Lopez Lomong's childhood story of terror

Today's post is the first in a series that recounts the life story of Lopez Lomong, who will run with Team USA in the London 2012 Olympics, with dreams of bringing home a gold medal.

While his current life sounds like a dream come true, his childhood was more like a nightmare. Born in war-torn South Sudan, Lopez was kidnapped by rebel soldiers at the age of 6 with two foreseeable futures: being forced to kill as a child soldier, or being killed himself.

Part one of the series tells the story of this dark chapter of Lomong's life. Follow along as we hear from him on his abduction, being adopted into the United States, and the realization of his Olympic dreams through his new book, "Running For My Life."

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My eyes were closed in prayer when the trucks pulled up. I heard them before I saw them.

When I looked up, I saw soldiers pouring out of the backs of the trucks. They appeared nervous, as though they wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible.

“Everybody down! Now!” they shouted as they ran into the middle of my congregation.

I knew our country was at war. About once a month, my mother and father grabbed me and and my brothers and sister and ran for shelter as bombs fell in the distance from airplanes that flew from far overhead. But I had never seen a soldier until this bright, summer Sunday, and I had never expected to see soldiers invade a church service.

The soldiers continued running and shouting. Our priest tried to reason with them. “Please do not do this now,” he said.

The leader of the soldiers ignored him. “We’re taking the children!” he screamed.

I did not know what he meant by that. I would soon.

In this image, Lopez Lomong is being coached to chase his dream. But it's a far cry from his early childhood years in South Sudan. (Photo courtesy of Lopez Lomong.)

My parents dropped to the ground, pulling me down with them. I huddled close to my mother’s side. She wrapped her arm so tightly around me that my ribs hurt. All around me people screamed and cried. I started crying too. My mother tried to calm me but she was as frightened as I was.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my back. I looked up and saw a giant man standing over me. When you are a little boy, every adult looks like a giant. His gun was slung behind his back. A chain of bullets hung across his chest. My mother pleaded with him: “No, no, no! Don’t take my boy!”

The soldier did not reply. With one hand, he yanked my mother’s arm off of me while picking me up with the other. He dragged me past the giant tree at the front of our church and toward the trucks. “Hurry up! Let’s go!” he yelled.

All around me, other soldiers herded boys and girls and teenagers toward the trucks while yelling for everyone to speed up.

I turned around. My mother and father were off of the ground, chasing after me. Tears ran down their faces. They were not alone. All across our church, parents chased their children, weeping and wailing.

“Please do not take our children,” they begged. “Please, please, we will do anything you ask -- just do not do this.”

One especially giant soldier swung back around toward our crying parents. He waved his gun in the air and screamed, “One more step closer and we will open fire!”

I could not see what happened next. I felt myself being picked up and and thrown into the back of one of the trucks. I bounced off another boy and and landed on the hot, dirty, metal truck bed.

The truck was full of children from my church. A green canopy covered the top and sides of the truck bed so I could not see out. Suddenly the tailgate slammed shut and the truck lurched forward.

I did not know it at the time, but my childhood had just ended.

I was just 6 years old.

*     *     *

A note from Lopez:

My thoughts are never far away from those other boys and girls who, for no fault of their own, will never know the carefree celebration of life that should be the right of every child.

It’s for this reason that I’m turning up the heat on awareness and positive engagement efforts in South Sudan, creating sustainable hope for the young ones who deserve life in all of its fullness.

I invite you to follow this blog and check out my website as I move toward London. Join me in running a race, buying a t-shirt, or giving a gift through the 4 South Sudan initiative, creating real change in a land of endless possibility.

For more on my story, check out my new book, “Running For My Life.”


    My heart wept at your story. What perspective it brings to my selfish, pitiful existence. Stay your course and seal your victory. In Christ, Rena

    With nine children of my own, I simply cannot imagine having one ripped from my arms and taken at gun point. Tears come as I think of your mother and her loss and for you and the children thrown into a world of chaos. Praying for those still caught up in wartorn countries.
    Keep up the God work.

    Praise God for using a horrific time in your life to bring glory to himself and justice and awareness to others. Thank you for your courage to share.

    Thank you for sharing your story!

    This is an amazing story. I am so excited to learn about a wonderful man and how a life can go through so much but come out through it all as an inspiration to the world. May many people learn about the atrocities of war in S. Sudan and may God use this man to help many out who are still lost and hoping for a way out of the slavery they've endured.

    May God continue to bless you and may His ever present hand reach those who are lost, missing, scared, and alone. My heart, my prayers, and my $ will be with you. Change the world for Christ Lopez. Change the world!

    Hi Brett,

    We appreciate your support and your heart for children! Thanks for your encouragement!


    Lindsey, WV Staff

    This an amazing story. I wish you the best and will pray and support you as you run in London's 2012 olympics. I will be cheering for you! Thank you for being a blessing to our world!


    Isn't awesome to be able to cheer on an athlete who runs for a greater cause? I can't wait to watch Lopez race!


    Lindsey, WV Staff

    I am only one old lady but I know the thrill of running a race. If you are determined to win and praise the Lord you will win. I will be praying for you from start to finish and as you train as never before to become a star to others who will see that they can over come many bad things that have happened. I love all little children and big ones two. I guess that's my talent to love others and I truly do. I ask God to be with you as you read my message. He will be with you always so hang in there and make the best of every day. Love from a caring old Lady. Ann

    Hi Ann,

    Your comment made me smile :) Thank you for your prayers and kind words for Lopez.

    Lindsey, WV Staff

    Thank you for shaing your story with us. And good luck in London!!

    Im 16 and Lopez is like the coolest person in my book!!! I've read his book and cried multiple times!! Funny thing is Im not big Into reading bio's about people but this book was much different!! Seeing you run in the Olympics showed me that dreams can come true!!! Lopez you are amazing and I'd love to meet you one day!!! Thanks for the inspertain!! :)

    Your story brought tears to my eyes and touched my heart. It is so sad that you were abused and had your childhood stolen from you. Praise God for who you are today. I will be praying for you as you run for this worthy cause.
    I will share your story so others will become aware of the love and the needs of your people.

    Absolutely amazing & well written book. Recommend to everyone. God bless you Lopez for what you have lived thru and are now doing for others. Also, God bless World Vision for what they do here in the US as well as abroad. Thanks for helping them.

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