During my travels to Southern Sudan in 2005, I spent much of my time in a town called Yei. Yei is one of the furthest southern cities in Sudan. I met a lot of interesting people in Yei. People who have grown very dear to my heart. One of these people is a man named Bishop Michael Taban. The following story occured while my friend Taban was sharing with me his visions for the people of Southern Sudan.
Taban was a leader in his community and was overseeing many projects with the purpose of rebuilding Southern Sudan. One sunny day, as Taban and I walked through an open field, he began to cast his vision of building a hospital and sports clinic on the overgrown soil. These dreams and passions were especially deep and significant because that very ground was where one of the bloodiest battles in Yei was fought during the war.
As we walked, I noticed a figure dressed in white slowly emerging out of the tall grass. Upon closer inspection, the alarming vision revealed itself to be a man walking alone. He couldn’t have been more than 40 years old. At first, I was startled and didn’t know what to think of this stranger who had appeared from nowhere. But the next few minutes brought deep clarification and realization to me.
This man was walking home for the first time in 20 years.
Once he had learned of the peace agreement between the north and the south, he sensed that it might be safe to head back to his village. And so he dared to start his journey back home to learn the fate of his community, friends, and family. Taban and him began to speak in their native tongue (Arabic). I waited, watching. After a 5-minute conversation, they embraced and the man in white continued on his journey.
After he was gone, Taban explained the connection and history that he has with this walking man. He told me that before the war broke out, he was this man’s teacher. He taught him in school and in church, day in and day out. That day was the first time he had seen him in over 20 years. And it just happened to be during the walking man’s journey home.
This experience brought a new level of clarity to me on what is happening in this country. Family and friends are being reunited after many years and thousands of miles apart. People are beginning their journeys home and what awaits them are answers to questions they’ve had for over 20 years. This story, of the man in white, is just one of many. There are many, many more. Southern Sudan is beginning their walk home in hope of finding a “New Sudan”