By JOHN FORTMEYER
PORTLAND — Having at one time been assumed dead by his Sudanese family and buried in absentia, Lopez Lomong was indeed one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.
But that was then.
“I’m not a Lost Boy,” Lomong told approximately 1,000 attenders at the annual Portland Good Friday Breakfast. “I’m a God person.”
Lomong is very much among the living, and his compelling story of survival, dependence on God and resulting athletic fame was spelled out at the March 29 breakfast, sponsored by the ministry Open Arms International and held at the Oregon Convention Center.
“By the goodness of God (he) is on a truly new and victorious journey,” Open Arms founders David Gallagher told the crowd prior to Lomong’s talk.
Born in what is now the new nation of South Sudan, Lomong was kidnapped by Sudanese rebel soldiers during a church service at age 6. He nearly died in captivity but was helped to escape by others from his village. The four of them ran for three days until they crossed the border into Kenya.
“That’s where my Olympic dream of being a runner started,” Lomong quipped.
It wasn’t until many years later that Lomong learned that his parents were still alive, and he was reunited with family.
In the interim, Lomong spent 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya before being moved to the United States through Catholic Charities. He was inspired to become a runner after watching the 2000 Summer Olympics on television. He became a U.S. citizen in 2007, qualified for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, in the 1,500 meters during a track and field trial in Eugene, and was chosen to be flag bearer for the United States during the Olympics’ opening ceremony.
Lomong also competed in the 2012 Olympics in London and weeks ago broke the American indoor record in the 5,000 meters. He is setting his sights on the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
“I owe this country a medal … three years coming up,” said Lomong, who repeatedly expressed gratitude to America for the opportunities given him.
The breakfast featured an interview format with questions asked by his mentor Diane Paddison of 4Word, a ministry to professionals. How, she inquired, did Lomong get the strength to endure the hardships and achieve what he has?
“When I am in a race, it’s a God gift,” Lomong said. “God has given me the talent, not only to win the race, but to inspire others.”
Gallagher and his wife, Rachel, founded Open Arms, which combines Christian ministry with medical care to deliver God’s healing touch to needy overseas. Rachel arrived home from Africa just hours before the breakfast.
“I’m the proud mommy of 93 African children at Open Arms Village,” she said a smile about some of the many youth “adopted” by the ministry.
Featured musically at the breakfast was Haley Johnsen, a Beaverton singer and songwriter and top 24 American Idol semifinalist last year.
For more information go to OpenArmsInternational.com or PortlandGoodFridayBreakfast.org.