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November 3, 2003


LA CROSSE, Wis—Obang Okello, a former Sudanese refugee, will share the story of his harrowing escape from his war-ravaged village located on the border of Sudan and Ethiopia, in a presentation at Viterbo’s San Damiano Chapel on Tuesday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m.

Okello was just 11-years-old when his life dramatically changed. Living in a border village between Ethiopia and Sudan, he was a constant witness to the endless peril of war which raged all around him. One day, while in school, he heard a bomb blast nearby. Soon the building was engulfed in fire, an inferno that would take the lives of all but 17 of his 2,400 classmates. After his harrowing escape, he hid in the brush for three days while the military destroyed his village. Amid the destruction were many bodies unable to be identified. He believed all of his family was dead.

His journey was only beginning. What followed was even more remarkable as Okello embarked on a treacherous 1,000-mile, 40-day, barefoot marathon walk to the distant refugee camps of Kenya where even more challenges awaited him. Eventually, after spending five years in the refugee camp of 68,000 adults, he was one of the few escapees from war and famine who was chosen for sponsorship.  He first arrived in Washington D.C. and, in 1997, he moved to Minneapolis.

Okello is currently a student at Bethel College in St. Paul, where he is studying theology and business administration.

According to Tom Thibodeau, a member of the religious studies faculty, Okello was selected to provide this year’s presentation because his story will deliver a powerful message, particularly to the students who will attend. "Obang is a contemporary witness to the power of faith. His story is one of triumph and hope. It’s an unbelievable journey," Thibodeau said.

Okello's talk is sponsored by the Paula Ripple Comin Memorial Endowed Lectureship. A Viterbo graduate, former dean of students, and past president of the FSPA, Paula Ripple Comin died of cancer in 1998.

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