I witnessed a remarkable scene with my family yesterday: hundreds of men (and a few women) voting for the first time. And a most historic vote it was. After more than twenty years of civil war, South Sudan held a referendum yesterday deciding whether or not to separate from the northern, Muslim-dominated half of the country that has brutally oppressed them. There were eight polling places throughout the US for Sudanese expatriates to vote in the referendum, and one of them happened to be next door to our church. So after church let out we walked over to see a new nation being voted into existence.
The line of voters stretched around the corner of the building and down the street; it was well below freezing and windy, but the mood was festive. Voters came out of the polling place waving purple-stained fingers and whooping and shouting. Some of them had driven from as far away as Florida and Mississippi and Kentucky.
There are 8000 Sudanese expatriates in Nashville, most of them “Lost Boys” who were settled here around 2000 after their harrowing escapes from war and genocide and years in refugee camps. The Sudanese men we’ve known have been people of remarkable faith and resilience. So it was a joy to celebrate their first voting day with them. And yet a practical side of me is fearful for an independent South Sudan. There is very little infrastructure, 60% illiteracy; the place is a wreck after so many years of civil war. It seems that an independent South Sudan would be extremely vulnerable…though not, I suppose, any more vulnerable than they are already, when their own “government” is hostile to them.
One extra-special part of our visit to the polls was getting to reconnect with our old friend, James Kual Makuac, who has been painting his experiences since he was in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Here’s a picture of James at the easel:
And a couple of his paintings:
If you’re interested in more art by Lost Boys, The Lost Boys Foundation and Gallery (which hosted yesterday’s vote) has some great stuff.
Also, here’s the New York Times article about the vote in Nashville. Strangely, I’m not seeing anything on the website of the Tennessean, Nashville’s newspaper.
Those paintings are truly amazing. I first heard about the Lost Boys from a group of refugees sharing their stories at Ecclecia, a church down in Houston. Been following them ever since. Thanks for sharing this important update!
What a beautiful experience. So good of you to share it, Jonathan.
Thanks for telling us about this. I never watch the news and wasn’t aware of this vote. What a hard life they have left behind and what a hard life these lost boys have come to. I can’t even imagine having to leave home and family the way they have had to do.
Oh, I’m sorry to have missed this event! I love true life stories best of all, especially the redemptive sort like this. Glad your family was able to observe history in the making firsthand. And thanks for sharing it.
Vulnerability is a sobering reality. I saw and experienced it in the wake of the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Still trying to sort through that myself. The resilience and courage of so many on this spinning clay ball puts me and my little American safety net to shame. The James Kual’s and Olya’s and Huang’s of the world are my heroes. I think our life stories gain considerable depth and significance when intertwined with those from various cultures.