Central Idea: The Lord holds us up as we face the fears and storms of our lives.
It was a Sunday morning, just like so many Sunday mornings before. As was their custom, the family got up and went to Mass. Then, halfway through the service, armed soldiers stormed in, blindfolded and abducted all the children, including little six-year-old Lopez Lomong. Coming to Mass has always been a bit dangerous.
The children’s abduction was part of a systematic program of subjugation, oppression and genocide of the Christian population in southern Sudan, the insidious byproduct of a brutal and senseless civil war in that hapless country.
Imagine what the little boy, Lopez Lomong, had to go through. He was driven blindfolded in a truck along with all the other children. A short while later, the truck stops. The boys are separated from the girls. Finally the boys arrive at a makeshift prison where the soldiers removed the blindfolds. The soldiers march the boys single file and feed them a virtually indigestible mixture of grain and sand. Some of the boys eat too much, too fast. They fall fast asleep. They never awake.
Nevertheless, against all odds, little six-year-old Lomong survived. Several weeks later after he arrived at the labor camp, in the dead of night, he and a few friends crawled out of the barracks and squeezed through a hole in a fence and fled from their captors under a moonless sky. And they ran… and they ran… and they ran. They ran for three days and three nights straight, ending up, unbeknownst to the little boy, in Kenya. They were placed in a refugee camp along with other survivors and escapees, now going by the name of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
Lopez figured his family was dead, executed. He similarly figured that he would never be able return to his home or village. He also figured out that he would probably not live very long in the refugee camp. But then, in a stroke of luck, a blessing, some might say, little Lopez Lomong was adopted by a family in New York state when the U.S. Government allowed 3500 of the Lost Boys into the country.
When his adoptive parents, Robert and Barbara Rogers, picked him up from the airport to bring him to his new home, Lopez discovered a whole new world. He was amazed at the chicken sandwich, a rare delicacy in Africa, was easily obtained and eaten at his local McDonald’s. He was amazed by the books, pens, paper and pencils he had ready access to in the high school in which he was enrolled. But not only that, Lopez Lomong found opportunity in his new country, an opportunity to go to college in Arizona.
He had weathered the storm of his tortured and heartbreaking journey. God had carried him across the troubled stormy waters of civil war, oppression, hatred and genocide.
And there were more blessings and surprises still to come. Many more.
In our gospel, we have the familiar, yet unusual story of Jesus walking on the water. It is easy to get caught up in the miraculous nature of this event: to marvel at the wonder of the story, or, for the modern mind, for the skeptical among us, to shake one’s head at the impossibility of it all. But the heart of the story, the crux of the matter is that Christ walks with us, lifts us up, and steadies us through the turbulent storms of our lives. You know, like…now. That is the marvelous tale that we recall this weekend, that is good news that we celebrate.
Our journeys may not be as dramatic and extraordinary at the story of Lopez Lomond, but all of us face our own particular exiles, all of us at one time or another have been refugees from God’s grace, all of us falter and totter as we attempt to make our way upon the stormy waters of our lives.
The good news today is that Jesus is there to steady us as he did Peter, as he did Lopez, as he does with all who call upon him. It would be so easy to simply give up, to hopelessly sink, to be submerged and swallowed by our problems and trials. It may be a family member who is difficult to deal with, it may be a situation at work (or worse, the lack of work). The storm of our lives may be dealing with simply growing older, becoming a “lost boy.” The Scriptures today, boldly and vividly tell us to hang in there, to have faith, to trust in the handhold of the Lord.
Lopez Lomond did, and, remarkably, his story has inspired the world. He got to go back to the Sudan and reunite with his parents, parents who had long figured him as dead. They dug up his things which they had buried in remembrance of their son and he, in turn, bought them a gift: A television. A television so that they could watch their son do something remarkable, something that only happens to a special few, once in a lifetime.
In 2008, China, a country who is involved with the mess of the Sudan, was the site of the Summer Olympics. The government had revoked the visa of a man named Joey Cheek, a U.S. athlete and an activist, forbidding him into the country for the Olympics. The reason for this is that Cheek began a program called Team Darfur, a group of athletes committed to bring the story of the atrocities of southern Sudan to the attention of the world. China, in case you were unaware, does fully not appreciate differences of opinion. China certainly did not appreciate Joey Cheek. And so he was banned, forbidden to enter the country. In response, the captains of all the US teams met in the Olympic village to confer upon an athlete the honor of carrying the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies. The team did not choose a famous athlete. The team did not choose a certain gold medal favorite. Instead, the team chose a little known 1500 meter runner who had just barely even made the Olympic team. They chose, you’ve guessed it by now, Lopez Lomond. Apparently all that endless running from oppression and civil war paid off.
As he told a reporter, I am not just one of the Lost Boys, I am… an American.
No matter what you do, no matter what stormy waters you may have to navigate in the days, weeks, months and years ahead, trust in your God, keep putting one foot in front of the other even when the way seems treacherous and uncertain. Keep pushing ahead and you too will never be Lost again.