I sat with our son, Samuel this week, listening to him lament the busy schedule he keeps as a medical doctor in his 2nd year of residency. “I wish I had more time to talk to Tim and Matt (our boys) and see how they’re doing, or know more about what is going on in my country right now (South Sudan, who this week is on the brink of civil war again)…but I am too busy.” Indeed, on top of insanely long hours at work, he has a busy family at home with four children ranging from 2 months to 7 years old, as well as running the charity he started to provide education for students back in Sudan who would otherwise have no hope.
I am exhausted just thinking about his life – he is living it and somehow manages to maintain one of the most optimistic, energized and yet calm personalities of anyone I know. Another thing that is true of Sam, though not something most people would know, is his incredible bravery.
Sam and his older brothers boarded a plane in the Kenyan refugee camp that was their home for 8 years, and landed in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a snowy December day 16 years ago. As he became part of our family, we slowly learned bits and pieces of his story – separated from his parents at the age of 2, fleeing his war-torn country with older brothers and uncles, trekking thousands of miles and surviving constant danger in the form of wild animals, gun-wielding soldiers looking to conscript young recruits, starvation, navigating treacherous terrain, lack of shelter or protection. Most of what we know about the horrifying realities he’s endured has not come to us through Sam, however.
He has always been more hesitant to speak about his past experiences, instead spending his time focused on the present and future – getting a good education, pursuing a degree in medicine in order to someday best help the people of Sudan, recognizing the life-giving value of education and sacrificing at great personal cost to provide that for others back in Sudan who have not had the opportunities he did. I have wondered at times if his silence about his traumatic childhood would be an issue, if it wouldn’t be better to “deal with it”. What I’ve come to realize in Sam, however, is that he is very aware of what he’s survived – no denial there.
I remember a conversation we had in the car one day, a few months after he arrived. We’d been shopping for tennis shoes for him at a local sporting goods store, and a stranger walked up to me and asked if he was one of the Lost Boys she’d been hearing about on the news. When I answered yes, she said she was so touched by their stories and all they had endured, and wondered if I would allow her to help by buying his shoes. Surprised and grateful, I agreed.
As Sam and I drove home, I was marveling at this seemingly random act of provision. I told Sam about the Bible study I had attended earlier that morning, studying the names of God. We had just talked about Jehovah Jireh – the God who provides, and Jehovah Rapha – the God who heals. Sam turned to me and said, “I know those names, we have the same names in our language! But I think that you Americans do not really know what it means.” What followed was one of the few times I heard him speak of the trauma he survived, and as he wondered how we could possibly understand the desperate need for provision and healing when we hadn’t faced the likelihood of death because of our skin color or faith or country we were born in, I knew that on some level, he was right.
Maybe there is a deeper knowing, a deeper courage and strength that comes from so many experiences of provision and healing that have created a level of faith and trust that I won’t ever fully understand.
And for him, it has built a quiet strength and bravery that influences the choices he makes every day – the choice to love his wife and children, the choice to generously support multiple extended family members still in Africa, the choice to accept responsibility as a leader in the Sudanese community, the choice to pursue training that will help him in his desire to bring hope and healing to his war-torn homeland. All choices made with great humility and no need for recognition.
I have learned much about bravery from him since that day. I have also come to learn more about my own bravery. It is different than his, and that is as it should be – we are different people with different experiences. And, I am grateful for the reminder of how much I have gained by being his “mom.”
Janet Stark is a woman learning to embrace her depth and sensitivity. Inspired by Mary pondering things in her heart, Janet writes about her experiences here. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband of 26 years, as well as her 4 children and 2 grandchildren. She is a life-long lover of words and looks forward to reading and sharing at Red Tent Living.
This is a beautiful piece, Janet. I often reflect on our back stories and how they shape us. I reflect on how God’s grace enables some to endure incredible hardship and come through with courage, hope, love and gratitude. Sam is truly blessed to have endured such trauma and choose love and life. I imaging it also required some courage on your part to be his “mom” and to create a space where he could turn his trauma into blessing. Thanks for sharing.
Thank you, Madeline!
I loved reading this and learning more about Sam. This was a part of your life before I really got to know you. It is now a part of the goodness of your heart and your history. Thank you for sharing the bravery of this young man. And the bravery of you and Chris,as a young couple who said, “Yes”, for the future and life of another. Truly a glorious sacrifice.
I don’t think you’ve ever had a chance to meet Sam…I hope you do someday. 🙂 I love that it is part of our family history as well…it changed all of us.
This touches me in a deep place as the mom of boys from a different culture and roots who have experienced trauma. From a different angle, neighborhood ministries used to share space with the Sudanese Lost Boys center, home to the 490+ refugees in Phoenix. These young people greatly influenced our community. Their everyday actions were marked by humility and courage. So grateful for your journey, Janet.
I would imagine you have quite a wealth of stories as well, Joanna! Your experience with the Sudanese there sounds familiar – how fun that you have experienced some of the same culture. 🙂
We learn so much from the boys, who were really grown-ups. Especially in the way that they invited each other to enter their stories. They would make cows out of pottery and sell them to raise money and tell stories. They had a drama and drumming in which their stories were played out. Most of their stories I think remained unspoken, but the ones that they gave voice too deeply impacted those of us around them
I love this part of you Janet, who bravely stepped out in faith to welcome Samuel into your family. What you learned and experienced has given you a unique space to love from inside of you. Thank you for sharing so generously with us, we are blessed as a result.
Thanks Tracy. In the midst of the crazy hardness of that choice I didn’t feel particularly brave…it is good to look back with some time and perspective.