An African Moses
Moses Dangba remembers a beautiful place in his native South Sudan. This “place’ appeared regularly even during civil unrest, famine and war – things Moses experienced as a child in his small town of Maridi, near the border
with Zaire. This “place” appeared when the Christians in his town came to worship. People from different ethnic groups singing the same hymn in different languages brought a transcendent joy, reminding him of the worship St. John described in Revelations 7:9, “I looked and saw a multitude too large to count, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
Moses was one of eleven children – certainly a challenge to provide for in war-torn South Sudan. It is not unusual for a relative to offer to take and raise a child, lessening the burden. When he was nine years old his pastor grandfather took the boy under his wing- and changed his African name to “Moses,” because, he said, “This Moses will bring his people to a different life.” This began the boy’s preparation to become a missionary.
“I was following him around, learning from him.” He was taught Bible stories and hymns. As he grew he not only went on pastoral calls with his Pastor grandfather but was supervised to pray in public, to teach and to preach. As a teenager his grandfather sent Moses to Khartoum, North Sudan, to a preparatory boarding school. Only when he graduated from this school would he be allowed to go to college.
When he arrived in Khartoum police in what was then the Northern part of a united Sudan confiscated his Bible. “I never thought they would take my Bible. We needed the Bible for school. When we entered the school each of us had to choose studying Islam or Christianity. While there were books and teachers for the classes in Islam there were no Bibles or teachers for us. So, I led the fifteen Christians who chose not to study Islam. With no Bibles we taught ourselves, sharing what we had remembered. We sang the hymns we learned as children. We had no time during regular school hours for our Christian classes; our ‘classes’ were late in the afternoon and at night. But with God’s help every one of us passed the exam for Christians.”
His grandfather’s preparation had been a blessing. Then the stakes increased.
Having graduated from the boarding school he was qualified to fulfill his grandfather’s dream – he could attend college, earn a degree and a better life for the family he had left behind. But now the rules had changed. Civil war had broken out. First he and the others would have to agree to join the army of North Sudan to fight the Christians of South Sudan. Some agreed to join; Moses and several others refused, and were detained by the police. There was a good chance they would be shot.
Moses continued to lead the prisoners, as it turned out, to Egypt. He led preaching and teaching the Bible in prison. The hymns and prayers of the former boarding school students were a witness to those around them. By God’s grace their jail door was opened – the United Nations intervened and took custody of the young men. Fearful the Christians might not remain free Moses and the others were smuggled into Egypt – left in Egypt to fend for themselves. They had no protection, no funds and no work. Then in 1998 a door opened – to Lebanon. In Lebanon for two years he found work, attended a Christian college, and married a wonderful young woman he had met in Khartoum. In 2000 America’s door opened, and welcomed the refugees. They found a new home in Lansing, Michigan.
Rev. David Theile, a Lutheran pastor in East Lansing had an opportunity which was turning into a frustration. Young men from Sudan, some of the “lost boys,” had found refuge near his church. They had escaped the murderous civil war in South Sudan to come to a new country that cared for them. Christ Lutheran welcomed the young men, many of whom did not speak English. Pr. Theile needed someone who knew their language and culture, someone from South Sudan who could lead them to Jesus. That is when he met a Christian evangelist from South Sudan, Moses Dangba.
Moses became the church’s missionary to lead African immigrants from several countries to Jesus. When the Africans worship together, each using their own language to sing praises to God, it is something beautiful. Moses’ grandfather’s prophecy was realized.
Martin Luther in “Admonition to Prayer,”( Luther’s Works, V. 43, p.239) has something to say to Moses’ grandfather, and to you and me. “I strongly urge that children be taught the Catechism. Should they be taken captive in an invasion, they will at least take something of the Christian faith with them. Who knows what God might be able to accomplish through them?”