Juggler of words and children…collector of pottery shards
“It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling to himself, “That the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”
“Yes,” said Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than the outside.”
“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” ~ C.S. Lewis The Last Battle
My oldest son will be 12 years old this Friday, approximately the same age James was when he was abducted into the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army and no matter how hard I try, I cannot imagine him thrust into battle with a gun in his hand. Without a doubt, thousands of boys did not survive this baptism into manhood by blood and terror.
Miraculously, after his first battle when the smoke cleared to reveal the carnage around him and the sound of gunshots were replaced by mortally wounded boys drawing their last, rattling breaths, James was still alive. The miracle of his survival in battle was repeated many times in the days, weeks, months and years that followed. Then, one day several years after he had been abducted and forced to become a child solider, he found himself in a horrific battle. The loss of life was monumental.
Afterwards General Garang, the topmost officer in the SPLA, came to visit the battle site. To his horror, spread before him were the bodies of thousands of boys. Some of them were as young as nine years of age. He was enraged. Until that moment, he had not been aware that his subordinate officers were filling the ranks of the army by abducting young boys and forcing them to become soldiers. Immediately, he commanded that every single child be released.
But released to whom? Released to where?
James was approximately 15 years old by the time he was freed but he had no family, no shelter, no means of securing food or providing for himself in any way. Like a seed borne on the wind, he drifted from place to place, searching for a safe spot to land and perhaps even grow. His childhood had been stripped away but he was not yet a man.
Eventually, he made his way to Kenya and settled in Nairobi, a bustling, modern city of almost 3 million people. There, he became a street boy living in doorways and alleys, scraping together his survival any way he could. It must have seemed to him that the dark despair of his circumstances were impossibly set with no way out.
Then, the day came when the tiniest of sparks pierced the night of his existence. He met an American Missionary by the name of George William. When George found James, he gave him just a few dollars to buy some food. It was a small gift, but The Great Redeemer has a way of taking the small gifts given in His name and using them in mighty ways.
James looked down at the bills in his hand and they were transformed into more than the means to buy a loaf of bread to keep him alive for a few more days. That small amount of money was more than the gift of a bit of food.
It was the gift of hope.
So, now we know what James was thinking about all of those lonely nights when he was forced to be a solider. When he closed his eyes and the visions of the slaughter of the children of his people refused to give way to sleep, he must have been thinking about the future and what difference he could make. Then, during those nights in Kenya as he huddled in a city doorway attempting to find his night’s rest, he must have determined in his heart that someday, someday, he would overcome his situation and when he did, he would make sure he prevented some child from finding his same fate.
When George William found him and placed those few dollars in his hand, James’ vision was already in place.
All he needed, was a little hope.
And for someone to give him a chance.
* Please come back for the next chapter in the true story of the life of James Lual Atak.
* All Darfur photography is courtesy of Darlene Dyson.