Before going any further, I'm also so full of joy to share with you that my devotional, This Last Surrender, is now available in paperback and on Kindle. It is a 31-day devotional for women who seek a deeper walk with Christ. I pray that it will a great encouragement. Here are the links for purchase on Amazon:
When did you come to the United States?
By the grace of God, I finally arrived safe and secure in the United States of America on August 28, 1988. It had been 27 years since I escaped from my native country of Sudan, yet I knew that my journey was just beginning. My travels spanned four continents and three seas and by 2004, my travel had gone 360 degrees. In January 2004, 18 years later, I returned back to South Sudan to my small village of Beth Israel, which had become a wilderness after 18 years in desolations. I founded myself standing in the same foundation of the ruin of my family house where my parents blessed me in January of 1985, before I left for America in the midst of persecution. I had passed the great river, I had crossed a vast desert, and I had lived as a stranger among people who were strange to me, yet so many of them also have become my extended families in Yeshua. They have embraced me in the Love of Yeshua and we become brothers and sisters. My journey had been fraught with uncertainty and peril; but God had kept me through it all, as though refining me by fire. After my brief sojourn in Egypt for 18 months and Turkey for three months, I spent another 18 months in Lyon, France. The French people were very kind to me and I was permitted to remain in their country. French was language number four for me, and I studied it with a vengeance as I worked dead-end jobs to get by. I soon realized that it would take several years of study to reach a level of fluency necessary for a college education within the French university system. Still, I kept trying to advance myself. Meanwhile, I discovered that truly godly men like Father Nus were not all that common in the “Christian” west. Although Europe in general and France in particular had much to offer, the post-Christian values of the French culture were quite a shock to my sensibilities. The moral codes shared by Christians in Africa were considered to be old-fashioned by the Europeans; and many European churches were lukewarm in their enthusiasm for the Gospel. Still, I managed to find a church family in France.
After nearly two years in France, God finally opened the door for me to travel to the United States. The opportunity was like a dream come true for me. As my airplane arched into the sky, I felt like my life was about to start all over again.
Upon my arrival in the USA in 1988, I briefly stayed with an Irish American family in Milton, MA whose son, Late Mr. Michael Greenan, whom I met in Egypt in 1986. After three weeks in Milton, MA, I decided to go to Washington DC to apply for a political asylum and meet the US immigration obligation. I took a Greyhound bus from Boston, MA and upon arrival in Newark, NJ train Station, I stepped out of the bus, thinking that I arrived in Washington, DC but rather I was still 266 miles away from my final destination. At that point, I decided to pray and seek God for answers. I got a clear directive from His word. “The place where you are is a holy ground.” Newark, NJ would become my home for the next 8 years. It was in Newark NJ where the Lord dealt with me. He set my feet on the rock. I knew I could not do without Him. I knew I had to obey His word and His Voice. As He says in John 15:5 -8 “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.…abide in Me, for without Me you can do nothing.” So it was in Newark, NJ that the Lord planted me in a city in the late 80s considered to be the number one crime city in America. But the Lord was with me. As Jesus says in His word, obedience is better than sacrifice. I knew I had to be in the Word of God and in the will of God. I knew I had to be in fellowship with the body of Christ. I knew I had to be grounded in a local church. I knew I had to be legal in the country and obey the law of the land. I knew I had to find a job, work with my own hands, as the Bible says: Psalm 90:17: May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us-yes, establish the work of our hands.
Arriving in America with nothing, except my Bible, I knew, first thing was first. As the Bible says "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and the rest will be added unto you. " In 1988, 27 years ago, upon my arrival in the USA, I had a lot to learn before getting too much ahead of myself. When I arrived in the USA, I committed my life and plan to the Lord and asked him to help me direct my path in America. In obedience to the word of God, I had to overcome youthful temptations and the desire of the flesh which America has plenty to offer. I was all by myself. But I also knew that I was not alone, Christ in me. I tried faithfully to stay grounded in the Bible and sought out a community of true believers in the household of faith whom I considered to be my family. It as Proverbs 3: 5-6 says, "Lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path." After 3 and half years of sleepless nights of college education and work, I ended up holding a degree in Manufacturing Engineering from NJIT in 1992. Then in July 1993, I answered God’s call in my life to establish Operation Nehemiah Missions to help alleviate the plight of my people back in South Sudan.
How and when did you come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
I’m going to start my testimony of Salvation here. It has been 37 years since coming to the Lord. My Spiritual journey has been triumphant seasoned with a lot of blessings, challenges and opportunities to be a witness for the Great Commission. In this journey, I have gone through the valleys and the mountain tops and walk through the tableland. All in all, these experiences fulfill the promises that all believers have to go through to be true disciple of Yeshua. It is to refine us as we go through the refining process to conform us to the image of Yeshua for the Glory of God as we read in Romans 5, James 1 and 1 Peter 4, 2 Peter 1, etc.
Last year, on the 9th, May 2014, I went back to the village of Opari Nykanigwa, Eastern Equatoria, South Sudan with my wife Hannah and our six children where I surrendered my life to Yeshua on December 25, 1977. I was barely 13 at the time. Last May, 37 years later, I came back with Spiritual fruits of 7 souls that God entrusted to me (Hannah and the children) whose lives have been intertwined with my own on this spiritual journey. I’m like Peter saying, “I have nowhere else to go, I have tasted the goodness of God’s grace and found my resting place in Yeshua, and have no other argument." "So Jesus said to the twelve, 'You do not want to go away also, do you?' Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom we shall go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.'"…John 6: 67-69.
It was here where I grew up both physically and spiritually. Opari Nykanigwa is located in Eastern Equatoria in the midst of a very beautiful expanse of mountains and rivers. What a blessing it was for me to bring my family after 37 years, still walking in the faith I had embraced in Yeshua and to stand on the Kulojobi River bed where God transformed my life as a young lad into a new man. As you read in my book, The Bible or the Axe, “ it was here for three years 1975-1977, I received discipleship under my Grandpapa Bishop Andea Vuni who baptized me on Christmas of December 25, 1977 Hannah and the children were so touched. It was December of 1977, and the quiet, brown waters of the Kulo-jobi River lapped and eddied along rocky banks that had been exposed by the long dry season. The dry season was the time of baptism in most villages, because that was when the waters were calm. In August, torrential rains would swell the river bed-and the Kulo-jobi would rage and boil again. It wouldn’t do to have congregants swept away by the currents.
I stood on the shore as a skinny boy of thirteen that December, feeling the packed dirt beneath my bare feet. It was a happy feeling. Tall grasses bent and rustled as a warm breath of dry air soughed across the savannah lands, mingling the scents of sun-dappled vegetation and hot earth. The mountains stood out in sharp relief in the blue sky beyond the wooded riverbanks. It was easy to think about God’s great love for me as I drank in the beauty of my surroundings.
I barely noticed the others from my baptismal group as they gathered by the river. The mood was reverent, and people spoke only in whispers as we all waited for the ceremony to begin. Finally, my grandfather appeared and stood beneath a huge old tree by the riverbank to address the congregation. As he spoke, I studied the water that flowed gently behind him. I was about to venture into that water to be immersed! The river was muddy this time of year, and I hoped that there was nothing sinister lurking in the shallows. Alligators, snakes, and even sharp rocks might be waiting for me there, but grandfather didn’t seem to be even a little bit concerned. I shook off my childish fears and began to listen to the sermon. It was time to become a man and a full member of the church. I wanted to be ready. Once again, the text for grandfather’s sermon was from Ephesians. He spoke of the struggles that we would endure if we chose to cast our lot with Jesus Christ. “Yeshua was a man acquainted with grief,” he said. “If you wish to partake of His glory, you must understand that you will be asked to partake of his suffering.” The congregants nodded at grandfather’s words. Every single person there knew what it was like to be targeted for persecution. “Are you willing to lay down your lives for the sake of the gospel?” It was quiet except for the cheerful song of a colorful bird and the chirping of insects in the grass. Each person pondered grandfather’s words, fully understanding that they might eventually be called upon to do just that. Grandfather surveyed the crowd before him, love and pain mingled in his expression. “A good soldier must be prepared to die. But we have God’s armor, protecting our eternal spirit against the devil’s schemes.”
I was too young to completely understand the implications of grandfather’s words. Yes, we had lived as refugees, and I knew that boys like me were sometimes stolen from refugee camps to become slaves. I also knew something of war; and I knew that my own father believed that our current peace agreement was a fragile one. But I didn’t really imagine that I would ever be asked to deny Christ or face death. Grandfather, though, knew from experience that some would die for their convictions, and he had been working to prepare his congregation for just such a possibility. “Put on the helmet of salvation, and the breastplate of righteousness,” he continued. “Make sure your feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” I looked down at my toes. Little puffs of dirt swirled up between them as I dug them into the dirt of the riverbank. I tried to imagine that I was wearing gospel shoes. The image was an odd one, but I understood that the scripture wasn’t talking about real shoes, or real armor. The war, though, was very real. “Most importantly, learn to wield the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Grandfather was finished with his sermon, and we all sang a hymn. It was time for the baptismal ceremony to take place. Murmurs of excitement rose all around me as everyone jostled for a better view.
It was a special time for everyone, because most families had at least one member preparing for this sacrament. When my name was finally called, I walked toward the great tree that served as a podium for our outdoor gathering. Its branches spread lazily overhead, swaying softly in the breeze. Great roots twisted into the riverbank at crazy angles, jutting up like solid benches; perfect for sitting on. Grandfather looked into my eyes, and I sensed that he was studying my face very carefully. He was searching for something in my expression, but I wasn’t sure what that something could be. “William Ochan Levi,” he said. “Your enemy will come.” I nodded dumbly. Without a word, grandfather produced an axe and placed it on a broad root of the great tree. Next to it, he placed the Bible. Then he turned and focused his gaze on me once again. “When your enemy comes to destroy you, which weapon will you choose?” Would it be the Bible, or the axe? I was taken aback by the question. If my enemies were coming towards me, preparing to kill me, I would certainly want to have that broad, sharp axe in my hand. I could almost feel the heft of the smooth wooden handle, worn by years of hewing trees.
The sharp head of the axe was a perfect counterbalance to the haft, and I knew what it felt like to send the sharp steel ringing into a sturdy trunk. Surely the axe would give me a fighting chance against the swords of the jihad. For we battle not against flesh and blood… The words of my scripture lessons flooded my mind with a new clarity. Suddenly, I understood that I would never be able to fight my enemy with a weapon of steel. Almost as if by instinct, my hand reached for the Bible. Grandfather smiled, and I thought I detected a fleeting expression of relief. “You have chosen the right way,” he said at last. We waded together into the murky water, and I no longer thought of snakes and alligators. I knew that I would have to trust God for my life just as I trusted Him for my soul. I emerged from the water a changed man. From that point on ward, I’m pressing on the race set before us.” This has been my spiritual journey. No regrets. I’m pressing on to the upwards callings.
Please join me next week for part 3 of this encouraging interview.
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