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  • C Johnston

Joel Dumba: From Least to Greatest

Updated: Apr 20

Some would consider that a little boy, Joel Dumba, born in the very poor country of Sudan, had everything stacked against him.

Of the billions of people on this earth, he could have been considered one of the least likely to survive.

He not only survived, but he also thrived. Today, this immigrant to the U.S. is a success who inspires many and rescues the perishing.

Joel was the ninth child of his parents. His mother had given birth to four other sons, all of whom died of natural causes. He had five sisters, one of whom later died of natural causes, leaving four girls. In South Sudan, boys were important and carried on the family name, while girls were not valued.

When Joel’s father was living with a pregnant wife and five daughters, he decided there were too many females in his household and wanted out. He deserted his family and went to Uganda.

So, Joel was born into a family with no father. As a female who had been educated in a British missionary school, his mother Priscilla attended the Anglican church. In the face of adversity, she remained strong in her Christian faith and dedicated Joel to the Lord.

Tragedy again struck the little family when Joel’s mother died when he was only six years old. After trying to nurse her through sickness, he held her in his arms as she took her last breath.

The surviving children were distributed amongst relatives. Joel was “given” to his uncle who had four wives and 27 children.

“It was difficult,” he explains. “I was child number 28. I had nothing. I watched my cousins go to school, but there was no money to pay for my education.” He was last and least in the pecking order.

Life was hard. There were so many children in his uncle’s family that he had nothing to eat. He would look in trash bins for a crust of bread or other leftover food. He would clean it up and eat it. He was on the verge of homelessness.


“When I was hungry, I would never steal. And somehow God provided. I wouldn’t take what belonged to someone else. And I wouldn’t envy. What they had was theirs.”


He found comfort at the Anglican church, where his mother once took him.  Now he went alone.

“I found church to be like heaven on earth,” Joel says. “The members of the church, especially the women, were so kind and compassionate. They looked out for me. If my mouth looked dry, they gave me water. If I looked hungry, they gave me food. If I didn’t have sandals on my feet or clothes to wear, they would supply what I needed.”

The care extended by the women of the Anglican church went beyond Joel’s physical needs. They also cared for his mind and spirit, which were as wounded as his body.

“For when I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me … Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters you did for Me.” – Matthew 25:35-36, 40

The three ladies teaching Sunday School were a God send, he says, living out the words of Jesus. The most special was a woman named Carolyn Murray, from London, who had an empathy beyond any Joel had ever known.


“When Miss Carolyn was teaching us one day, she asked us to bring our parents the next week and I started crying. She wanted to know what was wrong. I told her I had no parents and explained how my mother had passed away. I cried and she cried with me. She truly cared. She touched my heart.”


He explains, “Life was so hard. I cried and pleaded for her to give me a job. I would go home with her and be her servant – wash the dishes, sweep the floor, that type of thing. I said, no matter how hard it would be, please take me. She did.”


His uncle was upset and called this situation a degradation. He didn’t want his young nephew working as a houseboy for a white woman. But Joel knew what he wanted – and discovered a new and better life.


“Miss Carolyn took me in like a son. That’s why I call her Mother.”


Carolyn paid the tuition so Joel could go to school. She even drove him there in a car, something most people in the village didn’t have. She gave him a treat that was a marvelous discovery … home-made chocolate cookies and milk. That became his favorite.


Life was a joy. Joel appreciated his new mother and all she gave him. He experienced parental love and biblical teaching that made his heart soar. He lived with Carolyn from age 11 to 16.


That’s when Carolyn had to leave the country because civil war broke out. “We were ruled by Sharia or Islamic law, and all church members and missionaries were expelled. The day this was imposed was one of the worst days of my life,” he remembers. “My mother was taken to Juba International Airport to go to London. I watched her plane depart. Tears would not stop rolling out of my eyes because my hope was gone. I lost touch with Miss Carolyn, the mother of my heart.”


With his world turned upside down, Joel was displaced, leaving from Juba, South Sudan in a cargo flight to Khartoum, Sudan. Because of his Christian faith, he volunteered at the YMCA. There, he was able to enroll in a two-year certificate program providing office skills – accounting, bookkeeping and typing. The certificate opened a door for him, leading him to a job in the city of Port, Sudan. He became the bookkeeper for the YMCA.


The YMCA operated under the auspices of the Episcopal Church, which was protected because, as Joel says, “the rest of the world was watching.” Joel, who became the choir director at the church, was well known among the bishops and other church leaders.


One day a woman missionary, Bridgette Rich, came to the church from the Diocese of Bradford in London. She didn’t understand the Arabic language, only English. She couldn’t communicate with the others at the diocese and desperately needed a translator.


The church leaders knew that Joel understood English and was even called “Son of a White Woman” or “Jenakawaja.” He loved this name as it marked Miss Carolyn’s imprint on him. They asked Joel to help as a translator, and of course, he obliged. Bridgette, amazed by Joel’s mastery of the English language, asked him where he learned it. In Sudan, English was the language of the elite, those who were educated in private schools.


“I told her that my mother is British,” Joel says.


“Some people look at the color of the skin, which makes no sense. It’s the heart, which God knows, that matters.”


Bridgette asked him about his mother, and he shared her name, Carolyn Murray. Shock turned to hope as she looked at him and said, “Don’t tell me you are Joel.”


He responded that he was indeed Joel.


Tears welled up in her eyes and she said, “Your mother and I are friends. We work together and we pray for you every day. It’s a miracle that I’m here meeting you. Only God could orchestrate that!”


Carolyn and Joel had been unable to find one another during 10 years of turmoil, poverty, war, and displacement. But now, mother and son were reunited. Using the then-new technology of Skype, they were able to see each other’s faces and hear one another’s voices.


“God made the desire of my heart happen,” Joel says. His mother is once again part of his life.


Joel fell in love with Rosemaria, a woman who sang in the church choir. They married and eventually became parents of five. They had the first two very quickly – David, who is now 27, and Daniel, 26. Life is very difficult for girls, in particular, in Sudan and Joel knew he and Rosemaria had more love to give. They adopted two daughters – Peace, who is now 16, and Patience, 13. As time passed, they adopted a 16-year-old son, who is now 25. His name is Solomon, and Joel says he is very bright, living up to his name and his hope. Joyfully, his family has grown recently since his oldest son David married Vicky and they had a daughter named Priscilla.


Joel became diocesan secretary of the Episcopal Church, which required a special resolution since he was not ordained – and something which wasn’t normally done. He became a director of the South Sudan AIDS Commission. South Sudan had just become independent of Sudan and experts from around the world came to help establish policies. Joel was one of the national consultants who were to be trained and given tools to help the fledgling country. He worked with Dr. William Jacob, who was a Professor of International Organization Development from the University of Pittsburgh. For three months, Joel collected raw data which Dr. Jacob analyzed. Joel even gave a presentation sharing the results with a huge international coalition.


Joel and Dr. Jacob became great friends. After the professor returned to the U.S., he invited Joel to come and study, even securing funding for Joel’s advanced education. So, on September 4, 2011, at the age of 40, Joel arrived in the U.S. He was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh College of Education and earned a Master’s Degree in Administration and Policy Development.


While Joel remained in the U.S., his family temporarily settled in in Uganda.  

Joel's wife Rosemaria with granddaughter Priscilla

He is working through the lengthy process of bringing them to this country. “Not being together is painful and difficult,” he says. “I’m the only breadwinner of the family. If I fall sick, if I die, they have no one to provide for them, to take care of them. That’s why I thank the Lord that I am working and I am healthy.”


Joel is a chaplain for Amedisys, one of the leading hospices in the country. He feels privileged to help people transition from life to death. “I can hold the hand of a person who is dying and make it easier,” he explains. “Some people know the Lord and want me to pray with them. Others have no hope and I share it with them. The Lord cares about people and the final minutes of their lives are important.”


He also helps the families who are losing loved ones. “My Caucasian Americans and I have a beautiful love for each other. We hear a lot about racism, but I don’t feel it when I deal with people directly and personally.”


“We are all people of color. Some are white, some are darker skinned. What I offer goes beyond color.”


He continues, “Sometimes people have no knowledge about different types of people and so they may be uncertain at first. But people see that I have patience, respect, and a caring heart. I am a man of truth, carrying the Lord with me. He cares about others, and so I do also.”


And those who interact with Joel see the difference. Larry Jay, who is a friend of Joel’s from church, explains, “Joel is the happiest, most caring person I have ever met. He just lights up a room with his infectious smile and hugs. People want to be around him as they are drawn to his loving personality.”


Joel is also the founder and president of a non-profit organization, Agape International. He started it in 2016, registered it in Uganda in 2018, and then secured the U.S. 5013C status in 2021. The mission is “to raise the needy up from poverty to a flourishing standard of living.” And its vision is to rescue the perishing.


In the U.S., Agape projects help refugees rebuild their lives with the essentials of emotional and psychological healing, life-skills training, formal academic and vocational training, and basic supplies for daily living.


A major project of Agape is English as a second language (ESL), and it changes the lives of people who come here from other countries. On evenings and weekends, Joel teaches English to people from countries such as Venezuela, Guatemala, Nepal, Guinea Conakry, Gambia, Congo, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Pakistan.  He also teaches refugees how to drive, find jobs, and become citizens.


Agape International also provides material items such as furniture, kitchenware, and clothes to newcomers to the country. It provides counseling and grief support groups for those who have encountered losses and outreach programs in nursing homes and hospitals.


In Uganda, Agape provides care for orphans, as Miss Carolyn once did for Joel. It supports 72 children in two orphanages. Agape also provides vocational training in tailoring and design, as well as computer literacy. The organization ships donated sewing machines and computers to Uganda to facilitate the training. There are generally about 37 students to the training program at a time.


Agape International also offers a behavioral change communication program to help people in Uganda who have endured crisis situations. It helps about 1,500 drug addicts, alcoholics, abused children and people struggling with mental health issues.


And in South Sudan, Agape has outreach missions to teach people about the Lord, as those three kind missionaries once taught Joel. It also provides programs to treat people with drug and alcohol addictions. Joel’s next concept is for Agape to establish funeral home services, which currently don’t exist in the country. Through the funeral homes, he envisions providing emotional support, counseling, food, and the love of God to grieving people.

 Agape International exists through the generous support of individuals making in-kind or financial donations, and more recently, grants through other organizations.


It operates on a shoestring budget. Joel gives his heart, soul and a seemingly never-ending amount of time. In the U.S., he credits the good work of Mission Coordinator Lynn Scheifele and a dedicated board. In Uganda, a staff of volunteers serve under the guidance of Dr. Budya Augustine, who works day and night for Agape.


Joel earned his U.S. citizenship on April 27, 2023. “This is my country now. The pride, peace, joy and freedom I have is unimaginable. I can walk with my head up. My freedom, which most people here take for granted, is an immeasurable gift.”


“When I achieved my citizenship, I waved a U.S. flag and screamed, ‘I am free!’”


He continues to work on bringing his wife and children to the U.S., but the process has been slow. Now that his citizenship is secured, he is praying they can come here soon.


Thinking back on his life, Joel says, “I made it out when so many didn’t. God has a plan. He’s had his hand on me.”


“For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11


And he continues to be faithful to what he feels he’s called to do. He has been accepted and will soon start a Doctorate of Ministry in Spirituality program at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.


Joel continues, “The hand of God brought me where I am now by way of an amazing path. I never dreamed I would be here.”


There are those who wouldn’t have thought he would survive after his horrible start in life. But many people provided Joel with love when he thought there was none and a hand up when he needed it most. As he came to know the God who loves him, somehow, he flourished.


Through his job, life connections, and non-profit organization, Joel has helped an untold number of others to flourish as well.


“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters you did for Me.” – Matthew 25: 40

Joel’s friend Larry Jay sums up the feelings of so many who’ve been impacted by this man from the Sudan. “I consider it a blessing to have met Joel because he makes me a better person by being a shining example of how to live my life.”


Joel would like to appreciate and recognize the following from Amedisys Hospice Care of Washington PA Care Center for their mentorship and guidance with his professional career development: Mrs. LeeAnn Dernovsek, Director of Operations; Mrs. Nancy Mounts, Clinical Manager; and Ms. Ginger Polan, Clinical Manager.


Now Joel is an ordained elder at Bethel Presbyterian Church where he found unconditional love from the church members, especially his friend Larry Jay, whom he treasures.


Donations of material goods or money are needed and appreciated by Agape International to rescue the perishing and care for the dying.  Joel Dumba may be reached at or AHIO, 2727 Churchview Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA  15227, USA.

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Best statement ... I found church to be like heaven on earth. 🙂



I am proud to call Joel my Friend and Brother



Such an inspirational story of a very amazing man, whose story needs told. Thank you for sharing. This brought me to tears. Praying he gets his family here soon. 🙏🏼✝️



This really is a story worth the read. Inspirational!



Joel is an inspiration. This is indeed a story that needs to be told

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