John Bul Dau Shares ‘Living Testimony’ at GCU

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LAKEWOOD, NJ—Author and philanthropist John Bul Dau (pictured with Dr. Linda James, psychology professor) is often invited to share his life story on college campuses and with other organizations, but there was something special about his November 7 talk at Georgian Court University.

A living testimony

“The fact that this school is faith-based, and not shying away from the Lord, made me happy to come and share my story with those I call my brothers and sisters,” said Mr. Dau, one of the former 27,000 Sudanese refugees who later became known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” His comments came during GCU’s 2014 Critical Concerns Week, which focused on the Sisters of Mercy’s commitment to immigration issues. The week is organized by the GCU Office of Mission.

“I like to say I have a living testimony,” Mr. Dau explained. “That’s my story, because I’m still alive. It’s a living story.”

Surviving in Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya

IMG_4252Mr. Dau, who was featured in the award-winning documentary film “God Grew Tired of Us,” is the author of the memoir, God Grew Tired of Us, published by National Geographic Press in 2007. He is also the co-author of Lost Boy, Lost Girl, and serves as president of the John Bul Dau Foundation, which advocates for dramatic changes in healthcare in South Sudan.

More than 250 GCU freshmen, and at least a dozen high school students from The Hun School of Princeton, listened intently as Mr. Dau shared how he and others like him survived brutal experiences in war-torn Sudan. He was only 12 years old when his village was attacked in 1987; he joined those who could get out, and headed—on foot—toward Ethiopia. It took three months to get there.

Along the way they were attacked by wild animals, and they subsisted on wild fruit. They dodged hyenas. They searched for water by listening for frogs, looking for grass and observing the skies to see if birds were circling above.

“If they are, either you are near water or there is a dead animal nearby,” he explained. During the journey, his group lost 23 members. By the time they arrived in Ethiopia only four, including Mr. Dau, remained.

So how did he keep his spirits up amid so much tragedy?

“I was assigned to a group of about 50 survivors once we crossed into the refugee camps Ethiopia, and that number grew to 1,200 boys. I was appointed their leader and there were many days when they begged—begged for food, milk, family.

“I would tell them something better is coming tomorrow— just have hope,” he said of his four years in the Ethiopian camps. “Still, two or three people died every day from measles, chickenpox, or cholera, but we didn’t give up. Eventually the United Nations brought us food used clothes and created a small clinic. They gave us blankets. Life was getting better.”

But more challenges were ahead. Government upheaval in Ethiopia forced the Lost Boys out. The 27,000 refugees were given seven days to leave the country, and while walking south toward Kenya, they were bombed, attacked by wild animals, and some were abducted. Those who continued battled starvation and thirst.

The power of education cannot be underestimated, Mr. Dau told GCU students, adding that he was 17 years old by the time he reached Kenya. That was when he began learning his ABCs, and reveled in the lessons taught “beneath the trees.”

“I like to say education is my mother and my father. We used to sit in the dirt and watch the teacher use her finger as a pencil to teach us. Education is so important and we forced ourselves to learn.”


Coming to America

He spent 10 years in Kenya and was 27 when a church in the U.S. stepped in, offering to sponsor some of the young men, including Mr. Dau. (Pictured at left with Liberia native Isalin Howard ’14, a current MBA student at GCU.)

The audience laughed with him as he described seeing his first snowfall, learning what a snowball was, and the wonder of automated doors at the grocery store—all of which made for some serious culture shock, he said.

“Even going into the grocery store and seeing aisle after aisle of groceries—some of them just for pets—was shocking,” he said. Soon, he took a job McDonald’s and took on other part-time work, sometimes clocking 60 hours in his various jobs. “I would get about two hours of sleep. I was happy, but it was a difficult time. I never expected a handout and I wanted to help the boys back in the refugee camp.”

That thinking—giving back and helping others in dire situations—motivated him to earn an associate’s degree, complete his bachelor’s degree and establish the Lost Boys Foundation of New York.

“I raised $35,000 through that organization and then formed another one. This time, we raised $180,000 to start a clinic,” said Mr. Dau. “That led to the South Sudanese Institute, which focuses on agriculture, education and peace building. Today, through all of our nonprofit work, we have raised over $3 million.”

A matter of faith

The freshmen, who read God Grew Tired of Us as part of the First-Year Seminar classes, were curious to know how Mr. Dau remained encouraged, and how he could tell his story without being bitter.

“If you have listen to the first part of my story, it was very bad,” he said, answering their questions. “But I survived because of two things: the Almighty God – God decided I would not lose my life, and he kept me. And I never gave up. Through it all, I wanted to survive.

“Sometimes when we are faced with adversity and challenges, we want to give up,” said Mr. Dau. “If anything happens, do not let those things hold you hostage. If anything should happen to you, start your life anew and move forward. Success and struggle are a package you can never separate.”

IMG_4215

LAKEWOOD, NJ—Author and philanthropist John Bul Dau (pictured with Dr. Linda James, psychology professor) is often invited to share his life story on college campuses and with other organizations, but there was something special about his November 7 talk at Georgian Court University.

A living testimony

“The fact that this school is faith-based, and not shying away from the Lord, made me happy to come and share my story with those I call my brothers and sisters,” said Mr. Dau, one of the former 27,000 Sudanese refugees who later became known as the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” His comments came during GCU’s 2014 Critical Concerns Week, which focused on the Sisters of Mercy’s commitment to immigration issues. The week is organized by the GCU Office of Mission.

“I like to say I have a living testimony,” Mr. Dau explained. “That’s my story, because I’m still alive. It’s a living story.”

Surviving in Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya

IMG_4252Mr. Dau, who was featured in the award-winning documentary film “God Grew Tired of Us,” is the author of the memoir, God Grew Tired of Us, published by National Geographic Press in 2007. He is also the co-author of Lost Boy, Lost Girl, and serves as president of the John Bul Dau Foundation, which advocates for dramatic changes in healthcare in South Sudan.

More than 250 GCU freshmen, and at least a dozen high school students from The Hun School of Princeton, listened intently as Mr. Dau shared how he and others like him survived brutal experiences in war-torn Sudan. He was only 12 years old when his village was attacked in 1987; he joined those who could get out, and headed—on foot—toward Ethiopia. It took three months to get there.

Along the way they were attacked by wild animals, and they subsisted on wild fruit. They dodged hyenas. They searched for water by listening for frogs, looking for grass and observing the skies to see if birds were circling above.

“If they are, either you are near water or there is a dead animal nearby,” he explained. During the journey, his group lost 23 members. By the time they arrived in Ethiopia only four, including Mr. Dau, remained.

So how did he keep his spirits up amid so much tragedy?

“I was assigned to a group of about 50 survivors once we crossed into the refugee camps Ethiopia, and that number grew to 1,200 boys. I was appointed their leader and there were many days when they begged—begged for food, milk, family.

“I would tell them something better is coming tomorrow— just have hope,” he said of his four years in the Ethiopian camps. “Still, two or three people died every day from measles, chickenpox, or cholera, but we didn’t give up. Eventually the United Nations brought us food used clothes and created a small clinic. They gave us blankets. Life was getting better.”

But more challenges were ahead. Government upheaval in Ethiopia forced the Lost Boys out. The 27,000 refugees were given seven days to leave the country, and while walking south toward Kenya, they were bombed, attacked by wild animals, and some were abducted. Those who continued battled starvation and thirst.

The power of education cannot be underestimated, Mr. Dau told GCU students, adding that he was 17 years old by the time he reached Kenya. That was when he began learning his ABCs, and reveled in the lessons taught “beneath the trees.”

“I like to say education is my mother and my father. We used to sit in the dirt and watch the teacher use her finger as a pencil to teach us. Education is so important and we forced ourselves to learn.”


Coming to America

He spent 10 years in Kenya and was 27 when a church in the U.S. stepped in, offering to sponsor some of the young men, including Mr. Dau. (Pictured at left with Liberia native Isalin Howard ’14, a current MBA student at GCU.)

The audience laughed with him as he described seeing his first snowfall, learning what a snowball was, and the wonder of automated doors at the grocery store—all of which made for some serious culture shock, he said.

“Even going into the grocery store and seeing aisle after aisle of groceries—some of them just for pets—was shocking,” he said. Soon, he took a job McDonald’s and took on other part-time work, sometimes clocking 60 hours in his various jobs. “I would get about two hours of sleep. I was happy, but it was a difficult time. I never expected a handout and I wanted to help the boys back in the refugee camp.”

That thinking—giving back and helping others in dire situations—motivated him to earn an associate’s degree, complete his bachelor’s degree and establish the Lost Boys Foundation of New York.

“I raised $35,000 through that organization and then formed another one. This time, we raised $180,000 to start a clinic,” said Mr. Dau. “That led to the South Sudanese Institute, which focuses on agriculture, education and peace building. Today, through all of our nonprofit work, we have raised over $3 million.”

A matter of faith

The freshmen, who read God Grew Tired of Us as part of the First-Year Seminar classes, were curious to know how Mr. Dau remained encouraged, and how he could tell his story without being bitter.

“If you have listen to the first part of my story, it was very bad,” he said, answering their questions. “But I survived because of two things: the Almighty God – God decided I would not lose my life, and he kept me. And I never gave up. Through it all, I wanted to survive.

“Sometimes when we are faced with adversity and challenges, we want to give up,” said Mr. Dau. “If anything happens, do not let those things hold you hostage. If anything should happen to you, start your life anew and move forward. Success and struggle are a package you can never separate.”

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