Living through civil war as a child in Sudan, he didn't care whether he lived or died. Now Rev. Stephen Mayuen Mou feels compelled to spread the message of hope.
"I just wanted to get military training and go back and start fighting. Whether I kill or get killed, that didn't matter," recalls Mou, 34, an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church in Sudan and a former "Lost Boy."
"I didn't think tomorrow I would be there."
A graduate student at the University of Winnipeg, Mou is now living in Winnipeg temporarily to study theology and conflict resolution. He was offered this one-year opportunity by the university on the recommendation of Bishop Abraham Nhial of the Diocese of Aweil in South Sudan, who visited Winnipeg last year, explains a theology professor who is involved with a Sudanese church in Winnipeg.
"It's to educate people like Mayuen to be teachers in South Sudan, which has been devastated by civil war," says Jane Barter Moulaison.
"It's also contributing to the breadth and strength of our classes to have someone of his knowledge contribute about his experiences in the South Sudan and the challenges he faces."
Although new to Winnipeg and the particular challenges of life in northern climes, Mou already felt at home as soon as he stepped off the airplane in late December. A group of Sudanese Winnipeggers from Emmanuel Mission, a congregation that worships in the Dinka language, welcomed him at the airport.
"These were South Sudanese who were in the bush with me," he recalls.
"Some of these people are closer than my relatives."
As a young boy of nine or 10 -- Mou doesn't know exactly how old he was -- he escaped fighting in his village and spent a decade separated from his parents. He and thousands of other young boys, dubbed the Lost Boys by international aid workers, walked for months to find a safe haven, first in Ethiopia and then to Kenya.
They survived civil war in their own country, attacks in Ethiopia where they were forced to swim across a river to safety and lived in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.
While in Ethiopia, Mou left the Catholic faith of his mother and was baptized into the Anglican Church, taking on the name Stephen, in honour of the first Christian martyr. Ordained in 2001, he's spent many years as the volunteer secretary to the Bishop of Aweil and worked as an evangelist and church planter in Sudan.
While in Winnipeg, Mou is involved at Emmanuel Mission, which meets at St. Matthew's Anglican Church, where he teaches the children about their Dinka culture.
"We are not only a place for prayers but for building capacity," explains Rev. Rueben Garang, the minister of Emmanuel Mission, who knew Mou from their shared experiences as Lost Boys.
As the father of three young children who left his family behind in Nairobi, Kenya, where his wife is studying public health, Mou is determined to make life better for the next generation of people in South Sudan. As a child, he attended school irregularly and he fears his own children don't understand the privilege they have now.
"If I could tell my children my story, they wouldn't understand it because (my son) was born in a comfortable situation and goes to school every day."
Mou knows his country has huge challenges ahead as it tries to rebuild schools, hospitals and other infrastructure after decades of civil strife.
South Sudan became the newest country in Africa on July 9, 2011, after voters decided in a referendum to split the country into two.
"Though it not's easy to speak about reconciliation to the people who have done damage to you, we are preaching the biblical message," he says of how the Sudanese church is attempting to address ethnic differences after independence.
"To make that message real, you have to try another thing, like create a project where they can work together and create unity, create friendship."
He says small projects such as grain mills or sewing machine co-operatives build connections between people and start conversations.
"Those sewing machines will bring women together and they will start a business and then through the business they will discuss issues," says Mou, a founder and director of a Sudanese Christian non-profit development group, Community Care Organization (http://www.communitycaressd.org/).
Hope still propels this former Lost Boy of Sudan, who wears the name proudly. Like the sheep in the biblical story, Mou says he is no longer wandering aimlessly but has been found. What he has also found along the way is the inspiration to encourage his fellow Sudanese, whether here in Winnipeg or back home.
"I'm the one giving that message to people after that experience," he says. "I didn't know if I would live, but now I am here so that I can preach that message of hope."