Child Soldier Runs for God and Olympic Gold
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“I’m running this race, not for me. It’s for them. I’m carrying their flag. I’m running for the children that don’t have even moms, don’t have parents, don’t have anybody to take care of them, to clothe them. To feed them. They are hungry. To give them a shoe. I am running for those kids, those parents who don’t have enough. That never come here.”
Lopez Lomong was born in a small village in Sudan. When he was six, rebels snatched him from his mother’s arms during a church service. “I was dragged by a big guy with a lot of guns and bullets around him and were thrown in … a truck.”
He was imprisoned at a rebel camp where he watched other young captives die. That’s when he and three other boys planned their escape. “They told me like, ‘Hey, tonight you’re going to see your momma again.’”
In the dead of the night, Lopez slipped through a prison fence and ran for his life! “We’re trying to like run into the woods, through the savannah, in a tall grass that’s like that because we don’t want anybody to be able to see us above on the hills. We never had any food along the way. We just had fruits.”
Three days and forty miles later, the Kenyan Border Patrol found little Lopez and took him to a refugee camp. It was his home for the next ten years! His new enemies became disease, hunger and despair.
Tom Buehring, 700 Club Reporter: “How often were you afraid that you were going to lose your life?”
“I wanted to be one of those kids who just goes to sleep and never wakes up… Survival of the fittest! You have to be strong. You have to be able to get that half peel of banana or expired canned food. We all fighted for that. That was our life. I’m just going to go, day-by-day, hour-by-hour and I know that God’s going to give me an opportunity. And-that’s basically what made me keep going.”
Lopez attended church services. He longed for a deeper relationship with God and wanted to be baptized. During a Christmas Eve service he made a commitment to live like Jesus. “I’ve been chosen. God wanted me to carry that cross and follow Him. And how Jesus appointed His disciples, called them by name … that’s why I’m doing the God work”.
He began running the 18-mile perimeter of the refugee camp to meet the kid’s self-imposed requirement to play in their soccer games. It served as a distraction. “It basically kept me away from thinking about my meal and, I mean, it’s very – it’s very tough to see that little rationing. You know you have to eat one meal a day. So running became something like I have to keep myself away from hunger.”
When Lopez turned 16, a remarkable opportunity opened. He was among 38-hundred displaced kids chosen to live with families in the United States. Robert and Barbara Rodgers became Lopez’s American parents as part of the Lost Boys of Sudan Program.
“I’m so blessed to be in this country. Me and my mom went to shop for school supplies. My mom bought me a backpack. Although I didn’t even read anything, to have that backpack, to have that pencil, crayons in my backpack, at 16 years old so I can be able to write something I’ll remember afterward, is just incredible.”
Lopez graduated from high school in nearby Tully, NY, where he ran on the track team. He earned a scholarship to Northern Arizona University and became an American citizen. He qualified for the 2008 Olympics in the Men’s 1500 meters and carried the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies. Lopez won his first national title a year later at the 2009 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. He competes year-round internationally, never forgetting the thousands of remaining Lost Boys of Sudan still searching for homes.
“Now I’m running toward something. I’m running toward something to be able to give back to those kids, to give them opportunity, to give them that light for them a future. ‘You went to United States and you told your story, basically now you rescued all of us.’ God put us here for the reason. And put me here to survive all these obstacles that I went through for the reason – basically, to go out and help.”
Lopez lives and trains in Portland, Oregon. His newly released book Running for My Life is raising awareness of the plight of displaced children in Southern Sudan. “Put everything in God’s hand, and follow what your heart and God relationship tells you to do. We all have different things that go through our lives … We’re all racing in our hearts in different ways. We all have things that we need to overcome. You just have to like step on that line and race. Get there. Call God and say, ‘Hey, I’m here. Save me. Forgive me.’ That is the race that we all need to do.”
His next race is in London at the Olympics when he runs the Men’s 5000 Meters.
Tom Buehring: “The Olympic 5K is 12 and a half laps. In the first six – runners share pacing and positioning. The next four require perseverance. But it’s in Lopez’s last lap and a half when he prepares to strike! Then in that final straightaway stretch – the focus is his alone!"
“(That’s when you say,) ‘Oh God, help me. Just give me one more strength’. Eighty meters to go and then you strike. Strike hard. Basically that’s when you just get in and say, ‘Hey, I’m doing this for joy. I’m doing this for God. I’m doing for everything that means so much to me. I’m running, close my eyes, visualizing everything that I went through. Running away from people, rocks, sticks breaking into my skin while I was running barefoot with my Sunday best clothes that I had. Jesus did save me and Jesus did help me with my race. I’m not in the finish line yet, I’m just in the middle of the race.”
(Our gratitude to Digital Works Production, Beaverton, Oregon
for their generous talent and the gracious use of their footage.)
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