KNOXVILLE — The constant sound of guns firing, fear, explosions and genocide overtook what was once a peaceful village in southern Sudan. In 1987, an estimated 20,000 children were separated from their families as a result of civil war between northern and southern Sudan.
These children faced tragedy beyond understanding and walked thousands of miles to flee conflict in Sudan. Their journey took place on foot as they fled to bordering countries in Ethiopia and Kenya.
On the quest to find refuge, most of them did not make it due to heat exhaustion, various diseases, starvation and attacks from wild animals that inhabited the land. Among these conditions, they also had to endure attacks from soldiers that were seeking to recruit and torture them.
One of the original lost boys, Makur Abiar, also known as King Deng, is a native of the Jurbile tribe in southern Sudan. He, along with many others, survived and escaped.
Today Deng and his family are residents of Knoxville. Prior to the war, Deng said he remembers having a good life in Sudan. But that all changed.
“From the beginning, my life was good, but when the war came all of a sudden Sudan life changed,” he said.
In 1987 Deng was a young boy in his village. Members of the People’s Liberation Army would go from village to village, forcing children to join. If they refused, the children were tortured until they joined. Deng managed to escape as the SPLA tried to kidnapped him and to recruit him.
“In 1987 I was maybe 9-years old when they came in on horses and the militia burned houses and killed people,” he said.“We marched and we made it — sometimes we’d sleep with no water, no food but we had different ways to survive.”
Deng’s only options for survival was to trust God to give him strength and to find safety in the trees as he avoided soldiers and attacks from animals.
“I’m here—God blessed me, I slept in a tree and the hyenas just laughed, maybe you would sleep or you would fall and the hyenas would eat you,” he said.
Deng suffered an injury during an air strike by the militia. He had been hit by a bomb. At the time a woman he did not know named Aluel, covered him with the remains of other victims of the attack and saved his life by hiding him until the attack ceased. Prior to their arrival in America, Deng and Aluel reunited later at Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya.
“When I came to the United States in 2001, I said this lady who saved my life I have to bring her,” he said.
Deng eventually plans on returning home to help others who are suffering. He said that he no longer has a fear of the unexpected.
“I never fear, if I fear I take a position of Jesus Christ, he died for me so why would I fear because I don’t have an enemy,” he said.
While Deng does intend to return to Sudan, he has found a place of peace in Knoxville. He said that Knoxville is a place of refuge, beauty and tranquility.
“Knoxville is a beautiful place,” he said. “When I came as a lost boy in 2001 it was a dream to be in America.
“Knoxville is like a village to me and coming from where I’ve been you need to stay somewhere to relax your brain,”Deng said.
He said that being in America has opened his eyes to the issues of his own country and of the issues that are present today in the U.S. His ultimate vision is to see unity among all people regardless of their background.
“This land is not for one person, it’s for everybody and it is a Christian country,” he said. “My advice for this country is to bring people together as human beings. We need to come together and even the Muslim people we have to welcome.”
In the process of returning to his country, Deng is trusting God’s timing and wants the best for his family. He is currently in the process of completing many projects and has friends in the U.S. that are assisting him along the way.
Deng currently has a book published titled “King Deng,The Original Lost Boy of Sudan” and is in the process of completing a documentary film. His book is available for purchase on Amazon.