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Southern students help Sudanese ‘lost boys’ find hope in Christ

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–They are known simply as the “lost boys” — young 20 to 25-year-old refugees from the war-torn African nation of Sudan. Most are orphans. Some saw their parents slaughtered during Islamic purges.

Yet after languishing almost 10 years in Kenyan refugee camps, many of these “lost boys” are now being found. Through the intervention of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, some 165 of the refugees have been relocated to the Americana Apartments in Louisville, Ky. The purpose is to give them opportunity, education and “American” hope.

But several Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students are offering the refugees a greater hope — the Gospel. By way of cell-group Bible studies and one-on-one relationships, the students are showing the “lost boys” the Way, Truth and Life.

“It’s a chance of a lifetime that God in all of His wonderful wisdom and providence has brought them [here],” said Matthew DiCapua, a master of divinity student from Cocoa, Fla. “The door is wide open for people to roll up their sleeves and get involved missiologically without leaving the country.”

DiCapua first learned of the ministry through fellow student Jeremy Blythe. Blythe himself had become involved after meeting Richard Jeng, a local Sudanese immigrant who was working with the men.

Even though the refugees are sponsored by local families who help them with financial obligations and schooling, Jeng had noticed that many had no true grasp of the Gospel or of a joyful Christian life. So about a year and a half ago, he decided to begin efforts at evangelism and discipleship with the refugees. Blythe soon joined him, leading Bible studies at a local church.

“We just began reaching out to them, doing Bible studies with them on an impromptu basis,” said Blythe, a master of divinity student from Jacksonville, Fla.

Though attendance at the studies was strong at first, Blythe and Jeng began to notice that the group was dwindling. The refugees weren’t coming to them, so Blythe, Jeng and DiCapua — who had also become involved — decided to go to the refugees.

DiCapua and Blythe are currently leading separate cell group Bible studies in the apartments. Their primary goal is to share the Gospel, because for most, DiCapua said, the concept of salvation and a serious walk with Christ are foreign concepts.

“They’re basically separated from the true Gospel teaching, true Christ-likeness that is enthusiastic, exciting and passionate,” DiCapua said. “… It’s a chance of a lifetime for us to do hands-on ministry to reach out to them. This is a flag that God has put up, saying this is where I’m at work. And we want to make people know so they can join in on that.”

Discipling the Christian refugees is also a goal for Blythe and DiCapua. However, discipleship for them is much more than just a few minutes of teaching.

“Discipleship is not necessarily taught; it’s caught,” DiCapua said. “You don’t just come in and break out Henry Blackaby, teach for 30 minutes, pack your stuff and leave. It’s more of a holistic thing — getting involved in their lives, spending time with them, growing with them.”

Time is the key to the ministry. Alone in a new country, the refugees are craving people who will “tithe their time,” listen to them and be their friend, DiCapua said.

“They lack any fellowship outside their own Sudanese circles,” he added. “… They long for relationships, friendships and encouragement.”

Todd Borger, a Ph.D. student, is another seminarian who is dedicating time to the refugees. He and his family are one of the INS sponsors of the “lost boys.”

A Christian influence like that of the Borger family and the cell group leaders is a must for the refugees, Blythe said, because if Christians don’t reach them with their message, America will.

“We have learned in doing this ministry that the open door to ministering to refugees is a vacuum that will be filled,” Blythe said. “Either evangelical Christians will fill it or pagan American culture will fill it.”

In addition to fellowship, the refugees also need people who will help them with their studies, especially with English. Many of them are preparing for the GED while, at the same time, working 40 hours per week.

“Most of them have ambitions of actually getting an education and becoming established so that they can live successfully or go back,” Blythe said. “They have a real burden for Sudan as well.”

It is this possibility of sending discipled Sudanese Christians back to their own country as “home missionaries” that has spurred Blythe and DiCapua in their ministry.

“The ultimate vision … is that these people would be equipped to bring the Gospel to their own people indigenously,” DiCapua said.

But for now, seeing the changed lives is enough reward for the two seminarians.

“Sometimes we go and we’re a little stressed,” DiCapua said. “… [But] we leave just so intoxicated with joy because of their receptivity. … They are so grateful that you have come and brought them the Word.”

Blythe agreed, saying that Christian volunteers in the Louisville area are still needed.

“I don’t think there is any major giftedness involved,” Blythe said. “If you have the River of Life flowing out of your belly, if you are a Spirit-filled Christian, you want to see the nations come to Christ. And the nations have come to our footstep here in Louisville at the Americana Apartments.

“All it takes is time. … The one key word is time. If you are just willing to devote that much once a week, the Lord can use anybody.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MINISTERING TO REFUGEES.

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  • Bryan Cribb