that day just now struck him, “Huh. That was Christmas Eve.”
He and his family left their home in Sudan on Christmas Day of 2012 and will likely never go back. Today he’s feeling a bit gloomy, a little down.
What could I say?
Sometimes I feel like I have something to contribute to the conversation – some pearl of wisdom or a Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to mind. Once in a while I can offer a strategy for fighting sin or a bit of perspective from an adult who’s been there. Not today. Today I had nothing. I just listened. I asked a few questions. I told him I would pray.
I failed at an attempt to make him feel better: “everybody goes through changes as they grow up” I said. I regretted those words as soon as I said them. Of course, he wasn’t offended. I’m not sure he even sees his story as different from anyone else’s. He’s never mentioned any of these details before today, and we’ve been meeting weekly for over 2 years. ‘'
I am blessed to be involved in mentoring relationships with several young men on campus this year. Every time we sit down, I’m challenged. Every time we talk, I’m encouraged. Every time I hear a story about what they’re struggling with and how the Lord is working in their lives, I’m convicted to walk closer to the Lord myself. What a privilege and an honor to work here and live life with these students!
Who’s mentoring who, anyway?
*this story was published with the permission of the student*