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The Gospel at Work in Postwar South Sudan

Joseph's scars will forever be with him. But today he can smile with the hope of God.
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Joseph’s journey of healing—from a child soldier to a man of peace

“They came in the night—five men in all,” said Joseph. “We were beaten with a leather whip and had no choice but to go with them.”

Joseph remembers it well—the night he was abducted. He was just 6 years old when he began his descent into the violence of Sudan’s civil war as a child soldier.

Joseph underwent intense training with the SPLA, learning combat maneuvers, practicing how to use weapons and building up stamina to walk for hours – Photo courtesy of United Nations Photo.

A childhood stolen

Joseph and several other boys were taken to live in a makeshift camp. Once there, they were prepped for war. “I think there were about 3,000 boys there,” Joseph said.

“We didn’t understand what was going on and wondered constantly if we had done something wrong to end up in a place like this.”

Training began early in the morning and lasted for hours. “Sometimes we would be forced to go on long marches of up to seven hours so we could get used to walking long distances,” he said. “They warned us that it could take up to three months to walk to the places where we would be fighting.”

Training for a life of war

“We were taught how to use an AK-47 rifle. We were shown how to take cover, how to remove the injured from the front lines, and how to move back when our bullets were gone.

“If you tried to desert and were caught, you would be executed.

“During the morning parades the list of deserters would be read out as a deterrent for anyone thinking of leaving. We were beaten for the smallest mistake, and I must admit there were many times …

… I thought that taking my own life was the only way out.”

A brief moment of hope

The one moment of hope came when Joseph was briefly reunited with his father, who had also been abducted and was being forced to train in a different camp. His father had been a Christian minister before he was also forced to fight for the rebels.

“I remember running towards him and crying out to him,”

Joseph said. “We hugged and were allowed to spend a short time together. My dad sat with me under a tree and prayed for me, telling me God would look after me.”

Ready for battle

After six months, 7-year-old Joseph was deemed ready for battle. He was issued a uniform, gun, water bottle, belt, a pair of shoes, a blanket and one set of ordinary clothes.

But if he thought training was brutal, it was nothing compared to the savage reality of war. They were forced to walk to the combat zones, often walking for five hours in darkness, sleeping sitting up for just one hour, and then walking for another five hours across miles and miles of grasslands.

The hell of war

During the next couple of years, Joseph both witnessed and committed terrible acts.

“In battle there was no one to come and rescue us,” Joseph said. “Whenever there was a break in fighting, we would gather up dead bodies and pile them up around us so we had somewhere to hide from the bullets.

“Just the smell of the dead was enough to stop us sleeping properly or eating. If we did manage to doze off, we would dream of being in the middle of the dead. Sometimes, we would have food brought to us at night.

“In the terrible confusion of night and fear and death, some of us even ate human flesh.”

Joseph began to think those who were killed in battle were the lucky ones. “You didn’t want to be captured by the enemy,” Joseph said. “They would kill you slowly by removing your limbs one by one. We found one of our soldiers who had been dismembered like that and it was an awful sight.”

God hears Joseph’s cries

There were many times during those dark days that Joseph became angry with God, crying out, “Why are you doing this to me?”

That’s when Joseph came across a small Bible.

“There was no one to teach me, so I started to read it on my own,” said Joseph. After reading about people like Job, he knew he had to stand firm. The more he read his Bible, the more he realized that Jesus was the only person he could trust.

As a 6-year-old boy, Joseph was abducted and forced to serve as a child soldier in Sudan’s civil war. By God’s grace, today Joseph is a vibrant follower of Jesus Christ. – Photo by Tim Coleman.

Release from the army

After many brutal years of fighting and pleading to be released, Joseph’s prayers were answered. He made his way to a refugee camp in Kenya and was later taken in by a caring family.

Joseph dreams of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a Christian minister. “My father always told me that whatever I do in life,

“I must serve God and His Church,”

Joseph said. “I desperately want to see my father’s vision come true.”

Today, Joseph is a vibrant Christian and serves with SIM South Sudan. He helps to address education, health and clean water to improve Sudanese lives, all within the context of discipleship.

You and other faithful partners make it possible for Joseph to serve through SIM—spreading the hope of the gospel, raising up disciples and building the Church.

Please join us in prayer:

  • Pray for Joseph and others God has called into ministry in Sudan.
  • Pray for healing for those still recovering from the brutality of Sudan’s civil war.
  • Pray for the SIM South Sudan team as they partner with more than 130 churches and 25 refugee camps.

*Names and photos may have been changed for the sake of privacy and the safety of our missionaries, ministry partners and those we serve.

Your generosity makes it possible for SIM workers like Joseph and others all around the world to share about Jesus in places where He is least known.

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*Names and photos may have been changed for the sake of privacy and safety of our workers, ministry partners and those we serve.

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