A Lost Girl
by Rebecca Deng
My name is Rebecca Ajueny Nyanwut de Deng de Awel. If I were introducing myself in South Sudan, I would start with my dad’s side of the family—Rebecca Ajueny Nyanwut de Deng de Awel de Luk de Ajang de Padiet de Ajang. Then I would go on to list my mother’s side—Ajueny Nyanwut de Achol de Riak de Gong de Anyieth. My name is long because our tradition dictates that we say our name to at least the third generation. Growing up, I learned the names of my ancestors to the fifteenth generation, but now I struggle to remember some of them. I was born into the Hol clan of the Dinka tribe. I come from the Pathiel line in a subclan called Pan-Aluk.
And I am from the house of Ajang, Pan-Awel Luk. That’s a lot to remember!
I am from the village of Aruai Mayen in the Duk Padiet region, which is on the border of Dinka and Nuer land. The village was in Jonglei state in what is now South Sudan, although now it has vanished.
I survived the Bor Massacre of 1991, which completely wiped out my village, killed thousands of people in one attack, and displaced 100,000. The Sudanese civil war killed roughly 2 million people and displaced 4 million. I was one of those displaced.
I am one of the Lost Girls of South Sudan. I am not the first or the last Lost Girl. Much has been told of the 40,000 Lost Boys who were orphaned and fled the country on foot to Ethiopia or served as child soldiers, and of the 3,700 Lost Boys who came to the United States as refugees. Few stories have come out about the eighty-nine Lost Girls who found their way from Kakuma Refugee Camp to the USA. There are many reasons why so few girls made it out of Sudan or the refugee camps. Some were either killed, married off at the tender ages of fifteen or younger, sold as slaves, or are still living in a refugee camp, with little hope for a brighter future. That’s what
war did to the tens of thousands of innocent children who lost everything—their childhood, their innocence, their families, their homes, even their lives.
Yet in the midst of war, of devastating loss, I experienced something unexpected. My life has been one of experiencing grace upon grace. God walked patiently with me through the darkest days to show me that I am His child and that He cares about me, although I didn’t always see it clearly. It’s difficult to see clearly through pain and trauma.
But even in the midst of those prayers, I know God sees it all, and one day He will redeem all of creation. Until that time, I know our job is “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
I have learned that the greatest thing in the world is to love. There is no religion, race, class, gender, or anything on this earth better than loving others. This is God’s mission, and He invites us to join Him in loving all people. Growing up, I didn’t understand this concept, especially regarding the Khartoum government or Riek Machar, who caused personal suffering for me. I wanted them to suffer as I had suffered. And yet God taught me about the power of love, of hope, and of never giving up.
Even though I am a former refugee from one of the deadliest wars in our history, often I haven’t wanted to share my story, because reliving parts of it has been painful. Though many of my friends and work colleagues encouraged me to share, still I battled it. It would be much easier to focus on helping others heal than exposing my own trauma.
And so, this is my story.
Rebecca Deng, of South Sudan’s Dinka tribe, is one of the 89 Lost Girls who came to the United States in 2000 as a refugee after living eight years in Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya. The violence she experienced as a child during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) has given her a deep empathy for children and young adults who face similar situations today. She became a US citizen in 2006. Today Rebecca is an international speaker and advocate for women and children who have been traumatized and victimized by war. She has spoken at the United Nations and served as a Refugee Congress delegate at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Washington DC. She also led a 65-person team of referendum workers at the 2011 Out of the Country Voting Center for the South Sudanese Independence Referendum. She worked with the American Bible Society’s Mission Trauma Healing program, formerly called “She’s My Sister.” She is married and has three children.
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