March 19, 2012
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) “Do you know why I survived? Because of the almighty God. God spared my life.” John Bul Dau stood tall over the podium at La Sierra University Church on March 13, telling in detail his story of years spent in great fear, hunger, thirst and cold as he repeatedly ran for his life with other “Lost Boys” of South Sudan.
His tale of great struggle and survival, and that of two of his friends, was the subject of the 2006 Sundance Film Festival award-winning documentary, “God Grew Tired of Us.” The title derives from a comment Dau made about the violence that descended upon his village in 1987 triggering his 1,000-mile, 14-year ordeal. Actress Nicole Kidman narrates the film which is executive produced by actor Brad Pitt and directed by Christopher Dillon Quinn and Tommy Walker.
Dau’s talk launched the new Distinguished Lecture Series at La Sierra University Assembly, an annual lecture designed to impact students’ lives. The student assembly took place at 11 a.m. at the La Sierra University Church. A video of Dau’s assembly presentation can be viewed by clicking here. The Distinguished Lecture Series, coordinated by the university’s Intellectual Life Committee, will be held once a year in the spring and emanates from the office of university Provost Steve Pawluk.
Dau’s life-altering journey began one night in 1987 when he and his family were awakened by gunfire from northern Sudanese troops storming their South Sudan village of Duk. The troops burned huts, killed men and boys, raped and abducted women and girls. Dau, age 12 at the time, escaped with his neighbor into tall grasses, but in the mayhem lost track of his family. Many years later, after his immigration to the United States and after much searching, Dau discovered his parents and siblings had miraculously survived the conflicts.
Dau traveled hundreds of miles with tens of thousands of other “Lost Boys of Sudan.” They walked many months to reach refugee camps, first in Ethiopia and then in Kenya where they joined a massive United Nations camp in Kukuma. They endured lion attacks, bombing raids, swam a crocodile-infested river that claimed many lives, ate mud, chewed grass, went days without water, traded scant clothing for food, shivered naked through countless cold nights, and missed their families. Many boys died along the way, some choosing to give up rather than press on.
“It was just desperation. It was terrible,” Dau said to La Sierra students during his talk. “This is what I went through and I am still alive.”
After four years in the Kenyan refugee camp, Dau and his friends Daniel Abol Pach and Panther Blor were among 3,800 young Sudanese refugees selected for settlement in the United States and a chance for new lives. The “Lost Boys” arrived in Syracuse, New York in 2001 where they got their first look at electric lights, a refrigerator, and other modern miracles. A first trip to a supermarket was an eye-opener. “There was a magic door that opened by itself like this,” Dau said to the audience. “We came across an aisle of dog and cat food. I thought, ‘this country is so wealthy even the animals have their own aisle.’”
With the help of their sponsors the young Sudanese found jobs and struggled to assimilate while constantly thinking of those they left behind in Africa. Dau grilled burgers at McDonald’s and worked as a security guard. He aided his learning of the English language by mimicking the pronunciations of broadcast news anchors on CNN, he said.
“Do you think I’m here to show off? I have to tell you, I will never, ever forget,” Dau told his attentive audience. “Let me tell you this. If you want to succeed, success and struggle is a package. …You’ve got to move from where you are forward.”