“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love."
1 Corinthians 13:13a (NIV)
To the casual eye it was just a strand of woven cloth and beads. But in the hands of Jacob’s mother, Mary Awan Kur, it was the special necklace which, in Dinka tradition, was given by the village chief, her husband, to their eldest son Thon.
Life had been good for them in Sudan until the day in 1987 when their village was attacked by the Mujahedin. Many people in the village were slaughtered, but because Jacob, the second son, was out tending cattle in the fields when the soldiers came, his life was spared. His older brother sadly was not so lucky. On the day of the attack Jacob’s parents managed to flee into the bush, where they hid for several days.
Sometime after the soldiers left, they returned to the village. To their sorrow, they found Thon’s slain body. Despite her grief, Jacob’s mother made the decision to remove the necklace from her firstborn’s neck before his burial.
“Jacob is now the oldest, so I’ll hold it for him and put it around his neck when he is found.” she declared.
Little did Mary know that it would be nearly 17 years before she would see Jacob again. His journey to safety took him to refugee camps in both Ethiopia and Kenya, where he lived for 14 years with other children who had also escaped. All that time he wondered about his parents. Were they alive? Would he ever see them again? Years went by with no clue to their whereabouts, despite efforts by the International Red Cross and the Episcopal church to locate them.
In 2003, when Jacob was selected to be resettled in Vermont through USCRI, his one hesitation was fear that by leaving Africa, he’d lose all chance to find his parents.
“I told the Bishop of my worry,” Jacob said, “He told me that I must absolutely come to the USA, that this was how I could honor them. And he told me not to lose hope, promising to personally continue the search.”
So Jacob came to Vermont, trusting the Bishop’s word. Imagine his joy when a few years later the call came: his parents had been found alive, in Uganda! Friends here held a fund raiser to cover his airfare to Africa, so that after a nearly 17-year separation, Jacob flew off to reunite with his family.
It was, as you can imagine, a reunion full of joy and tears. Jacob said that for the first week, his mother would not let him leave the house, unwilling to be separated from him for even a moment more.
And then came the special day Mary had prepared for him, when she kept the vow she had made so long before. She stood before her son and placed that treasured necklace around his neck. Despite all the years that had passed without news, despite a violent world that scatters families continents apart, somehow this brave woman managed to hang on to that necklace all that time, in hopes that one day her beloved son would return home to receive it.
Emily Dickenson once wrote that,
“Hope is the thing with feathers –
that perches in the soul “
But for me, HOPE will forever be a simple strand of beads kept safe in a mother’s hands.
Submitted by Kate Maynard,
In gratitude to my friend Jacob who gave me permission to tell his story.