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Former slave urges young people to free others

7/30/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #381. A photograph is available.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)-Francis Bok has survived the unimaginable.

For 10 years, from the age of 7, he lived as a slave. He was treated like an animal, beaten every day and given rotten food to eat.

"It was very difficult to survive, but I stayed strong in my heart," he said. "I always prayed for God to save me."

Bok was introduced to the 9,000-plus United Methodist youth gathered on the campus of the University of Tennessee for the international Youth '03. His friend, Jay Williams, a young person committed to abolishing slavery, brought Bok on stage July 26 to give youth a chance to hear about slavery that still exists today.

"Over 27 million people live as slaves today," Williams, co-chair of the denomination's Shared Mission Focus on Young People initiative, told the crowd. "The CIA reports that 50,000 people are living as domestic or sex slaves in the United States. Slavery in not over."

The huge Thompson-Boling Arena, packed with 12- to 18-year-olds, was silent as Bok told his story.

The story began on a morning in 1986, when 7-year-old Francis went on an errand for his mother. He left his home in Southern Sudan, near Nyamllel, because, at last, his mother was going to let him go to market to sell beans and eggs.

"I was so excited," he said. "I promised my mother I would listen to her and not go off and play."

It was the last time he saw his mother and the rest of his family. About an hour after he left for the market Arab militia soldiers killed his entire family. Those same soldiers came riding into the market leaving a trail of blood behind them as they shot the men and started capturing the women and children.

"I was very confused," he said. "I tried to run but a horseman grabbed me and tied me to a donkey. A 12-year-old girl was screaming because her family had been killed; they cut off her head.

"I learned to be quiet."

Bok was taken north and given to an Arab named Giema Abdullah as a slave. His welcome was a beating from the family, even the children. They called him "abeed" - black slave.

"I could not understand why these children were beating me and the people were watching and not helping me. At first I cried, then I became very mad."

When he was 17, Bok decided he would rather die than continue to live as a slave. He ran away only to be captured and arrested by the Sudanese police. After five months, he was released from prison and he managed to escape to Egypt.

He went to the United Nations Refugee Office and in 1999 he was flown to the United States. From there he was found and rescued by the American Anti-Slavery Group. He now lives in Boston and works with the group on behalf of his people who are still suffering as slaves in Sudan and other parts of the world.

He has spoken to Congress, to President George W. Bush and to schools, colleges and churches across America.

"What good is freedom if you don't use it to help others?" he asked.

"Each of you can make a difference," he told the young people. "Share this with your family, friends, congressional leaders, your congregations and your pastors.

"When I was living as a slave to Giema Abdullah, I would lie awake at night and think, 'How am I going to be free? Is someone going to come free me?'

"Today in Sudan and around the world there are children who cannot sleep, who lie on the ground, and they wait for strong people to come and free them."

He told the youth to be those strong people.

St. Martin Press will publish his autobiography, Escape from Slavery: The True Story of My Ten Years in Captivity - and My Journey to Freedom in America, in October.

For more information on the American Anti-Slavery Group, go to
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*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.

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