William Levi is the founder and director of OMNI--Operation Nehemiah Missions International. Operation Nehemiah's mission is "to rebuild & restore the Biblical family and the Church in the republic of the South Sudan which is recovering from the ashes of war & Islamic persecution through the preaching of the Gospel, promoting sustainable & Biblical stewardship. As Nehemiah 2: 18 says. 'Let us rise and build, so they join their hands together for this good work.'"
The Lord wonderfully and providentially allowed my path to cross with William Levi's and his family's after reading his autobiographical book, The Bible or the Axe, and subsequently contacting him to speak at the church where I attended after I finished his fascinating story of persecution, escape, and subsequent ministry. William obeyed the call of God upon his life and returned to his homeland to rebuild there what had been broken by war and devastation. His story is one of trial and persecution, suffering for the sake of the Gospel, and difficulty. It is also one of hope, redemption, grace , and the miraculous and powerful hand of God upon his and his family's lives. I've divided this interview into several parts. I felt that it was too full and rich to condense. I encourage you to read and savor each part and rejoice in the way that the Lord is using this humble, willing man and his family for the glory of our precious Lord. I'd also encourage you to visit his website, Facebook page, and order a copy of his deeply encouraging book, the The Bible or the Axe. I know that it will be a blessing to you.
And now, Part 1 of Sounding the Trumpet Call: An Interview with William Levi . . .
Would you tell us a little about your upbringing and background?
I was born and raised in Moli, Eastern Equatoria State, and South Sudan in 1964. From January 1, 1956- July 09, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan was part of the Sudan after the country got her independence from Great Britain. The northern part of the Sudan was Arab and Islamic and the Southern part of the Sudan was African and Christians. I came out of a generation in the Sudan that was born and raised in between two major wars of religious persecution conducted by Sudan Islamic regime to the north against Christian families and churches in the South Sudan. Between 1955-2005, the war of Islamic persecution claimed 2 million Christians and 4.5 million people displaced into exile. I was the seventh among twelve siblings, five boys and seven girls. My parents lost three of our brothers and sister. There are 9 of us alive to date. Our home was in a small village called Moli in the equatorial district on the eastern bank of the Nile River, bordering Uganda. My parents, Ajjugo and Anna Levi, were devout Messianic Hebrews of the tribe of Levi, the son of Jacob to whom the hereditary priesthood was entrusted. By the providence of God, we found ourselves deep in the African interior along the Nile valley. For ages this beautiful land has become our dwelling place for many generations.
My family lived off the land. We had a lot of ancestral farmland on which my parents built our home and raised food to support our family. As Messianic Hebrews, living in a country where our faith was constantly tested and tried, by fire of Islamic persecution, my parents raised us up to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls. They instill the word of God into our hearts according to scriptures. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. "You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.” Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.
My parents were faithful couple. They loved the Lord and they were hardworking farmer who wanted to raise us up with the love and fear of God and to be hard work. Little did we know that within a year of my birth, Islamic war of persecution would engulfed my village and my community which caused my parents to flee to Uganda as refugees for the next 15 years?
In the year following my birth, the situation in the Sudan became increasingly unstable. The war escalated and spread from the larger population centers in the cities out into the countryside until even small villages were in disarray. No one was safe. Our future was uncertain. Churches were burned, schools were closed, and crops were destroyed and western missionaries were expelled. The conflict had touched our small town. The parents in our community feared for the safety of their families, and many people determined to escape from Southern Sudan across the border into Uganda. My parents decided in late 1965 that the time had come to leave our beloved homeland. For the most part, I grew up as a refugee in the wilderness of Uganda during the first Sudan’s Islamic Persecution against Christians in the South Sudan.
My very first memories as a child are those of growing up as a refugee in Uganda. I didn’t think of myself as a “refugee”, because my parents provided me with the stability of their love and worked hard to build a home for us without the help of the UN camps. I just knew that I was born in the Sudan, and that our family would return there some day. As it turned out, that day was a very long time in coming. Our family would have to make the best of a bad situation for nearly ten years. My parents were farmers, hardworking and industrious. They felt the Lord would have them to raise their children and their crops in peace. But the land in the Abalo Kodi region was not fertile, and the population was too dense. The additional crowding brought about by the refugee crisis made this particular location untenable for any sort of long term living arrangement. There was simply no way to grow the food necessary to support a family. My parents were soon forced to make the difficult decision to move on, trusting God to provide a place for them. They knew that they would have to step out in faith, believing that God had a good and perfect plan for their family. With fervent prayer and careful inquiry, my father sought out a home for us in the Ugandan wilderness. He was well aware that the wrong choice could prove disastrous. I remember how it came about that our family moved away from the safety of Abalo Kobi into the untamed Ugandan wilderness with nothing but strong faith and strong arms to sustain us.“ My father’s face reflected his resolve to find a suitable home for his growing family. My Mother Anna was his partner in everything, and she completed him in every way. She had an inner beauty that radiated through her life and in her actions. Mama was gracious, hospitable, and tough—she and my father made a great team. Mother was not afraid of settling in the Ugandan wilderness. God blessed me with two wonderful parents, and I loved them very much.
I still cherish my first memories of my parents working together to open the wilderness, building a home and a productive farm with nothing but hard work and trust in the Lord. And it was so beautiful. It was as if God had re-created the Garden of Eden right there in Uganda. Every type of animal and plant flourished in the unspoiled jungle. We built our home atop a hill beside a huge tamarind tree. This leafy giant grew to over fifty feet tall, and its pretty yellow flowers gave way in season to a wild edible fruit. I remember that its broad boughs provided a dense shade, suitable for family gatherings away from the hot equatorial sun. Tamarind fruit, called “iti” in the Madi tongue, changes from green to brown when it is ripe; and the juicy flesh is both sugary and sour. I loved to peel away the fibrous brown pod and suck out the juice, spitting out the seeds as I ate.
My Mother knew that it was an excellent source of vitamins, and she used it to flavor porridge and also for medicinal purposes. When work was done, I learned to climb in the sturdy limbs of our Tamarind tree. My brothers and sisters could play hide-and-seek among the green branches. Sometimes we would even climb to the top to get a better view if we heard an airplane fly overhead. Living next to that tree was like living next to a park—complete with a playground and a free picnic basket. I suppose it kept us younger children busy while Mother and Father set about the serious business of construction. Building a home with no nails, materials, or power tools is a skill passed down from father to son. I remember watching my father select the proper trees to build our new home. The dense tropical forest was rich with trees, reeds, bamboo, and herbs to be used in the building process. “How about this tree, Father?" I asked, pointing out a sturdy-looking trunk. Father smiled, and reached out to strip away a portion of the bark. Every part of life was an opportunity to teach, and Father was preparing a lesson for me. While our home was being built, my parents did not neglect the planting of food. When my father had mentioned that the land near Ambuluwa Mountain was rich and unspoiled, he was understating the truth. The land was so fertile that plants seemed to spring to life wherever seed touched earth. When we first moved into the wilderness, we had nothing but some provisions that we carried from Uncle’s village. It wasn’t long, though, before we were truly self-sufficient. I can’t remember a time when we didn’t have plenty of fresh, delicious food provided for us from God’s bounty. We drank from streams quite naturally. There was no pollution. Birds and animals of all kinds, such as ostriches, giraffes, lions, leopards, elephants, crocodiles, hippos, buffalo, and many others inhabited the forest. The work was very hard, but the land rewarded our efforts lavishly. We were a happy family. So, although we were refugees driven from our true homeland by war, we did not live as oppressed people. My parents protected us from that. We just knew that we were living in another land, and my parents would often talk about going home to South Sudan someday. By the time we were settled in our wilderness home, all of our relatives were scattered through Uganda.
In the Ugandan wilderness, we knew nothing of going to church; but we came to realize that we were part of the Body of Christ. My parents taught us about God and told us stories from the Bible. Our home was always open for fellowship and prayer. The great tamarind tree became a sort of outdoor chapel where we all could gather to sing and worship together. We had no money, so we joyfully brought the first fruits of all our labor as an offering to the Lord. In keeping with our Hebrew heritage, we never failed to remember the traditional feasts and holidays that had become a part of the very fabric of our lives over the centuries, We were so thankful for God’s provision of a refuge for our family. Soon, several Christian friends of ours from South Sudan began to hear of the little village that my father had started, and they came with their whole families to join us. Little by little, our tamarind tree covered a congregation. Over time, the work of plowing fields and raising roofs became lighter with many hands to help. Eventually, we had a flourishing community with men to build silos and women to weed the gardens, and children to grow together. We called our new village Ambuluwa. Our home was no longer a wilderness.
Please join me for Part 2 of "An Interview with William Levi" next week . . .
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