Sixteen-year-old James Duku was kidnapped by rebel soldiers, held at gunpoint, then beaten. Why? Because he's a Christian.

by C. Hope Flinchbaugh

Imagine having an AK47 pointed up your nose, with an angry soldier telling you to leave town. This is exactly what happened to a 16-year-old guy last June.

James Duku lives in Goro Goro, an African village in Uganda, just below Sudan. You know, Sudan—the country that’s bombing its Christians and starving its own children.

Well, this time the Sudanese government picked on a Ugandan guy. Last June, James was doing gardening chores for his mother when he was kidnapped by soldiers fighting in a rebel group under the National Islamic Front militia. The NIF is supported by the government of Sudan.

James found himself in the company of about a hundred other guys and girls from his area, ages 10 to 16. And this was no camping trip.

"I had to take of my shirt," James said. "We were tied together around the waist in groups of five. Our hands were also tied behind our backs, and the soldiers told us if we cried, they’d shoot us. While we marched north to Juba (a city in Sudan controlled by the NIF), one boy started crying. They shot and killed him."

After frightening all the kids out of their wits all day, the soldiers made everyone sleep out in the open the first night. It was no pajama party. The next morning James reported they were all beaten, punched, kicked and slapped while being commanded not to cry.

The young people were then forced to march in 105-degree heat through the tall grass and flat brush. The few solitary trees on the way provided little shade.

The soldiers followed a dried-up streambed part of the way to Juba.

"Most of us were Christians," James said.

It takes guts just to admit that in Sudan and Uganda these days. The Sudanese government is on a campaign against Christians—and against moderate Muslims and animists, too (the traditional African religion). The plan’s simple. Either you convert to a narrow interpretation of Islam or you die.

The kids knew they were being taken to radical Muslims in northern Sudan who would gladly trade them for guns. Their future? Some would be forced to fight in the NIF militia, Sudan’s army. Others would be used for slaves. And everyone would be forced to observe the Islamic religion.

As they were walking, the soldiers and their captives suddenly found themselves under fire. The Ugandan army, known as UPDF, or Ugandan People’s Defense Force, had launched a strike against James’ abductors.

When UPDF started firing, the NIF commanded the children to stand, forcing them to be human shields. Amazingly, James and six other boys managed to squirm loose from their ropes, then took off running. They headed off in different directions, their hands still tied behind their backs.

James waited for some time before coming out of hiding. He couldn’t find the others, so he wandered around the unfamiliar bush for days, lost and hungry.

Finally, he saw a grass hut in the dense Sudanese bush. What a find! A Christian family lived there, and they gladly took him in.

Several weeks later an American man named Jim Jacobson, the head of Christian Freedom International, found James and listened to his story.

The American asked James, "How do you feel now about God? Do you feel He let you down because you were captured?"

"I feel grateful to be alive," James replied. "God has been so good."

Jacobson was in awe. Not only did James have the guts to make it through the beatings, crossfire, and wandering alone in the bush, but he had the courage to stick to his beliefs in spite of it all.

Jacobson arranged to have James taken back to his village in Uganda, where he was united with his family in July.

During the crossfire, the UPDF had had to back down—they couldn’t shoot at their own kids. So except of James and six other guys, the human shield trick worked. More than 90 kids are still held captive.

"Please pray for us" is the usual request from the Sudanese and Uganda Christian families. "Pray our families will be reunited."

And pass the word along. James is one gutsy Goro Goro guy. But there are thousands of persecuted Christians like him in Sudan. Tell somebody.

You can help by calling Christian Freedom International, 800/323-CARE