When James Luom met Veronica Gor in Kakuma, Kenya, the two had worlds in common: Both were teenagers, both were born into Christian homes in Southern Sudan, and both had escaped slavery and death when they were just 8 years old. Mr. Luom was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, and Miss Gor was one of the Lost Girls. Each had walked more than 2,000 miles with thousands of Sudanese children fleeing a violent government.
Nearly eight years after their first encounter, and one year after a remarkable reunion, Miss Gor is set to become Mrs. Luom. The two have faced the jungles of Africa, the deserts of Sudan, and the destitution of refugee camps. Now they face one more obstacle: U.S. immigration.
Miss Gor, who now lives in Canada, was scheduled to marry Mr. Luom on Dec. 10 in Charlotte, N.C., where Mr. Luom immigrated four years ago, but Miss Gor was unable to gain immigration status by the wedding day. Heavy-hearted, they postponed the ceremony they had been planning for months.
Mr. Luom told WORLD on Dec. 12 that he and Miss Gor, both 24, are "very disappointed . . . but trusting in God's timing." In a conference room at Steele Creek Church of Charlotte, where Mr. Luom works as a liaison to other Lost Boys of Sudan, he talked about his harrowing journey that began in 1988 when his country's Islamic government raided his predominantly Christian village in Southern Sudan during a bloody 20-year civil war. "I literally saw my uncle shot in front of me," says Mr. Luom. At 8 years old, Mr. Luom fled alone into the jungle.
For the next three months, Mr. Luom and thousands of other Sudanese children walked 1,000 miles on bare feet through jungles and deserts. Along the way Mr. Luom says hundreds of boys were killed by lions and hyenas, hundreds died of thirst and hunger, and hundreds more drowned in rivers or were "eaten by crocodiles and alligators. . . . I remember seeing friends dying daily."
By the time they reached a refugee camp in Ethiopia, an estimated 24,000 boys had died and 12,000 had survived. In 1991, when the Ethiopian government was overthrown, the boys were forced to flee again. They walked another thousand miles, this time to Kenya.
In 1997 Mr. Luom briefly met Miss Gor, who had also fled to Kenya and had been reunited with her family. Mr. Luom immediately admired Miss Gor and asked her to pose for a picture with him. They parted, thinking they likely would not meet again. But for the next seven years, Mr. Luom carried the picture everywhere he went.
In 2001, Mr. Luom and several Lost Boys immigrated to Charlotte. They spoke no English, couldn't read or write, and had never ridden in a car. Steele Creek Church nurtured Mr. Luom, and four years later his English is excellent and he's one semester away from completing an Associate's Degree in Science.
In late 2004, Mr. Luom visited a group of fellow Lost Boys in Canada. At a Sunday morning church service in Manitoba, with a picture of Miss Gor still in his backpack, Mr. Luom "saw the person God actually intended for me to see." Across the sanctuary, he saw Miss Gor. In disbelief, "I was jumping over seats to get to her."
The two courted for the next six months and, after obtaining permission from her father in Kenya, Mr. Luom proposed to Miss Gor. "I asked her: 'Do you believe with all your heart that God has brought us together? . . . Will you marry me?" Miss Gor "cried and said yes."
Back home, with the help of the church and community, Mr. Luom raised $12,000 for a traditional "gratitude gift" for the bride's father: 68 cows. (Friends from church sold T-shirts reading, "Got Cattle?") Mr. Luom said the gift will demonstrate his "integrity and respect" to his father-in-law and will teach his future children that "marriage is a great covenant."
Local vendors have donated a reception hall, catering, tuxes, wedding rings, and a bridal gown. Now all the couple needs is a visa for Miss Gor. Mr. Luom isn't worried: "I told Veronica, 'If God can preserve our lives this far, He can do anything.'"