November 5, 2013 (SSNA) — The phone rang on Memorial Day, 2005. The detective calling asked if I knew Roda Bec. With dread, I responded that she was my daughter, and I asked why I was getting a call from the Sheriff’s department. They responded that my information was the only name found in her purse by detectives investigating her murder that morning. And that is the tragic back story to my meeting her mother, REBECCA TUENY, who my family of “Lost Boys of Sudan” had found only six months earlier. Rebecca was a refugee, along with her youngest son Agada, in Perth, Australia, separated in 1990 from her other children in Yirol during the bloody war for freedom.
Rebecca and Agada were brought to America, at my request, by President George Bush over his signature for the services of her daughter at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Issaquah. No passport. No visa. Nothing except the Presidents order and his signature. Only the second time in documented history of such an event. President Bush granted Rebecca and Agada permanent residence and citizenship in America.
SHE TURNED IT DOWN!
At a family gathering after we sent Rodas body to her home in Yirol, South Sudan for burial, her boys and I sat around her at Jimas apartment in Tukwila, Washington. Rebecca said to me that she was going to speak to me in Dinka, and that her son, John, would translate, as follows:
"Although I am grateful beyond words for the offer by President Bush, I must return to Australia. There are thirteen injured Dinka and Nuer in Perth whom I care for, and they will have no one if I do not return. My sons here in America will always have Papa Maury who loves them and will always care for them, so I must return to those in Perth whom I care for.”
So Rebecca and Agada returned to Australia after declining the Presidents offer of a new home in America.
Fast forward to 2011.
Rebecca had been diagnosed with a virulent cancer and was not expected to live more than ninety days, so we sent her son John to be with her and his then seventeen year-old brother, Agada. Rebecca lived, still serving her people, for two more years. Although very frail, she was able to return to her village, Yirol, in Lakes State, with her son Agada where she died, and was buried next to her daughter, Roda. Three of her surviving sons- Laat, Jima and Agada were with her when she died. John remained in Australia, and Sabit remains in the United States. Agada will return to Australia in January to be with his brother John while they adjust to the loss of this most remarkable woman.
I have never known a more selfless, compassionate, caring person in my life, and I want to share with you the following poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson more than 100 years ago:
We loved you deeply Rebecca. You were the personification all of the mothers who gave so much to South Sudan.
You will be remembered as the best of the best. A giver of life. Caretaker of the surviving sick and injured:
The author is a former advisor to the government of South Sudan, retired investment banker/broker, as well as a Called and Commissioned Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Northwest Washington Synod. He served under Bishops Appointment as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Maple Valley, Washington in 1990 and 1991, and also served four years on the Synod Council and he has been deeply involved with the people of South Sudan since 1996.