Kenya is largely responsible for tracking Sudanese refugees and helping them apply to either the United States of America, Great Britain or Australia for refugee asylum. During the period of time that James was attending school, the Kenyan government was helping him attain refugee status. After it was secured for both he and his fiancee, the government then assisted them in applying for visas to all three countries available to them.
The process however, was a long one and in the meantime James finished his education at Open Door’s Bible School. Once he had completed his schooling and still received no word concerning a visa, he found himself increasingly drawn to his homeland and those still suffering there. He felt an immense responsibility to use the blessings of his education and contacts with the West to help his people. He was compelled to return to minister to them both physically and spiritually. Many years had passed while the young boy who had fled Nyamlell grew into the man he had become and as far as he knew, none of his family had survived the Janjuweed’s murderous rampage through his village. Regardless, he set his heart towards the North and began to prepare for his return.
Over the years, James’ character and courage had been tested in countless ways and he had proven himself over and over again. He must have thought back over all of these things as he looked towards home and the unknown of his future. What he did not know however, was that another test awaited him and it was nearer than he could have imagined.
James would be forced to choose between his two greatest loves.
The day before he was to leave Kenya for Sudan he found to his surprise that his name was on the visa list to the United States of America. At the same time, his fiancee found her name on the list for Australia. Suddenly, James found himself at a crossroads. Down one path lay limitless opportunity, quite literally the chance of a lifetime. If he accepted, he would have full refugee status in the U.S. He would be able to attend college and pursue the career of his choice. He and his fiancee could be married enter the country together and establish their family in comfort and security. The sweet years of fulfulliment that followed would undoubtedly soften the edges of the loss and horror of the years behind them. Night after night as they slept peacefully beside each other in a soft bed somewhere in suburbia and the only sound that met their ears was the soft snoring of their children sleeping safely in the next room, the terror and exhaustion of nights spent on the run would surely fade. Perhaps, when they held their first baby in their arms and saw there in her face traces of family lost long ago, at last the grief which had blanketed their souls since they were but children would be softened by the hope of their future together. In all appearances, those visas were the promise of a dream. No one would blame them for siezing such an opportunity. Surely, they had endured far more than their share of suffering.
Down the other path awaited a starkly different destiny. As James peered down that path he must have struggled to see anything but hardship, hunger, poverty and despair. There on that path, his people were dying and orphaned children wandered from place to place begging for food and searching for what shelter they could find. If he turned his ear toward that road he would hear the faint cries of a young girls sold into sexual slavery and the terror of a small boy as hyenas ripped his frail body to shreds as he slept in the bush.
And if he listened more closely, he would hear the sound he feared most; the sound that haunted his dreams. He would hear the pounding of the horse’s hooves as the Janjuweed returned.
But God’s call would not be silenced, for there on that path stood Another whose ear was bent to listen attentively to the cries of the suffering. With pierced hands he gathered the orphaned boy once devoured by hyenas into his arms and eternal peace and as He did, He turned towards James, his eyes filled with compassion and said,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21
James determined in his heart that he would answer the call. He would turn his back on the comfort of the temporal and choose instead to invest in the eternal.
He went to his fiancee and implored her to marry him and return with him to minister to their people. She, however did not hear share his vision. She wanted to leave behind the suffering and embrace the life of promise awaiting her.
And so, James Lual Atak suffered heartbreak once again. He lost his bride.
*James’ story continues in my next post.
*All Darfur photography is courtesy of Darlene Dyson