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Lost Boys Find Voice Through Church

Ashburn Church Increases Awareness of African Genocide

When Angelo Maker first came to the United States, he washed cars for $5.15 an hour. He had been a teacher while living in Kenya.

"I had to do what I had to do to survive," he said. "It wasn’t easy, but I was used to a life that wasn’t easy."

Maker grew up in Darfur, an impoverished region of Sudan.

During the country’s second civil war, southern Sudanese people, indigenous to the land, rebelled against the Arab-dominated government in the northern capital of Khartoum because they thought the government was imposing its cultural values on them. The north benefited from good schools, jobs and infrastructure, while southern Sudan fell by the wayside.

In 1987, the Sudanese government retaliated by burning villages and killing, raping and enslaving civilians. The United Nations estimates 2 million Sudanese men and women were killed and between 3 million and 4 million were displaced during this time. Sudanese children, including Maker, witnessed family members killed.

Thousands of children, mostly boys between 5 years old and 9 years old fled by walking thousands of miles to refugee camps in Ethiopia. When a civil war broke out there, the boys returned to camp in Sudan. Militia troops attacked and once again, the boys were forced to seek refuge, this time in Kenya.

In 2001, the U.S. government settled 3,700 boys in 38 cities across the country. They call themselves the "Lost Boys of Sudan."

"They counted by threes. One, two, three, go to New York. On, two, three, go to California. One, two, three, go to Virginia," he said. "That’s how I ended up here."

Now, the Lost Boys are reconnecting with their past. Maker, 26, lives in Hampton, Va. He works closely with local churches and organizations to devise a plan to rebuild his country.

IN AUGUST 2004, members of Ashburn’s Crossroads United Methodist Church visited a school they helped set up in Uganda. While in Uganda, four members had the opportunity to visit southern Sudan.

Crossroads United Methodist Church member Cathy Norman was one passenger on the four-person plane to the war-torn country.

"I was nervous to fly," Norman said, "but I felt like God was calling me to go."

When the group landed on a dirt strip in southern Sudan, she was amazed by the destruction of the country from the 20-year civil war.

"I’d never been in a war zone before," she said. "There were bomb craters in the dirt roads leading into towns. There are still land mines in the towns. I didn’t know at the time what God had in mind."

While she was in southern Sudan, she learned about the civil war, its impact on the country and the people there.

When Norman returned to the United States, she met with members of her church to figure out what they could do to help.

In January 2005, Norman met Angelo Maker and other Lost Boys of Sudan.

"The Lost Boys are very concerned about Darfur. They feel like the world’s forgotten about their people," she said. "I know it’s up to us to help the Lost Boys tell their story."

To help the Lost Boys find their voice, Norman set up a Lost Boys of Sudan committee of church members, community leaders and teens. The group meets at least once a month to facilitate ideas about how to help in southern Sudan.

Melissa Lyden is a member of the Lost Boys advocacy group.

The Loudoun County High School junior spends her free time informing her peers about the crisis in Sudan. She and her best friend and classmate, Alex Bland, reach out to teens through their Web site, www.myspace.com/lostboysofsudangathering. They post fliers on Loudoun County High School bulletin boards.

"We to try to get the word out any way we can," Lyden said.

On April 30, Lyden and Bland attended the "Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide" on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Although Bland and Lyden are the youngest members of the committee, they have two of the biggest voices.

"They’re amazing. They’re always at the meetings, always ready to help," Norman said.

Lyden said her goal is to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

"I talk to my friends about it all the time," she said. "When I tell them what’s happening there, they listen and they want to know more."

Lyden said she would like to visit Sudan someday, but for now she is busy preparing for a conference.

ON FRIDAY, July 7 and Saturday, July 8, the Crossroads United Methodist Church will host "Lost Boys Found: A Time of Reunion, Vision, Advocacy and Hope with the Lost Boys of Sudan" at George Mason University in Fairfax. The church received a $5,000 grant from the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society for the event.

The Lost Boys will talk about the genocide in Darfur, the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in South Sudan, signed by the Sudanese government in 2005, and infrastructure and development.

In addition, U.S. Congressman Frank R. Wolf (R-10) will talk about peace keeping and rebuilding a civil society.

"I hope people will come to learn more about the Lost Boys, how we saw our parents killed right in front of our eyes, how people can help," Maker said. "The only way to solve our problems is by sharing our ideas. We need your advice on how to succeed."

In September, Maker will attend Old Dominion University in Norfolk. After he receives his degree, he hopes to return to his home to help rebuild it.

"One day I will be able to go back," he said. "I come here to learn. I’ll take what I learn in America and use it to change my home."

"We’ve been suffering for a long time," Maker said. "I hope people come and learn what Sudan looks like for themselves."