Following the successful CRADLE conference in South Africa, an inspiring few days with 10 other partners from around 8 different countries (more to come on that soon), I headed to Uganda on Friday night to meet with our South Sudanese partners and HHA South Sudan board members, who in the last few months have become displaced in northern Uganda due to intensified fighting.
The circumstances that led to this mass exodus from Kajo-Keji are harrowing, with reports from various refugees we’ve spoken to of unimaginable acts of violence. In mid-January it is reported that Government troops raped a lady called Jane in the local area, subsequently killing her and then burning her body. At a similar time an elderly disabled man was deliberately killed. These were just two incidents we have heard of, from several indiscriminate killings that took place and which have been verified we’re informed by many witnesses. Many of the photos we were shown were too graphic and heart breaking to share publicly, scenes of such evil that they’re hard to comprehend, standing in stark contrast to the humble, loving and peaceful refugees we have met.
Photo above, a powerful image of various faith leaders visiting Jane's family and her body, as a united act of solidarity and love.
Violence like this has led to South Sudan having the worst refugee crisis in Africa and the third worst in the world, contributing to a stark global figure, that we are now living in a time where ‘we are witnessing the highest levels of displaced persons on record, with an ‘unprecedented 65.3 million around the world displaced from their homes.’
Beneath the label of ‘refugee’ - a word packed with so many preconceived and often dangerous stereotypes, we have already been challenged by the individual faces beneath the surface of these overwhelming statistics…not least in a small refugee church this morning, which humbly gathered under a tree. As one could expect, it was a powerful time, mixed with an incredible depth of thankfulness/joy, but also a deep level of personal tragedy.
If their warm welcome wasn't humbling enough, after the service was complete they asked us to stay and then bought out a lunch which they'd prepared...serving us first, before the rest of the church joined in. They modelled a character of hospitality (sacrificial hospitality for a people on very basic food rations that are already barely enough, and no self sustaining agriculture as yet), seeking to serve us in a way which made we wonder how we're to serve them?
On the way to Uganda I started reading a book called 'Seeking Refuge'. One statistic said that of Evangelical Christians in the US, only 1 in 5 report that they have ever been challenged by their local church to reach out to refugees or other immigrants in their communities, leaving only 12% thinking about immigration from a Biblical perspective. Research shows that most go to the media first...though the violence in South Sudan, which some reports have said balances close to a spiral towards ethnic genocide, has barely been reported in the manner it deserves.
However, today we were shown what it is to welcome in the stranger from a Biblical perspective. Ironically, we were the stranger and our hosts were a group of poverty stricken refugees. But, their demonstration was Biblical, it was love and hospitality that came at a price, that required sacrifice. In light of the devastating stories we have heard, like that of Jane, it's critical we speak out on these issues, that we do make it a topic in our churches and that we do return to a Christ like model of love, not driven by stereotypes or media depictions, but a love that seeks (as we've witnessed today) to serve others first. It's why HHA's here.