John Bior Deng, or "Deng" to his extended family and close friends, was given a very moving memorial service today at the Oak Hill Funeral Home in Coralville. Sudanese relatives a from Houston, Omaha, Michigan, as well as those from the Sudanese community in Des Moines, and Iowa City sat consoling each other. In addition, his friends, staff of the Salvation Army where he often ate, and a host of others who wanted to commemorate Deng's passing sat in witness.
His uncle Peter from Houston, Texas related to the overflowing crowd that while Deng was considered by many to be "homeless", in the Sudanese community, if you have family, you have a home. He was saddened that Deng did not let others know what his situation was. Others explained that in Sudan, many members of the family would share their plates, their huts, and so on. His cousin from Michigan described their childhood in the Sudan and how all of them had come to the United States for the freedom they could not have in their war torn country. His cousin from Nebraska encouraged anyone who may have witnessed his death to step forward and help them to understand the killing of a young man they and many others knew to be peace loving.
A cook at the Salvation Army described her conversations with Deng as uplifting and that he was very sensitive to offending her, offering "five minute apologies" if he suspected he said anything that might have made her uncomfortable. Another woman explained how he would bring her a chicken sandwich and cherry cola when he'd see her in the Ped Mall. Another told of how he helped to deliver chairs from the UI Surplus with a smile.
Many reflected that the newspaper accounts of the events leading to Deng's death made him a person they did not recognize and wanted people to know the Deng they remembered.
The burial took place at St. Joseph's cemetery in Iowa City after the visitation and memorial.