Missionary to America: Bafel Deng, South Sudan
What must it be like to grow up in a land where there are no hospitals, no schools and no roads? That's what it was like for Missionary Bafel Deng growing up in South Sudan. People there lived off the land, taking care of cattle, fishing. Offerings at the church he grew up in consisted of corn and fish and animals. The church itself was a simple wooden structure with grass for a roof.
Most of the people where he lived were not Christians; they worshipped spirits living in the rocks or trees. In 1949 a Presbyterian missionary built a school nearby and Bafel's father learned about Jesus. The missionary left in 1962 but the church continued.
During this time a divide was growing between majority Muslim North Sudan and the majority Christian south. Horrific massacres resulted as the South Sudanese riding camels with long guns faced mechanized war machines from the North. The civil war scattered 4.5 million refugees around the world. Bafel's relatives ended up in Ethiopia, Egypt, Australia and England. Bafel's mother died in Australia, away from her home, her family and Bafel - who had found refuge in America.
Lutherans in Nebraska opened their resources and their lives to the new Americans from South Sudan. They helped with the most difficult challenge faced by Bafel and his family: learning English. Another challenge was raising children in a country where there is so much freedom. The Sudanese had many choices and children questioned the principles they had lived with in an isolated desert area. Living in a crowded apartment complex was hard after a life of roaming hills and fields to find food for cattle.
In all this, the Lord blessed the Deng family. A welcoming church gave them a solid base to learn American culture and reinforce Christian living. The children have earned college degrees from Concordia in Nebraska and Bronxville. Life was very good. So, why did Bafel go home to Sudan?
Jesus said, "Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Matthew 7:17-20)
The Lutherans in Michigan are good trees. They cared. They knew Bafel's homeland was torn by war. They raised funds for Bafel Deng to ease the pain in his heart for men, women and children caught between armies, without food, without medical help. The churches along with Rev. Victor Belton, Bafel's mentor in the United States, raised enough money to purchase mosquito nets and school supplies, as well as other things badly needed by the elderly, by orphans, women and babies. An "Arab Mission Society '' was begun to bring the gospel and fruits of love the gospel brings to people suffering in a foreign land. That is not all.
On July 11, 2011 a referendum was held in South Sudan to decide whether to form a new country. It would mean losing financial support from the industrialized north. Poor farmers and fishermen in South Sudan would not provide the income they would receive if they stayed as one country. As it happened, Bafel Deng was in Sudan at the time. He had the ear of the leaders and made a suggestion: hold an all-night prayer vigil. Intrigued, the leaders agreed not sure if anyone would show up. They did. By the thousands. Each brought their own candle. As the sun went down the Christian candles lit the sky for miles around. Hymns were sung, prayers were offered to the Lord Jesus. In the end 98% of those who voted chose to secede.
Missionary Bafel Deng is back in Nebraska today, a product of the LCMS Ethnic Immigrant Institute Training program. Bafel is spreading the good news of God's love to many African and Arabic immigrants and Americans who now find good fruit from God's tree of life. Even though Missionary Deng and the Arab Mission Society still show Christ's love to people in his former land, they celebrate that God has brought them to their new home in America.
Hear an excerpt of Bafel's testimony
Bafel Deng shares his testimony