But the seminary’s rector refused to be set free, and insisted on staying with the boys.
“The words of the rector used to give me hope,” Fr. Mbikoyo said. “Used to make me understand that, yes, there is a God who can protect us.”
After months of captivity, he found a way to escape with four other boys. They survived a perilous journey that included crossing two rivers where deadly animals swam.
“When we escaped, we went to the town called Yei,” he said. He resumed his seminary training there until the rebels threatened him again.
“We continued for one month, but then we started hearing about the rebels coming to capture Yei,” he said. “We said, ‘no.’ If they find us again . . . they will either kill us or they take us back to the front line to fight.”
The Red Cross “picked us back home,” he said, and the seminary moved from Rimenze to Nzara to avoid the rebels. But they still found them and attacked again.
That’s when Fr. Mbikoyo left the country and relocated to the Central African Republic. After living there for three years, he traveled to Uganda to continue his education.
“I stayed for so many years without seeing my parents – around eight or nine years,” he estimated. “Because I was in exile. We were afraid that when we go back home, they can conscript us.”
He was eventually ordained in 2007, after the Second Sudanese Civil War ended.
“When I became a priest, I said, ‘This is a true vocation,’” he stressed. “Because, with all this suffering, maybe I would have gone away from the seminary thinking that this is not my call. Why should I have all this kind of suffering in my life?”
“I realized that no, that’s my vocation,” he concluded.
(Story continues below)
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After finishing his studies in Rome, Fr. Mbikoyo is preparing to return to South Sudan.
“My country is troubled, and everybody is traumatized. So as a priest, when I go back, my role is – my mission is – to give hope to those who have lost hope,” he said.
Among other things, he hopes to use his experience for good, and to help rehabilitate other child soldiers.
“I will encourage them to embrace their faith and to also pursue the vocation each one wants to choose,” he said, whatever that might be.