Subtitled “one man’s escape from persecution in the Sudan,” this autobiography reads like a novel. Wiliam Levi, the founder and president of Operation Nehemiah, was born in a village in Southern Sudan and grew up in Uganda in exile from his native land as a result of persecution and war in Sudan during the 1960’s. He returned to Sudan as a young teenager to go to school, but soon found that Islamic persecution intensified and interfered with his schooling and, eventually, threatened his life. At one point, William and couple of other young men decide to flee to Kenya in hopes of continuing their education. They are arrested, however, and charged with intending to join the Southern rebels against the government in Khartoum, the SPLA.
It’s funny what you think about when you know you are marked for death. Perversely, I was filled with regret that I would not be able to go to school. When you are seventeen, you have your whole life ahead of you; but for me, the desire to finish school was the first thing that came to my mind. (p. 183)
William experiences torture but is able to escape from the custody of the Sudanese government soldiers. He and his family see that he must leave Sudan, and William eventually travels to Egypt, then Turkey, then France, and finally seeks asylum in the United States. Throughout all his travels and adventures, William remains faithful to God and to his vision for obtaining an education for the sake of serving his people in Southern Sudan.
I was impressed with several things in William Levi’s life as I read his story. First of all, he is passionate about becoming educated. His family sacrifices for the sake of William’s education, and his first thought after gaining asylum in the U.S. is to further his education. Oh, that our children would realize the value of education and the riches that they have here in the United States in being able to pursue an education amid an abundance of educational resources.
Secondly, I am inspired by Mr. Levi’s steadfast faith. At his baptism, William’s grandfather gives him a choice of weapons: the Bible or the axe? Wiliam consistently chooses the Bible and faith as his weapons to defeat both earthly and spiritual enemies. None of his struggles are made to seem easy, either, whether it’s the difficulty of living with worldly roomates or the confusion of not knowing where God is leading and how He will provide. The Christian life requires faith in a God who is there even when we cannot see His ways, and the story of William Levi gives numerous examples of the real life application of this kind of faith.
Finally, I see in William Levi a man who is dedicated to service in the name of Jesus Christ. At the very end of the book, Mr. Levi concludes:
In 1972, there was a peace accord, but eleven years later it was followed by renewed oppression and genocide. Please help us build a strong and united biblically based Christian community in the South Sudan and throughout the entire country during this window of opportunity.
He then tells about some of the ministries of the Nehemiah Project: church planting, education, trade school, health care, ministry to Sudanese widows and orphans, investment in micro-businesses, agricultural projects and construction and infrastructure projects. Surely ministries like this one and projects that are grounded in a deep Christian faith are the hope of Sudan and of Africa. The novel I read a few months ago, Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo does a good job of showing the problems and the temptations inherent in any kind of relief work, especially in Sudan and northern Africa. This true story, The Bible or the Axe? sounds a note of hope. The problems and divisions in the Sudan are rooted so deeply in history and in the sinfulness of the human heart that Christ is the only hope.
This book was given to me as a gift by Mind and Media and by William O. Levi for the purposes of review. You can purchase a copy of The Bible or the Axe from Winepress Books. I’m planning to read this book aloud to all my urchins because I believe it would be an inspiration and an encouragement to them.