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Since Christians are often the first ones to complain and get indignant over all of the “junk” coming out of Hollywood, I thought it would be a nice change to give some good news and highlight a documentary that has not received as much attention as it deserves. When a film boasts Brad Pitt and Dermot Mulroney as executive producers and Nicole Kidman as the narrator, the eyebrows of the pious naysayers are sure to be raised. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical myself as the opening credits of God Grew Tired of Us began to roll, but by the middle of the film, I was completely in awe of what I was watching. In an effort to tell the stories of the “lost boys” of Sudan, these Hollywood high-rollers have given the world a great glimpse into the two great commissions of the Christian faith: the cultural mandate of Genesis 1 and the Great Commission of Matthew 28.
The story of the “civil war” in Sudan is still little known. Calling it a civil war is something akin to calling the holocaust a misunderstanding. The Muslim warriors of the northern part of Sudan were systematically exterminating the Christians in southern Sudan. Although Kidman’s narration generically refers to them as the “Arab North,” the interviews in the film make it clear what was really happening. The Muslim marauders were slaughtering and sterilizing the young boys and enslaving the girls. The “lost boys” were the nearly 30,000 who escaped first to Ethiopia and then to a UN refugee camp in Uganda. These boys lost their parents, their brothers, their sisters, and their homeland. They became a family unto themselves and managed to survive despite the overwhelming odds against them. After close to ten years in the camp, the Unites States agreed to assimilate several thousand of the boys—now young men—into American society. The boys were brought to different U.S. cities and given three months of federal aid in order to get started in their new lives. God Grew Tired of Us tells the story of this process.
While I don’t really want to go into great detail in this short article, this documentary is something that should be seen by all, but especially by American Christians. The title comes from a quotation from one of the lost boys, John Bul Dau, as he was explaining what life was like in the refugee camp. He said that he thought that God had grown tired of all of the evil that was present in mankind and was punishing everyone. Just like Americans are prone to do, Dau was making his own situation, and what he saw around him, normative for everyone else on the planet. Once he got outside of this environment though, Dau realized that he was being put into a position where he could help. Instead of resigning himself to hopelessness, Dau became a part of the solution.
It is really interesting to watch the lost boys, and Dau in particular, interact with the American culture in which they find themselves. Everything is new to them, from indoor plumbing and electricity to potato chips and Christmas trees. Dau questions all of the Christmas traditions and asks if they are found in the Bible and what they have to do with Jesus’ birth. The materialism of our December holiday is poignantly contrasted with the exuberant celebration of what Christmas looks like in Sudan. We would do well to ask ourselves these very same questions.
The lost boys make it a point to maintain some of their Dinka tribal traditions and chide the younger ones among them for getting caught up in the American culture of selfishness and “bling.” Dau comments that a man without a culture is like a man without a land. He understands the necessity of customs and traditions to tie together a group of people and the need for a shared identity—a community. Christians in America severely need to re-learn this lesson. The Church in America has nothing to offer in the way of culture or tradition. We are primarily known for our condemnation of the culture, because we never offer any alternative in its place. Dau recognizes this and fights the temptation to get swept away by the American culture of the “collective individual,” i.e. being different—just like everybody else.
The lost boys which were interviewed in God Grew Tired understood that they were given a chance to start a new life for a purpose. Dau notes that he is a very tall man and that God made him that way for a reason. He uses his height as a way to draw attention to the cause of Sudan and has become a vocal leader of the delegation to the White House. Some of the other lost boys have taken their money and education they have acquired in America back to Africa to help set up schools and orphanages. Rather than resting on their “good fortune,” the lost boys take their resources and abilities back to their people, in order to take dominion and make disciples. As I watched the end of the film, I wondered what a documentary about the Church in America might be called. I could think of no better title than We Grew Tired of God. American Christians need to sit up and take notice of all of the resources available to us and begin to use them. The lost boys of Sudan are calling to us as examples. We need to awaken to the cultural mandate calls being issued by the Sovereign One of Sudan…and America.