Two places and times:
A small, loving San Diego church, 2018.
A small, loving South Sudan tribal village, 1987.
A father of two who supports his family, church, and community.
A young boy who tends cattle.
When Nicodemus was eight or nine, about a year after his family converted to Christianity, civil war reached his village. As bombs and “fire from the sky” fell, he and the other boys minding the cattle had to flee. They joined other people on the months-long walk to a camp in Ethiopia, whatever or wherever Ethiopia was. Nicodemus had only known about his village. But he followed. It would be several years before he knew what happened to his family.
People ate leaves and any fruit they could find. When they crossed the desert, they walked with one person’s head on another’s shoulder for the shade. Then they traded places. Nicodemus had no shoes.
Often the people hid from bombs during the day and walked through other night dangers. Startled animals raced through the group in fear, sometimes injuring or killing the refugees. There were also predators. The walkers followed someone wearing a white shirt and held on to the person in front of them.
Nicodemus’ knowledge of God’s love gave him strength and comfort.
The camp was a spot by a river where refugees gathered. With no food or shelter, disease and death spread. Eventually, the U.N. brought supplies and education. Nicodemus, who didn’t know English or the concept of reading and writing, learned his A,B,C’s.
In 1991, a new regime in Ethiopia forced the refugees back to Sudan. People were shot or eaten by crocodiles when they were forced to cross the river.*
After another arduous journey, Nicodemus made it to a refugee camp in Kenya, where he waited for 9 more years until he was able to fill one of 5,000 spots the U.S. promised for resettlement. Nicodemus had been persecuted for his Christianity. When he found a welcome from the Christian community of St. Luke’s, he finally felt home again.
Nicodemus worked hard to support himself and obtain a G.E.D. In 2007, he earned a degree in Information Systems from Pt. Loma Nazarene, where he had worked as a groundskeeper. Since his graduation he’s worked in data processing, help desk analysis, and is currently an information systems analyst for San Diego City.
Nicodemus never saw his parents again. But when he returned to Africa for about a year, remaining family members played traditional roles as he courted and married. Nicodemus and Rachel have two children.
Before knowing Nicodemus or any of his story, I was struck by the tenderness he shows his children. Nicodemus has truly traveled through “the valley of the shadow of death,” and is a loving family man, who helps where he sees need and joins others in sustaining the St. Luke’s missions, with God’s help.
*Nicodemus appears in They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky, by Benson Deng, Alephonsion Deng, and Benjamin Ajak, the true story of three other Lost Boys.