Hope in The Refugee Camps

This week we have returned from the refugee camps in the north. Just getting there is an adventure. There is a place where the Nile pushes under the main highway and heads north into South Sudan, the waters creating rapids and plumes of moisture, a perfect setting for the local baboons. Passing this stretch of highway, one must keep windows mostly rolled up and carry nothing in the back of your truck. We watched as a big baboon jumped into the back of a big truck, which fortunately was empty, and casually rode the truck until its curiosity was sated, after which he just as casually climbed back out and dropped to the ground from a moving truck. On the other side of the road, another baboon loped right upon the hood of an oncoming car and climbed right up the windshield onto the roof. We saw another truck with pineapples in the back, about two miles down the road heading for that same group of baboons. We really wanted to go back to see what happened! I can guarantee those pineapples were taken along with everything else in that truck.

This week the number of South Sudanese in UN sponsored refugee camps in Uganda has reached the one million person mark. It is very evident as we go and visit and find entire new villages cropping up each month. We went to a place called Imvepi which is only three months old and filled with the people of our town from South Sudan. This is the village that we built a church in a month ago. When we visited we could see a major difference between this camp and the camp that we visited in Rhino last Christmas. This camp hadn’t lost their hope and were very optimistic about a future, even though they are living in small tarp structures where heavy rains leak in under their tents because all have dirt floors. Last year, the people at the Rhino camp were the opposite, most feeling hopeless and helpless. I believe that building the church right away played a very large role in keeping people focused on Jesus and staying hopeful.

Upon arrival we immediately set up our tents and then our equipment to show the Jesus Movie. In this camp we didn’t even stay at the pastor’s compound, but at one of the members of the church. We then stay for a two-day discipleship training teaching and encouragement. This is how we always do our outreaches, fully believing that once people hear the message of salvation, they need to be taught how to walk in it. After the first day of teaching we went out individually and visited the surrounding people and got to know them. One of our young men who lives in these camps, ministering to the people, told me that he still hasn’t seen any other “whites” come and stay some days to be with them. They just come for the day and leave at night. We don’t know if it is due to lack of permission or lack of desire to stay at night or even fear. It could be a little of both. When my teams go we don’t want to leave, even crying as we say goodbye.

On the second night I was awakened by a baby screaming at 3:00 a.m. The baby was screaming, not just crying, but screaming for at least thirty minutes. I prayed and debated about going to see what was wrong, not wanting to intrude but wanting to help. I found myself standing outside my tent in the middle of our compound by myself, under the stars when the church member also came outside. We both went together to investigate because the baby would not stop screaming. I really thought that there had been a terrible accident of some sort. My Arabic is getting pretty good and I was able to understand that the baby’s ears hurt and she had really bad chest congestion. I put my hands on her head and just started saying the name of Jesus soothingly for about ten minutes and the baby grew quiet. She was still whimpering as I left but no longer screaming. The next morning mother and baby were in church ALL day, not one single cry and the baby was smiling and playing. Jesus most definitely touched that baby, no doubt at all about it. He is good, so good.

We then left after the third day and drove on to Yoyo Camp in Bid Bidi, the largest refugee camp in the entire world. We had also built a church here at the same time as Imvepi. These people had been there for nine months already and there were barely any tarp structures left. Most of the people had built their mud huts and have settled in, planting gardens and starting life over in our new country. These people were also full of hope and joy. Many of these people have gone thru this ritual at least three times in the last twenty years. I am always so amazed by their resilience. But then, having gone thru this twice now myself, losing everything and starting over, I find that it is much easier not to hold tightly to the things of this world, knowing that all will fade away.

We were all under the midset that Jesus is the most important reason for our being and He is always faithful to care for us. We did find that in both churches people were still holding on to anger and unforgiveness toward those who hurt them and their families. This is normal and we addressed it and we all repented together and chose to forgive and even pray for those who were the cause of the people losing everything. There was a lot of healing in both camps and a lot of freedom by the time we were leaving. I told the last camp that when I return in November we would talk about me building my mud hut there. I absolutely love this camp and the people there and can easily find myself hanging out in a hut with them each month if funds allow me to continue to visit.

By the time we left the camps on the seventh day we had given away many clothes off our backs and shoes and necklaces and earings, because we just wanted to bless the mamas who had lost all their nice things. For the first time ever the Lord told me to bless all the cooks and behind the scenes workers instead of giving an offering to the church. They were so blessed because no one had ever done this before. It was so fun for us to pray for them and bless them with a little something for themselves. As we drove out my eyes were leaking for the next few miles as we waved goodbye until next time. Every camp, I feel like I fit right in, never feeling lost or unsure, just feeling at home like I belong.

I think our team that came to visit with us were really undone by the gentleness of the Sudanese people and by their genuine love for each other and for others. I know they have taught me how to love in gentleness and in humility and in servanthood. I am ever growing in these qualities.

This week we have had major favor with the government yet again. The government medical team came to our compound for three days and gave all of our children physicals and drew blood for testing, all at only $3.00 per child!! I keep telling the children that this does not happen. Government people do not make house calls. God is doing something here for sure. We are being told that our NGO package should be in our hands within a week or so. If this truly does happen, we will have hit another milestone and record. And due to the amazing response by our sponsors all but seventeen children’s student visas have been sponsored for one year! That’s seventy four visas sponsored. Praise God and thank you friends for helping us the way you have. The children are currently working on making homemade thank you cards that we hope to mail out the end of September. We are waiting to get our hardcopy passports in hand with the visa stamps so we can take a giant picture of all of them holding them up to the Lord!

Life has so many obstacles and if you continue to forge ahead, never letting the enemy or opposition hold you back, you will reach breakthrough. God is on our side. He is always on our side and if we ask Him, He will help us. He just keeps helping us. I pray that whatever obstacle you face this week that you would trust God to take your through it because you asked Him. Bless you all and to all a good night!