‘We ache with you’: remembering UW football player Lam Diing

KITCHENER — Lam Diing was the oldest child in the Diing household — the big brother to six siblings.

“He was the monster in the house who would chase after his little brother and pick you up and throw you over his shoulder like a football,” pastor Roland Syens told a packed sanctuary at Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church last week as he spoke to Diing’s younger siblings in the front pew.

And no one was happier to see Lam than six-year-old Joseph who would run around the house shouting that Lam was home and he had pizza.

“He had an infectious smile,” Syens said.

“We ache with you,” he said. “We are here because Lam has touched all our lives.”

More than 600 people packed the Kitchener church, many in two overflow rooms in the basement — including members of the University of Waterloo Warriors football team.

Diing was buried after being killed on April 15, three days after turning 23.

The service offered prayers and hymns in English, Arabic and the Nuer language. The football players, in their jerseys, formed an honour guard as Diing’s casket was carried out of the church after the service.

Three weeks ago, Diing was at a house party in the Stanley Park area of Kitchener and was stabbed in the neck after a fight.

Nicholas Salim Ndayisenga, 22, faces a charge of second-degree murder in connection to Diing’s death. The two knew each other.

In his message, Syens described Diing’s death as a “senseless” tragedy that started with young people at a party and ended with “one person in prison and one person in a mortuary.”

Syens praised the Sudanese community, both local and others who came from neighbouring cities, to support Diing’s mother, Rebecca Goi and her children.

Diing’s father, Simon Chuol Diing, died in Calgary 10 years ago.

“You know what hardship is. You know pain and hurt,” Syens said.

Many members of the Sudanese community came to Canada as refugees after a civil war tore their country apart. Most walked for days into Ethiopia and lived in a refugee camp before coming here.

In 1995, Diing’s parents fled South Sudan. Rebecca Goi was pregnant, carrying her first-born son, Diing.

He was born in a village outside of the camp in Ethiopia. The family lived together in the camp until the second child, Dieng, was born.

In Sudanese culture, the eldest child goes to live with grandparents while the mother tends to the newborn child, Syens said.

Diing went to live with his grandmother. When it came time to prepare paperwork to come to Canada, only Diing’s parents and his younger brother were in the camp.

When his mother asked if she could go get Diing so that he could come to Canada too, she was told it would take five days by foot to get there and he would have to stay behind, Syens retold the story.

The family came to Canada. Four-year-old Diing stayed behind.

Eight years later, Diing’s mother would return to Ethiopia and get her son back. Diing was 12 when he came to Kitchener.

He went to Sunnyside Public School, graduated from Eastwood Collegiate Institute and was a third-year arts student at UW where he played as a wide receiver.

“What a journey he was on,” Syens said. “He had a difficult life. He knew struggle, he knew famine, he knew loss.”

Syens said Diing, like many of us, was navigating life and sometimes didn’t get it right. There were times he missed practices and he was tardy for games.

“It’s hard to navigate those years. You’re trying to figure out who you are, who to follow and who not to follow,” he said.

Pastor William Chuol, a close friend of the Diing family, told those gathered it’s not easy to understand “why we are here at this moment.”

“It is a difficult journey to know who you are and who you should be,” said Chuol, who went back to Ethiopia with Diing’s mother to bring him to Canada.

Choul said in the midst of pain and grief, there is hope that “Lam is with Jesus.”

“He came so far and set a great example for our people.”

– Waterloo Region Record