Chapter One Who Are Abraham Nhial and the Lost Boys of Sudan?

At that time a gift will be brought to the Lord of Hosts from a people tall and smooth-skinned, a people feared near and far, a powerful nation with a strange language, whose land is divided by rivers…to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the Lord of Hosts.

Isaiah 18:7

If the Lord had not been on our side

when men attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us alive

in their burning anger against us.

Then the waters would have engulfed us;

the torrent would have swept over us;

the raging waters would have swept over us.

Praise the Lord,

who has not let us be ripped apart by their teeth.

Psalm 124:2-6

SOUTH SUDAN 1987. Fear seized nine-year-old Abraham Yel Nhial and held him captive. Paralyzed by the stories his father had told about the murdering soldiers from Khartoum, the capital of his country, Abraham reached deep inside for courage.

The thundering beat of drums from a nearby village warned of danger and echoed terror across the new morning sky. Abraham knew enemy soldiers marched toward the Dinka villages. They came to loot, steal cattle, and carry away women and children as slaves. His mind raced with questions. If only someone would tell him what to do.

"If you hear the drums telling us that the enemy is coming, run," his father had said. "They kill all who get in their way."

But Abraham couldn't bring himself to obey. Had his father gotten the family to safety? What would happen to the village called Geer where he lived with his grandmother? He stood alone in the middle of Nyakrar, the fenced cattle camp, surrounded by the longhorn cattle so precious to his people. Even here, he was a day away from Geer and his beloved grandmother. If he left the cows, he would be neglecting his responsibility. Abraham trembled. He wanted to hide. His heart pounded so hard that he thought it would burst through his chest. He must get back to Wun Lang, his father's village along the Lol River, but that was two days away.

The drums continued. He pressed his palms against his ears in hopes the sound would stop, that the warning meant nothing. If he cried loud enough, his uncle might find him, reassure him that danger had passed. Maybe Abraham's uncle would take him to his father's village to show him the enemy had not brought destruction. When no one answered his pleas, Abraham began to run. His stomach churned at the thought of the enemy taking his father's cows or worse yet, harming his family. He had to see for himself…to see if he could find help. Abraham wrestled with the fear and the desire to take on the role of a man.

He tore through the fenced pen, past the cows, and ran. His legs and sides ached like needles pricking his entire body. Every breath caused his chest to burn. Other villages were closer than Wun Lang, but he denied himself rest or to ask for something to eat. The enemy might be waiting. Instead, he hid during times when his body craved a moment's reprieve. He avoided the thick forests because he'd never been there before, and the dense growth was full of wild animals and poisonous snakes. The tall grasses hid him like a protective coverlet.

When Abraham arrived at Wun Lang, he found the enemy soldiers had left. The smell of burning, thatched-roof huts filled his nostrils and a stench of something he couldn't define but would never forget. Dying embers and gusts of smoke were all that remained of many homes. He stared at the bodies of his relatives and friends: lifeless forms that once laughed, talked, danced, and worked. Now blood flowed from their mutilated bodies. He'd never seen a dead person, for in his village children were not permitted to see a corpse. Never had he viewed a sight so terrible. Fear reigned where he allowed himself to feel at all.

His village had once held a thousand people; now there were none. Horror beyond his worst nightmare appeared before his unresponsive dark eyes. He had no idea what had happened to his parents, four sisters, and two brothers. Their bodies did not lie among the others. Had they escaped the soldiers? Where were they?