A Portrait of the American as a Lost Boy
by Kristyn Komarnicki
If you have 90 minutes and you want to spend them meaningfully, watch the documentary God Grew Tired of Us. It tells the story of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan and follows a handful of them as they emigrate from a refugee camp in Kenya to a new life in the United States. Their story gives you a chance to marvel at both the resilience of the human spirit and the toll that survival takes on the spirit.
We watch as the men encounter a series of disorienting firsts: from airplane food and indoor plumbing to—most daunting of all—the “time is money” American lifestyle that sees them working 2-3 jobs simultaneously with scant time to enjoy Sabbath rest with their friends. Their courage in undertaking these changes, their hope of improving not only their own lives but those of the brothers they left behind in the camp, and their honesty about what they endured as children invite viewers into the emotional, spiritual, and cultural struggles as the Lost Boys deal with highly conflicting values and demands.
They have left a contained world of lethargy and scarcity in the refugee camp and have entered a world of great pressures. At times we can glimpse the developmental stages they missed due to being orphaned as such a young age and exposed to such horrific hardships. They yearn for their lost parents even as they strive to take on more adult responsibility than most of their American counterparts. They long to work hard and gain self-sufficiency even as they lament the lack of rest, community, and free time that African culture so lavishly offers. Through their eyes we can see all too clearly the immense poverty of the “developed” world.
I allowed my 12- and 16-year-old sons to earn some extra computer time in exchange for watching this film, sensing that if could get them to leave behind the fantasy worlds they prefer and to engage in the challenging lives of these young Sudanese (even for an hour or two) they just might find some courage to face—and maybe even seek out—the challenges of growing into manhood. Call it “Realm of the Mad Gods vs Ordeals of the Lost Boys.” My sons laughed as the newly arrived Sudanese balk at their first escalator, but they also fell silent and serious as one of the men describes being put in charge, at the age of only 13, of 1200 smaller children and being required to dig graves for many of those companions who succumbed to starvation along the way.
I confess that I want to break my sons’ hearts, to yank them out of their entertainment-driven lives, and to push them out into a world where they can offer friendship to and receive joy from connections with brave souls like the Lost Boys. If you doubt that these refugees offer more than they receive, please read “Changing Places” from the July/August 2012 issue of PRISM. It profiles the churches and individuals whose lives have been immeasurably enriched by reaching out to a population most people avoid.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the Lost Boys of Sudan possess the antidote to what threatens every boy in America today, boys at risk of being lost to a world of pixels, fantasy, and self-absorption. The Lost Boys possess faith, courage, determination—and hearts the size of Sudan.