“It feels like I am a million miles away from where I might have been, had God not interrupted my life from the course it was taking. I've gone from being a ‘Lost Boy’ of Sudan to a proud U.S. citizen who is loved and cared for by so many people in this country – no longer ‘lost!’” –Lopez Lomong
When he was 6 years old, Olympic runner Lopez Lomong was kidnapped along with other children from his village in Sudan to serve as a child soldier. The men who took him came on a Sunday while the community was in church. Lopez’s is certainly a story of overcoming the odds … but also of miracles.
The soldiers that abducted Lopez brought him and the other children to a camp where the boys were forced to become child soldiers: learn to kill, or be killed. But that’s where the miracles began for Lopez. Three older boys at the camp became friends with Lopez – they rescued him, and together the four fled on foot and escaped during the night.
That was where Lopez ran the first race of his life. Years later, about to race in the 2007 NCAA 1500m championships, Lopez reflects back on that race as a 6-year-old: “Although this was the biggest race of my life up until this point, I did not run for my life. I ran that race a long time ago when I took off in the night with my three angels. We knew the rebel soldiers might open fire at any moment, which made us run even faster.”
For three days and nights, the four boys ran, finally arriving at a refugee camp in Kenya, where Lopez would spend the next decade as an undocumented orphan.
“Once we arrived in Kakuma, I ran every day, not just to play soccer but to take my mind off of my empty stomach and the harsh realities of the refugee camp,” Lopez writes.
Over the next ten years, Lopez dreamed of what else his life might hold for him in the future, outside of the camp, and grew closer to God every day. His prayer was that one day he would be able to leave the camp and start a new life.
That prayer was answered in 2001 when a family in the United States decided to adopt him, one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan.”
6 years later, Lopez was running in the 1500m championships. “Today I ran for pure, absolute joy. My past set me free to enjoy the present moment. I planned to enjoy it to the fullest. No man ever felt so blessed by God as I did in that moment. None of this made me feel pressure as I lined up for the 1500 meter final. Pressure is trying to make a UN food allotment stretch for 30 days. Pressure is watching people die of malaria and wondering who in the camp will be next. Pressure is writing an essay that will determine your entire future in a language you do not know. A footrace, even a championship race, did not make me feel pressure.”
Winning that championship race, Lopez “cruised through the finish line, took a few steps, punched the stopwatch on my wrist, then collapsed on the track in joy. I looked up at the heavens and made the sign of the cross. Thank you God, Thank you God! May you multiply this gift more and more. My prayer had to do with far more than running.”
Having competed for Team USA in the 2012 London Olympics, Lopez continues to run today, driven by his passion for running but also his deeper passion to help his former country of South Sudan. He started his own Lopez Lomong Foundation for South Sudan, and runs with Team World Vision.
“I was given an opportunity; I was given a chance to tell my story,” Lopez says. “It’s no longer about me. It’s about them. It’s about people going through all these things as we speak: the children who don’t have education, the kids who are dying every day … the poverty that people are going through right now. And clean water. Have you ever gone without clean water, or even water? And yet there’s people walking 15 to 20 miles to just fetch two gallons of clean water somewhere, and it’s not enough.”
“I have to speak up,” he says. “My story is their story.”
From a very young age, Lopez has understood that God’s blessings aren’t to be hoarded, but are instead a conduit for others to share in life’s fullness. The personal hardship he has experienced has given him a larger view of life, and now he feels responsible to aid those whose current circumstances reflect what was once his story.
“God has saved him,” writes World Vision’s Steve Haas, “and now, with a larger understanding of his world, Lopez realizes that it's his turn to assist in saving others.”
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While the obstacles in Lopez’s life have been greater than those that most of us go through, many of our supporters – especially our Team World Vision runners – have beat the odds to be where they are today.
Each Thursday this September, we’ll share another incredible story of a Team World Vision runner who endured despite the odds against them and why they are inspired to give back.
What odds have you overcome? Tell us your story! And if you feel inspired to give back, you can set up your own fundraising page here!