Growing up in Boca Grande, Ryan Boyette always thought he would become a police officer like his father, or work for the FBI. Nine years ago Ryan was, in fact, on his way to entering a career in law enforcement, until his faith led him elsewhere. The Nuba Mountains in Sudan, to be exact.
His purpose for coming back to the States this month is to seek help for this war torn country. He wants to educate people in the United States about what is going on in the place he now calls home, and if his messages are still not heard by enough people to make a change, he plans to revisit the issue again with his wife, Jazira. She was unable to get a visa quickly enough to join him this time around.
Now that he has gone public in his journey, his trips back and forth are more perilous than ever, but he is steadfast in his beliefs despite the possible risks.
Ryan recently spoke at the First Baptist Church of Boca Grande, and will be speaking again on Saturday, Nov. 5 at the Crowninshield Community House at 7 p.m.Ryan’s life-changing decision was a quick one. His awareness of Sudan began when he came across a few newspaper articles discussing this war-torn country. He was surprised to learn about what was going on there, and decided he needed to go. He immediately got in touch with Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization aimed at providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. He received an offer to go to Sudan, and within four days he was gone.
His supportive mother and father, Fran and Glenn Boyette, came to visit Ryan several times in Sudan over the last nine years. They currently reside in Boone, N.C. but also have a home in Cape Haze and spent many years living in Boca Grande. Ryan’s younger brother lives in Englewood, and his younger sister, Michelle, lives in Rotonda and has recently become a proud mother.
Interestingly, despite the distance separating them, he got to meet his new niece even before Michelle’s husband, who is currently serving in Afghanistan, did.
Glenn, a long-time member of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, is now the head of safety and security at Samaritan’s Purse headquarters, the same organization Ryan originally got involved with. Fran fell in love with African artwork and now runs a shop in Boone called The Open Door, which provides hand-crafted global gifts from all over the world.
Ryan has come back to the States several times to visit with family, but it was through a visit from his mother while he was in Sudan several years ago that brought Ryan face to face with another life-changing experience. He met the woman that is now his wife, Jazira, when he and his mother were part of a church seminar. They were in need of a translator and Jazira showed up to fill the position. Ryan was pleased to say the least.
“The Nubians are amazing, welcoming, vibrant people all around, but Jazira stood out,” Ryan said.
Jazira grew up in Nuba and struggled to get an education, as it is not uncommon for years to go by with no schooling due to war. Ryan recalled her sharing her story of being 14 and walking for two days just to get schoolbooks off of a cargo plane, and then walking back. She was able to finally complete her education at the age of 22.
As you may imagine, courtship in Nuba is a little different than the standard “I do’s” of the United States.
Ryan actually met Jazira’s father first, an elder in a local church there, but it was not as simple as asking permission for her hand in marriage. Once Ryan proposed, Jazira said no. This is not an uncommon occurrence in Nuba, though. Women there may be asked by 10 different men to marry them, and so they must “challenge” their potential partners before they commit. Jazira challenged Ryan with various questions such as, “Why do you want to marry me? How do you think this would even work?”
Ryan invited Jazira back to the United States several years ago to prove his seriousness and for her, and to allow her to experience his culture as well.
When Ryan introduced Jazira to classic Florida destinations such as Sea World, she was amazed. Coming from a place nowhere near an ocean, it was an astounding experience for her to watch humans ride on dolphins. It was certainly something she had not expected to see, or had known to exist.
Ryan eventually passed the challenges, and four years after proposing they were married in Nuba.
Ryan and Jazira plan on eventually raising a family in Nuba, but current issues in Sudan have not allowed this. Depending on the outcome of the current war there, it may not be a possibility.
This past summer, North and South Sudan were split but fighting over a border region claimed by both began. A new war broke out, and turned more than ugly. Samaritan’s Purse, who Ryan previously worked with and was supported by, had to evacuate but Ryan chose to stay.
It was a dangerous decision, thought crazy by most, but in Ryan’s eyes he could not leave.
“The Bible calls us to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, and so I stayed,” he said. “The country has no aid, no help.”
No longer being supported by Samaritan’s Purse, he reached out to the First Baptist Church – and they reached back.
He is now not only doing missionary work in Nuba, he is a “citizen journalist,” working with a team of 15 people to relay information about what is going on in Sudan, and trying to get help from outside countries such as the United States.
“With so many other world issues it seems to have not even been on the radar of most Americans, but in the next month Sudan will be faced with an even more devastating food shortage, on top of the fatalities of war that are not limited to soldiers, but to civilian men, women, and children as well,” he said.
Ryan faces many challenges each day, as nothing is a simple task in Nuba.
“If you want to take a shower you need to walk at least 20 minutes each way to get a 5-gallon can of water,” he said. “Everything is work, there are no microwave dinners.”
He wouldn’t trade it for the world, though, and finds himself having more culture shock coming back to the United States than going back to Nuba. While he has fond memories of growing up in Boca Grande, he is now more accustomed to being woken up by a donkey or rooster around 6 a.m., and enjoying his favorite Nubian meal of sourdough dipped in a bowl of gravy.
“There is a strong sense of community in Nuba, everyone sits together and eats out of the same dish and enjoys the company of each other after a long day of work through song and tribal dancing,” he said.
Everyone is invited to hear Ryan speak at the Crowninshield House on Saturday night at 7 p.m.
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