After seminary, `Lost Boy' headed back to Sudan

May 9, 2011

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (RNS) It has been more than two decades since Deng
Alier fled war in his homeland. Now, armed with a master's degree in
educational ministry, the former "Lost Boy" is ready to find his way
back to Sudan.

Alier, Deborah Makuei and Rebecca Deng were among 63 students
graduating last week (May 6) from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.

"This is a time to thank people who have made a difference in my
life," said Alier, 28. "This is the moment they've been praying for me."
     Alier, Makuei and Deng began their studies three years ago free of
charge when the seminary launched a program to inject young, educated
Christian leaders into the country torn by civil war.

Deng, who plans to marry in June, will receive her master's of arts
in ministry leadership, said John VerBerkmoes, the seminary's vice
president and academic dean.

Makuei, 26, who came to the U.S. in 2000 through Bethany Christian
Services, is graduating with a master's degree in counseling. She is
interning at Bethany and looking for a job here, with plans to counsel
women in Sudan.

"For me to go there, that will encourage young girls to have the
passion for going to school," Makuei said. A member of South Sudan's
largest tribe, the Dinkas, Makuei graduated from East Grand Rapids High
School and Albion College.

"I can tell them, `I don't have to get married when I'm 12 years
old,"' she said. "Going here (to seminary) has set me up really well."

The students spent a semester in Sudan through the seminary and will
have their undergraduate loans repaid as they return to work there with
their master's degrees. In July, the southern part of Sudan where the
students lived will become independent from the northern, Muslim part of
the country.

"From the beginning, we saw it as an opportunity to invest in the
lives of students that had tremendous passion for their homeland,"
VerBerkmoes said.

Living in the United States, Alier said he has learned that
different people can live in the same place and get along. Seminary
education has given him a deeper understanding of biblical principles
that can help Sudanese Christians live in harmony with "our Muslim
brothers," he said.

A Dinka who also has a degree from Western Michigan University and
works at Walmart, Alier taught at Gideon Theological School in 2009
during the semester in Sudan and now plans to teach there with a mission
agency.

"We are so blessed to be here," Alier said. "Now we have transformed
ourselves. I think God will use us to transform Sudan in a positive
way."