JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - He went back to his home country to get married, only to lose his life to the violence he left his country to escape.
Andrew Abith Abui, a former Jacksonville resident, was killed during recent fighting in Pariang County, Unity State, South Sudan. Abui was 32 years old.
Abui, a U.S. citizen, was one of the so-called Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of more than 20,000 boys who were displaced and/or orphaned during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Abui attended classes at Florida State College at Jacksonville, with assistance from Alliance for the Lost Boys and grants provided to the alliance by Delores Barr Weaver and the Scheidel Family Foundation.
Abui returned to South Sudan four months ago in preparation for his wedding. There is no word on the fate of his new wife.
"Andrew was a sweet and humble young man," Alliance President Joan Hecht said. "He always wore a smile on his face and radiated kindness. You just felt better by being around him. He will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends and to all those who have lost loved ones in this senseless and brutal struggle for power."
Hecht met Abui in 2006 when he moved to Jacksonville. He was part of the alliance's scholarship program.
The struggle is part of recent ethically-based violence in South Sudan stemming from the political rivalry between the president and ousted vice president. The most recent rash of fighting started around the holidays, just as Joseph Atem, another "Lost Boy" traveled to the country.
Luckily, he made it back the U.S. alive.
"It's the grace of God that I did not die," Atem said. "I could be like with Andrew. Because these people were literally, two people were taken away after me. And up to today I do not know what happened."
Several local Lost Boys, also U.S. citizens, remain in South Sudan, as well as former Jacksonville resident and U.S. citizen Rachel Obal, now serving as the minister of gender, child and social welfare in Bor, Jonglei State.
Other Jacksonville residents managed to flee, including local missionary and former Lee High School teacher Mary Chowenhill and Lual Coba.
"It was a frightening experience and they are indeed blessed to be alive," Hecht said. "We anxiously await the safe return of all U.S. citizens and Jacksonville residents."
In 2000-01, the U.S. government awarded refugee status to about 3,800 Lost Boys. The alliance says about 150 now call Jacksonville home, and despite Abui's death, it will still move forward with their mission to support them.
"It's just a very sad situation that he would go back to his country hoping to build a new life and then be met with the same that he fled originally," Hecht said.
A prayer service and peace rally will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hogan Baptist Church at 8045 Hogan Road.
Donations to assist with relief efforts can be made through the Alliance for the Lost Boys of Sudan by going to its website, allianceforthelostboys.com.
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