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Every Step of the Way

A Crown College alum’s incredible journey fleeing a Sudanese civil war to starting medical school

by Josie Parker

Gatjeak Gew was 7 years old when the Sudanese Civil War struck South Sudan and his family decided to flee the country. For months, he, his mom, and three siblings stayed in a refugee camp in Kenya with other South Sudanese families who also fled the turmoil. They waited there to receive their immigrant visas.

One night as the family sat quietly in their camp, a local rebel group attacked the refugees. Confused, shocked, and terribly afraid, the family ran for their lives. Gatjeak remembers seeing people die. Trying to escape the savage, murderous rebels, the family ran until they reached a nearby United Nations aid station about a half mile away.

Culture Shock

After months of waiting, the family finally received their immigrant visas. They settled in the Midwest, a common area for many South Sudanese refugees. From age 7 to 14, Gatjeak lived in Omaha, Nebraska. When he turned 15, his family moved to Minnesota.

The Midwest soon became home for Gatjeak. His family found decent-paying jobs and lived close to many other Sudanese families. They were grateful and happy, but that did not mean living in the United States was always easy. Gatjeak struggled with significant inconsistencies between American culture and his native culture, called Nuer.

“There were certainly difficulties growing up,” Gatjeak says. “Reconciling the disparities between American culture and Nuer culture was difficult for me. I was suddenly immersed in a new world and still hadn’t fully understood the place I came from.”

Despite the differences, Gatjeak found comfort in his forever home with Christ. “I knew my place in God’s Kingdom despite not always feeling I knew where I belonged in this world,” he says.

Medical Missions

As Gatjeak grew up, he developed specific interests in school. He loved his life science classes the most. He became passionate about helping others. He knew that whatever he did with his life, he wanted to use the skills and talents God had given him. He reflected on his time in South Sudan and knew he could make a difference.

Eventually, Gatjeak decided to pursue medicine and missions. He wanted to find a school where he could grow and learn, both academically and spiritually.

Gatjeak stumbled upon the C&MA’s Crown College and felt the school would allow him to develop a solid foundation before serving in medical missions. He applied and attended Crown for a major in biology.

Gatjeak grew at Crown in ways he did not think possible. He made supportive relationships with students, staff, and faculty. His faith was challenged and developed in his classes. He thanks his professors for preparing him academically and helping him to believe in his own abilities.

Next Steps

After graduating in 2010, Gatjeak obtained a laboratory job at HonorHealth Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. While he aspired to apply for medical school, his family faced financial issues. After four years of working to help his family, Gatjeak decided to apply to Georgetown University.

Applying for medical school proved tedious. Dr. Don Hardy, professor of biology at Crown, assisted Gatjeak through the year-long process of applying to Georgetown. Dr. Hardy wrote Gatjeak letters of recommendation and continually encouraged him.

After applying for medical school, Gatjeak faced waves of doubt. It had been years since he graduated from Crown. He began to doubt his own abilities and felt frustrated and impatient when everything did not go according to his plan.

“I often felt I needed to know exactly where my life was headed and how I would get there,” Gatjeak says. “It was difficult at times to stay patient and know that God will work things out exactly how they should be.”

Finally, in 2017, Gatjeak was accepted into Georgetown University to continue his pursuit as a medical doctor. However, Gatjeak has not set aside his passion for missions. After graduating, he hopes to revisit his home country to work as a medical missionary.

“South Sudan is a young country and severely lacks certain basic necessities; quality healthcare is one of them,” Gatjeak says. “I am still years out from being an independently practicing physician, but it is in this area I would like to utilize my education and training to do God’s work in my home country.”

God’s Timing

Whenever Gatjeak thinks of his childhood—in South Sudan, the night his camp was attacked, immigrating to the United States, attending Crown College, getting accepted into Georgetown—he is convinced everything happened according to God’s plan and timing.

“Where I am today is a testament of God’s grace and the incredible richness of His blessings,” he says.

Though the journey was not easy, he is grateful God was with him every step of the way.

Adapted from an article originally published at www.crown.edu on June 30, 2017.