Community and Politics, The Grateful Society

First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Kent H. Little
Date: November 24, 2019
Wisdom Reading: Matthew 7:12, Leviticus 19:18, Confucianism. Analects 15:23, Matthew 22:36-40
Message: “Community and Politics, The Grateful Society”

Wisdom Readings
Matthew 7:12
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

Leviticus 19:18
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Confucianism. Analects 15:23
Tse Kung asked, “Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct for life?” Confucius replied, “It is the word shu – reciprocity: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.”

Matthew 22:36-40
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’


The Wisdom readings we had this morning are about grace, are about the giving of ourselves without expectation of return. In Diana Butler Bass’s book, Grateful she talks a great deal about quid pro quo. A very contextual topic in our country right now. Who would have thought her book would speak to such current events when she wrote it. We have probably heard more and learned more about quid pro quo than we ever thought we wanted to. Quid pro quo in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. I participated in a little quid pro quo just the other day. TruDee and I have discovered our fireplace is not safe to use without significant repair and cost. We have decided to do some tile work and put in an electric fireplace. I have never done tile work, though I know someone who has. I call my youngest son and asked him if the tile saw he used was rented or if he purchased it? He indicated he had purchased it and wanted to know if I would like to borrow it. I said I would, or better yet he could come up and “show me how to use it.” I told him if he would come up and show me I would by him a steak dinner. He agreed… thus, a little quid pro quo, this for that, it works for both of us. However, we have learned that quid pro quo can cross ethical lines if used inappropriately.

In the book Grateful, Bass writes of gratitude as being grounded in justice, grounded in a world contrary to quid pro quo, gratitude is grounded in grace, giving of ourselves without expectation of anything in return. It is appropriate for us, on this Sunday, to speak of this kind of gratitude and offering of ourselves without expectation of return on the 150th Anniversary of United Methodist Women. If any organization in the United Methodist Church is the epitome of social justice work, gratitude, and offering of self with no expectation of return it is the UMW. For 150 years they have been on the cutting edge of this kind of grateful living in the world.

Today we have a special story that exemplifies the practice of grateful living. It is the story of a family separated and brought back together without expectation from either family or the community of faith, FUMC, who helped facilitate that reuniting. Carol McClellan is here to tell us this story this morning.

Carol’s presentation:

The “Lost Boys of Sudan” was the name given to more than 20-thousand boys who were forced to flee their homes during Sudan’s Civil War from 1987-2005. This is the story of how Nyakaka Both lost her boys in the war; and how through love and perseverance, and help from First United Methodist Church of Omaha, she got them back.

We begin twenty-six years ago, 1993, in the Upper Nile region of South Sudan in the heart of Africa. Nyakaka and her husband Kir Puoch had two sons, 4-year-old Thang Yung, 1-year-old Pal; and Nyakaka was pregnant with their third child. The war in Sudan was about to ravage their village.

One day, the two boys were staying with their grandmother at home as Nyakaka and her husband tended their cattle in the field. Suddenly, soldiers from North Sudan invaded and burned their village. Nyakaka and her husband ran for their lives, hoping their sons were safe with their grandmother.

She and her husband found their way to Diima refugee camp in Ethiopia. In all the chaos, they did not know if their boys were alive or dead. Later that summer, Nyakaka gave birth to a baby boy Peter. But tragically, a few months later, her husband Kir died of an illness in the camp.

The following year, the United Nations relocated Nyakaka and her baby to Fort Worth, Texas. Four years after that, 1998, they moved to Omaha. About that time, Nyakaka discovered that her sons Thang Yung and Pal were alive in a Refugee Camp in Ethiopia!

This is the first image she’d seen of her sons since they were 1 and 4 years old. Thang Yung (on the left) was 9, and Pal (on the right) was 6. (The little boy in the middle is a friend!)
Nyakaka missed her boys terribly. But Immigration Services told her she had missed the deadline to file paperwork to bring her boys to the U. S.

By this time, Peter, her youngest son born in the refugee camp, was a first grader at Washington Elementary School in Omaha.
The same school my daughter Anna McClellan attended. They were classmates! There’s Peter on the far right. Anna’s in the top row wearing a blue vest.

Coincidentally, Nyakaka and Peter started attending First United Methodist Church. One Sunday, Peter recognized Anna and they introduced us, their mothers. Nyakaka didn’t speak much English then.

But she and Peter explained how Peter’s older brothers were stuck in Africa. Our church decided we had to help reunite them. We found an immigration lawyer who told us the only way to get the boys over here was for Nyakaka to become a U.S. Citizen.

She’d never had a formal education, but some of our Sunday School teachers and other members tutored Nyakaka to take the Citizenship test. Many of you remember the late Dick (left) and Phyllis Burroughs (right), dedicated Sunday School teachers who led the effort to teach Nyakaka. The first time she took the test, she failed. But she kept studying.

Also FUMC raised money for Nyakaka to visit her sons in Africa. The late Dr. David Minard and his wife Pat led that campaign. Many of you gave generously, and in 2001, Nyakaka boarded a plane to Ethiopia. It would be the first time she’d seen her boys in eight years!

By this time, Thang Yung, 12 (right) and Pal, 9 (left) were living with friends in Ethiopia. When Nyakaka arrived, Thang Yung was so happy to see her.

But Pal who had been only a year old when they got separated was shyer than his older brother. At first, he could not believe this woman was really his mother. But he soon got used to the idea.

Here’s another picture with their cousin Tut Bol. They had a great visit with Nyakaka. Too quickly, it came to an end.

Sadly, Nyakaka had to return to Omaha without them, but she was all the more determined to pass the test and bring her sons to the U.S. In fact, the following year, 2002, Nyakaka passed and became a U.S. citizen!

Pat and David Minard threw a party. We danced to celebrate Nyakaka’s success! Little did we know there were more hurdles to come.

The biggest challenge was proving the boys were her biological sons. There were no birth certificates in their village. The best Nyakaka could do was to provide a sworn statement that she had given birth to them.

In 2003, thinking we had all our ducks in a row; she packed her bags again and flew back to Ethiopia hoping this time to bring her sons home for good.

But Immigration officials in Africa still did not believe she was their mother. This time, they wanted blood from Nyakaka and her sons for DNA testing. Their blood was sent to a lab in South Dakota and finally it was determined with 99.99 percent certainty, the boys were hers! At last, on October 11, 2003, more than ten years after she and her sons had been torn apart, they got on a plane in Ethiopia together, and flew to the United States.

Here are Thangyung now 15 (middle) and Pal 12 (right) their first night in Omaha–reunited with their family, including their Uncle Gatwik. There have been many celebrations since then.

Soon after their arrival, FUMC welcomed Thang Yung and Pal to their new home. You can see their family has grown! Nyakaka and her new partner Reath now have a fourth son Lim, and daughter Nyakan, plus two more girls you’ll meet in a minute!

Their goal has been to get a good education and become productive members of our community. Here we were at Thang Yung’s graduation from Burke High School. Since then, all the brothers have graduated from high school and gone to college. Thang Yung is now married with a son!

Just last year, Nyakaka threw a huge party for Peter’s graduation from UNO. That’s Peter, in the red shirt. Now the tallest brother, it’s hard to believe he was the little first-grader who started it all! And there (bottom right) are the two youngest sisters Ben and Sarahanne!
There’s much to celebrate! We are ALL are so grateful!