NEWS & EVENTS
Dordt College News
Worlds Apart: Dea Lieu
February 27, 2007by Dan Breen
Originally published in the Northwest Iowa Review. Story posted by permission.
SIOUX CENTER—Not a day goes by when the gold band around Dea Lieu’s left ring finger doesn’t conjure up some type of memories.
The 47-year-old often returns from his classes at Dordt College to nothing more than silence in his small Sioux Center apartment. His wife of 17 years, Charlotte, is nowhere to be seen. Likewise, there are no familiar sounds of the playful banter of his five children in the background.
For the last four years, Lieu has spent day and night separated from the people most dear his heart. Except for the occasional phone call or video exchange, they don’t have a constant flow of communication.
Civil war between the existing government and rebels have torn the country of Côte d’Ivoire — translated into English as the Ivory Coast — in two and threatened to tear the Lieu family apart, but their faith and persistence have kept them connected and will reunite them later this year.
The only thing even mildly unusual about the morning of Sept. 19, 2002, was the rush when Lieu left his home for work.
He hurried off to his place of employment, a mission just outside the community of Danané, where he assisted poor farmers with agricultural knowledge and helped to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It wasn’t until returning home that afternoon that Lieu found his city in upheaval.
“I went to the training center as usual and came home at 3 o’clock, and I entered a city that was upside down. Everyone was frightened. I wondered what was going on,” he said.
During the night, rebel forces invaded the capital of Yamoussoukro, seizing control of the country’s four battalion forces and the communications operations.
“In the morning I was so concerned about work, I didn’t listen to any news,” Lieu said. “The rebel group is led by someone with a Muslim background who was not allowed to run for president. In our constitution, we have an article that says you need to be born from parents in the Ivory Coast to be president.”
Only days later, the initial shock wore off. Being eight hours away from the capital, no one was concerned that the small town of Danané would figure into the attack. The citizens weren’t particularly concerned and went back to their daily activities.
Fleeing to freedom
Lieu and his family walked into a different world on Nov. 28, 2002.
The market in Danané was full of people just as it was every Thursday. Citizens busily looked around for their food and provisions that they would need for the week. All of a sudden, panic broke out.
“We heard shooting and thousands of people in the city were running for cover,” Lieu said.
In an effort to build leverage in the power struggle, the rebels had been taking control of smaller cities all around the country. Lieu couldn’t even go home that night because the rebels had fortified the part of the city where his home was. He spent the night cut off from his wife and children.
Once he found his family, they only had precious little time to grab a few belongings before escaping the city.
“It was terrible. We never expected anything,” he said. “We just had to take what we could. My wife liked bottled water, and we took some rice. Then we ran into the jungle.”
For the next four months, the family became nomads, moving from town to town and stopping at any safe haven they could find.
Eventually, increased aerial warfare became so intense that there was no longer anywhere to hide. The Lieus made the decision to cross the border and take up refuge in the neighboring country of Guinea.
Searching for security
After a short time at the refugee camp, the family decided it was in its best interest to send Lieu to the United States in hopes of finding a way to deliver a better life for the family.
While he was working as a summer intern for a Christian organization in Alabama, Lieu met up with a professor from Dordt. Lieu had been looking to get involved with a Christian college with an agricultural program. Dordt seemed to be the perfect fit. However, the college could not offer him the scholarship he needed.
Instead, he found his way to Hiwassie College, a two-year institution in Madisonville, TN. All the while, he kept in contact with Dordt. Two years later, a scholarship opened up for him, and he made the trek to Sioux Center.
Since then, he has been studying agriculture and missions at the college. He plans to graduate with a degree in May.
Since he’s been in America, much of the fighting in his home country has subsided. His family even has been able to move back to a government-controlled city in Côte d’Ivoire.
That doesn’t mean things are stable, however. The country is experiencing a time of no war and no peace. Sixty percent of the country still is controlled by rebel forces, while the other 40 percent is run by the government.
Once he graduates, Lieu is planning on returning to his home country and resuming life much the way it was before the civil war started. He hopes the agricultural and spiritual knowledge he has gained while in college will enable him to help his fellow countrymen experience a more successful life of their own.
“I’m going to go back and live as everyone else in that part of the world does,” he said. “If conditions are good, I’d like to stay in the country and help improve the food conditions and help people live a better life.”
Lieu said he will miss the peace and tranquility of the American culture but is excited to return home to the land and family he has been away from for four years.
“I’m excited to go back. I miss home,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult but a wonderful time.”
HOW TO HELP:
The First Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Center has taken the initiative to help out those in need of food in the Ivory Coast. The church began raising money in July to purchase rice for the people in the war-ravished country. The church raised $6,000, which purchased 10 tons of rice. In Dea Lieu’s home country, 217 people received rations of rice from the contributions. If you would like to help out the country, contact the church at (712) 722-0717.
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