William Levi -- With the Commission of Nehemiah

Apr 02, 2003 02:35 PM EST

The founder of Operation Nehemiah Missions International calls attention to the plight of the persecuted in Sudan, April 1. William Levi, founder of the Christ-centered charitable organization spoke at the St. Ann Catholic Church to raise awareness of the needed relief and development projects in the African nation.

"The needs in the region are so dire," said Levi of the "soft-spoken, lilting" nation, Sudan.

Levi himself, a Sudanese native, was born in Moli, located in the eastern region of South Sudan. In 1965, 1-year-old Levi and his family left to Uganda in lieu of the Sudanese government's call for forced conversions from Christianity to Islam. His family then moved back to Sudan in 1975 where they stayed with Levi's uncle. After the fall of dictator Idi Amin in 1979, his family moved yet again to the city of Corom.

In 1983, a religious war broke out in Sudan; as a result, Levi was beaten and tortured for his faith while attending Juba Christian Center School, 1984. He finally escaped to Egypt, Turkey and then France the following year and in 1988, came to the United States where he settled in Newark, N.J. However, while he was able to find asylum in America, his father was murdered while being driven from to an Ugandan refugee camp.

After his mother died in the camp, 1990, Levi decided to take action against the injustices.

"My sole responsibility is to voice (the Sudanese people's) needs," Levi says. "We're trying to make a difference and share our resources."

He began Operation Nehemiah with the vision to help his homeland. Following the biblical passage referring to Nehemiah, Levi hoped to "rebuild the temple and restore the protective wall" in his nation.

"I envisioned that small beginning. That it would take a while. I knew God would bring me people. You have to be small to continue to grow," he says. "I had an idea that God would bless it."

Now, his organization has become part of the voice of the Sudan Coalition that testified before the U.S. Congress.

Before the visit to the St. Ann Catholic Church Levi noted, "In this trip I hope to accomplish several things." Overall, Levi said he wished to foster awareness of the 4 million people displaced from their homes, and the 2 million who has lost their lives. "And children are bearing the brunt of this," he added.

"Sometimes it's the work of faith that helps," he says. "God provides in the midst of all this."

By Pauline J.