By Derek Bound
Self-reliance is insufficient when facing death, says Angelo
It was dark. Suddenly there was the sound of gunfire! It was 1998, Sudan's Second Civil War was raging and soldiers from the Khartoum Government had once more invaded the Southern Sudan town of Leer, 40km east of the Nile River.
The southern half of the country had been devastated by decades of war. Everywhere villages lay in burned ruins and fields were overgrown. Thousands had died, women were raped, cattle stolen, and millions displaced by the war. The technologically superior Muslim North wanted to destroy the largely Christian and Animist South, imposing hard line Sharia Law, and stealing the land where geologists had found oil.
That fatal Sunday night, burning grass-roof huts exposed the screaming townsfolk to the bombs and gunshots of the hidden enemy. Among them were 10 year old Angelo Phaltang, and his 13 year old sister Maria and 8 year old brother Samuel.
Daylight found them deep in the malaria and crocodile infested swamp where they were able to join other adult refugees. They ate whatever they could find. Sometimes they were able to catch fish or villagers gave of their meagre substance. Other days they were able to find some fruit and on lean days they ate leaves.
"We recognised we needed God's help, protection and direction along the way. We had no weapons. We were very vulnerable but God answered our prayers," Angelo recalled.
At a young age Angelo says he figured out from Bible teachings that his life is not his own and that because God had created him, he needed to live in a way that honours Him.
"During one church service, the sermon was on repentance (genuine sorrow for sin) from Jesus' parable of the lost sheep. I knew that I had rebelled against God's good commands, I was a lost sinner. So I needed to turn away from my sin and surrender my life to Jesus, because He took the punishment that I deserved.
"I said to Jesus, 'Lord, take me as I am and use me in any way that suits you'."
Living a life that is Christ-centred "may prove to be more difficult at times", Angelo says, but God has supernaturally enabled him to selflessly serve other people even when facing death.
Prayer, he explains, is critical to achieving that goal. "I constantly ask God in prayer to help me lead a life that glorifies Him and at the same time to be a witness to the people around me."
After walking nearly 500 kilometres, they were picked up by a UN relief convoy, registered and sent on to the UN Kakuma Refugee Camp in Northern Kenya.
While in Kakuma the potential of Angelo and Maria was recognised by some of the foreign aid workers and so they were personally sponsored to boarding schools around Kitale. Angelo's elder brother Peter then made it to Australia and started the process to get his brothers and sister into the country. He was finally successful and they moved to Australia in 2007.
This year, Angelo graduated with a Master's degree in Commerce and both of his siblings have also begun university studies: Maria is pursuing nursing, while Samuel is studying engineering.
As he finishes this review of God's work in his life, Angelo kindly asks, "Where do you put your trust?"
Most people in Australia, he observes, put their trust in themselves. They rely on their own resources.
"But," says Angelo; "it is better to rely on God! For sooner or later your own resources will not be sufficient. I have learnt that there is a purpose in whatever happens in life. Sometimes we don't know what that purpose is but if we trust in God He will see us through.
"I went through a lot of bitter experiences but I always remembered that God was in control. I knew that God had a genuine purpose in all that was happening around me. My harsh experiences only strengthened my faith in Jesus and gave me the opportunity to rely on Him."