James Lual Atak
New Life Ministry Indigenous Director
James Lual Atak is from the village of Nyamlel in Bahr Al Gazhel, South Sudan. He is the founder and director of New Life Ministry, along the border of Darfur.
The brutal persecution, slavery and genocide enacted against the indigenous people of Sudan by the invading Islamic regime of North Sudan has created an estimated two million orphans. Sudanese orphans have no form of child services or housing, are left to fend for themselves alone in the desert, and are most vulnerable to disease, starvation, abuse and slavery. This region along the border of Darfur in particular was the hardest hit during the five decades of war between the north and the south. Today this disputed borderland receives a continual flow of returning slaves and refugees from Darfur and North Sudan. New Life Ministry, is strategically located in Nyamlel providing care for widows and unadoptable orphans at highest risk of genocide, persecution and slavery.
NLM is our first and oldest school, orphanage, and clinic in South Sudan thus it is the largest and most developed. NLM provides complete care for approximately 750 children, including elementary through high school education. We also have a vibrant widows and redeemed sex-slave ministry which employs and helps stabilize thousands of women. One day, James Lual Atak, the founding indigenous director of NLM, dreams of having a training college here.
This orphanage is also unique in that we receive orphans from both sides of a decades-long war. Darfur Muslim orphans and Southern Sudan Christian/Animist orphans learn about the love of Christ side-by-side and begin a long journey of healing, forgiveness and restoration.
In the Beginning
When James was a child, the most memorable day of his life is the fifth day of being alone during the Janjaweed attack on his village. That was the day that a family came walking by the tree he was crying under and they took pity on him, including him into their clan as they fled for safety. He hid himself under a bush crying as he heard people say they had seen a big fire coming from his homestead.
This family filled him with hope that even though they thought his whole family was dead, someone might take care of him; he was about nine years old. The attack lasted for many days. In the chaos of thousands of people running with no food or supplies, however, James got separated from the kind family.
For the next 15 years, James lived ‘on the run’ in some form or fashion. To sit around a circle and chat with James about his childhood is to hear about a little boy watching his friends, that he made along the desert roads of Sudan, getting eaten alive by wild animals or scrounging for food by eating flesh off the bones of carcasses that other animals had killed.
Finally, James made his way to Nairobi, Kenya. Life didn’t get much better as he lived on the streets, slept in doorways and begged for food. Then he met George William, the President of Open Doors of Sudan. George and his wife took James in and helped him along the way to get his education. George also led James to the Lord.
As many of the Lost Boys of Sudan were, James felt desperate to obtain a Visa to the West (America, Great Britain or Australia). His girlfriend, who he had met while in a refugee camp in Uganda, and he had dreams of getting married as soon as one of them got a visa.
However, God had different plans for James. Now, a young adult, James kept being troubled by the thoughts of how many orphans were still left behind in Sudan with no help and no hope. He was troubled for two reasons: 1) he knew firsthand what their lives were like 2) he felt powerless as an impoverished young man himself to do anything about it.
James took his concerns to George. George prayed with and for James and he encouraged James to trust that the Lord would equip him if He called him. As James prayed daily about what he should do, he continued to check with the immigration authorities for his visa status. One day his name appeared on the list for an American visa. His girlfriend’s name was on the list for an Australian visa. His girlfriend was so excited and told James she would marry him and then they could go to either country they wanted together.
James, however, felt all the more burdened. He had begun to really believe the Lord wanted him to return to Sudan and help his people. But, this was a golden opportunity to live in the land of wealth and plenty with the woman he loved. He went to his girlfriend and told her that he was not accepting his visa.
Instead he asked her to marry him so that they could return to their people together and serve God. She told him he was crazy! People were dying there! Everyone wanted OUT and they were the lucky ones – why would they go back? James’ only answer was because his people needed them and God was calling them.
George William gave James enough money for a ticket back to Sudan and $300 for food. James returned to Sudan alone. His girlfriend accepted her visa and moved to Australia. His own people thought he was crazy as he preached under a Mahogany tree and taught orphans to read from one textbook. When his $300 was gone, he sold the extra set of clothes he had so that he could buy tea, sugar and biscuits.
By the time Make Way Partners found James under that tree in 2005, he had 153 orphans all trying to learn to read from that one text book! With no financial support, all the orphans slept in the bush, and survived on whatever leaves or dead animals they could find.
MWP offered James a partnership to provide financial, spiritual, and emotional support for he and all the orphans at NLM. Today, MWP provides complete care for over 750 orphans at NLM and has a thriving slave repatriation ministry assisting widows and former-slaves.