What’s it like to be a refugee?
Have you ever been a refugee? I haven’t, but I’ve seen their life in a refugee camp. I have NOT seen how they ran for their lives during the decades of war in South Sudan. I’ve only heard their stories. Virtually all South Sudanese have been refugees in some way or another: hiding in the mountains, searching for water and food in the bush and deserts, dodging bullets from both sides of the battle, or living under siege in one of the towns.
Thousands eked out a life in refugee camps in Kenya, Uganda, or (north) Sudan. In Uganda they had the blessing of being given a plot of land to farm and learn how to work for their food. In Kenya they had the curse of being given everything (however meager) for free: a white tent in a bleak landscape, a daily ration of food, firewood to cook with, and water to be collected at designated times and places. I say it was a curse because now they don’t know the value and dignity of work and self-reliance. Some have come back to their homeland and been unable to cope with life- and work. Those who came back from Uganda are living more fulfilling and productive lives.
Unity church, several denominations including AIC joining together for fellowship and worship.
One of our objectives on this trip was to visit the AIC (Africa Inland Church) Sudanese churches in the refugee camp. Pastor James Nyika, the AIC-Sudan Missions Director, and Rev Sarafino Oseyek, the AIC-Sudan Assistant Bishop for the East Bank Region, were with us. It was a great time of reconnecting for all. We met some old friends, and we met many new people.
Inside the AIC Kakuma church
Generous hospitality – a Sudanese meal in a member’s home.
Inside the “Unity” church with the Murle congregation, then outside as everyone greets everyone else in a wide circle of fellowship.
The two churches we visited in the camp were vibrant, singing enthusiastically in their own style. They were greatly encouraged that the church leadership from South Sudan had finally come to visit them. They had their requests for help: Sunday School and Bible study materials, Bibles, and copies of the Juba Arabic hymnbook SHUKURU YESU.
They also wanted other material things, for example, an income generating project, like a mill for grinding maize. But we asked them, “How long do you plan to stay here as refugees?” Some of them have lived 13 years and more in the camp. Though conditions are rough, they get free food, free education, and free health care. Pastor Nyika urged them to return home and help rebuild their country, especially in the southern, ‘Equatoria’ states where life is peaceful and the land fertile.
Unfortunately the recent escalation of hostilities in South Sudan has only served to squelch whatever little hope they had for their country. While we were in the camp as well as on the road from South Sudan into Kenya, we saw lorries and busloads of refugees coming into Kenya – EVERY DAY! Especially women and children. We couldn’t help but wonder if this ‘evacuation’ portends continued war.
What hope is there for the people of South Sudan? We feel even more compelled to pray and work toward the building of the church in this needy nation. Only the transforming power of the Gospel through God’s Kingdom workers can bring the needed change.
The second objective of this trip was to visit an unreached area, a tribe that is greatly feared by neighboring communities, travel a road that is totally cut off by a massive swamp after the heavy rain season comes, and to visit a fledgling church plant among the Nyangatom tribe. See our next post…