Boy Becomes A Leader
Arriving in Kenya at age 10, James was one of thousands of South Sudanese boys sent to other African nations because of ethnic violence and a 20-year civil war in their homeland. He had no school books, no extra clothes, no shoes. And he wouldn’t see or talk to his parents again for 12 years.
But in the refugee camp, James found a new “family” that helped ease the pain, anxiety and fear of being alone in a strange country. God was with him. “The church took me in as their own son,” James recalled.
Though he didn’t attend church at first, one of the pastors, a refugee himself, came to the compound every day. “Every time he preached, he asked people if they were ready to give their lives to Christ, because Christ can help you,” James said. “I got the courage to raise my hand one evening.”
At age 15, James surrendered his life to Christ, saying, “I was integrated into the church, welcomed, nurtured, taken through training, baptized. It was so good for me. In a refugee camp, now I had found refuge in Christ. I was willing to sacrifice and do anything for Him.”
James loved working with young people. Soon, he was given responsibility to train younger kids in Sunday School, choir and Bible study. Years later, a pastor invited James to work with young people in Nairobi, where he was finally reunited with his parents. In 2018, another church leader recommended that James go to Lebanon, where he discovered Youth for Christ. “I went online, Googled Youth for Christ, looked at their history, the work that they did, and realized it was all about working with young people,” he said. “That really drew my attention.”
In January, 2022, James Ochuho Thomas was named national director for Youth for Christ South Sudan, a nation where 65 percent of the population are under age 18. “People here are still traumatized from the civil war; bad feelings exist between tribes and communities,” James said. “They need the healing that comes from the Word of God.”
In his first year of leadership, Youth for Christ volunteers, serving as “missionaries and evangelists,” have helped spark a church plant and brought sorely needed computer skills, soccer and basketball sports academies, and the Gospel to youth in South Sudan, which gained its independence only 11 years ago.
“Young people generally are very idle,” James said. “They’re not involved in many programs, even in schools. I want to see young people getting involved, getting skills.” Through these new programs, “a number of young people have given their lives to Christ and are now going to church. If you want to win the heart of man, win them through young people. That is my honest belief.”
It’s exciting to see how God is with and working with young people, sometimes through difficult situations or difficult childhoods. He uses it all to nurture and develop people, like James, even into national leadership roles.