John Malow

John Malow Bedit was kidnapped at age 11, given his first AK-47 a week later and forced to serve as a child soldier in a brutal and bloody conflict. Three years ago he graduated from the University of Juba. Now, as a CMS-Africa local partner, he is working with the Fellowship of Christian University Students in South Sudan to help Christian students and leaders work together towards the goal of rebuilding South Sudan. Here, he tells his story.

I was born in Unity State, South Sudan, and an age assessment has assigned me a date of birth of 1 January 1987. I grew up with my mother and sisters in a timber and grass hut, helping to look after our cows and cultivate the land from a young age as my older brother had left for the city the year that I was born. I was three when I was first told about Jesus, and six when I was baptised by a Catholic priest on Christmas Day.

Five years later I was kidnapped at gunpoint by soldiers who tied my hands behind my back with rope and forced me to walk the long journey to their camp. After one week’s training I and the other children with me were given new AK-47s.

The training was harsh and intensive; we were drilled in the full heat of the day, some of us without uniform or boots. We had no choice but to follow orders and were closely monitored to prevent escape. One day our camp came under heavy attack and there were many casualties, including the attackers’ operational commander, who I saw shot in the head by a rocket.

Escape and imprisonment

Despite the horror, I believed that God could protect me and I repeatedly prayed for a chance to escape. An opportunity came on a visit to the family of the general I was serving as bodyguard. Leaving behind my rifle and comrades I ran and travelled by foot for nine hours to reach my family. There were many tears at our reunion, but I could not stay so I walked for a further 12 hours to a place of safety where I could be anonymous. Just a few months later, however, I was recognised, recaptured, beaten and imprisoned at a nearby military base.

The general gave instructions that all food and water should be withheld from me. I was crying in my cell and calling out for water. In a quiet moment, I heard one of the officers shout, “That window is not locked with a padlock!” and another answer him: “The boy inside is small. He can’t reach the window.” I believe this was God’s way of helping me get free. I waited until night and then jumped out of the window and over a fence while the men slept deeply under their mosquito nets.

For the next week I hid until my brother got some money to me and then made my way to Khartoum, where I knew no one. But God sustained me. When I arrived I only had money for one more meal and knew little Arabic, but I found work as a cleaner in an Arab house. They paid me a monthly wage and gave me breakfast and lunch each day. My first wages went on clothes, but school was my priority and I enrolled in evening English classes. I also joined the Episcopal Church of Sudan and began preaching the good news that had saved me.

A love of learning

Using the money I saved each week I put myself through primary and then secondary school, before gaining a place at the University of Juba, where I graduated with a BSc in statistics in 2014. I am so thankful to God who has been my father through all this time and who is true to his word: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8).

When I look back on my life I can see how much I have learned about the importance of self-control and discipline, self-confidence, independence, courage and patience. To anyone reading this who has also suffered trauma, I want to say, trust in all situations that God cares for you and that every person who comes to know the Lord Jesus Christ is called for a mission. Seek to find what God’s mission for your life is.

The task of rebuilding

My goal now is to help people discover God’s glorious vision of the comprehensive transformation of individual lives, communities and nations, described by Jesus as the kingdom of God. I work as a CMS-Africa local coordinator and serve with the Fellowship of Christian University Students in South Sudan, an inter-denominational fellowship of Christian students in South Sudanese universities and higher education as well as professional graduates who profess the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are committed to mentoring in all four areas of human development: physical, intellectual, spiritual and social, with the aim of helping Christian students and leaders to recognise that it is our duty to work together for the common goal of rebuilding South Sudan.

One of many ways in which I do this is by helping to run the Financial Freedom for Families course, a course designed by CMS-Africa. Life in South Sudan is often consumed by the struggle to secure daily basic essentials. Levels of financial literacy are low and stress is high. This course teaches participants what the Bible says about making, spending, storing, loving and giving money. It shows people how to steward their financial resources well while growing in their understanding of the gospel and the freedom it offers.

A way forward

Despite all the recent turmoil, I have hope for my country. Before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, no one would have dreamed that South Sudan would one day have independence. But it’s happened. In the same way, though things in the country seem bleak now with ongoing conflict, violence, inflation and food shortages, I know change will come; no matter how long it may take, it will come.

“For God has revealed his grace for the salvation of the whole human race. That grace instructs us to give up ungodly living and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world, as we wait for the blessed Day we hope for, when the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ will appear. He gave himself for us, to rescue us from all wickedness and to make us a pure people who belong to him alone and are eager to do good" (Titus 2:11-14, Good News Bible).

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