When the Truth makes you a Target

 

Uganda & Refugees

Despite Uganda’s extreme poverty, they do have some fairly open refugee policies.  (check out this link for more information) Basically, refugees are welcome to arrive, but they won’t get much help.  Refugees are allowed to live, farm, work, attend school, and drive in the country (in theory); in practice, there’s a drought, very high unemployment, and unreasonable school fees affecting Ugandans which doesn’t make them particularly charitable on an individual level.

Uganda’s prior refugee policy used to work.

Now, up to 8,000 people per day are entering Uganda.  Not because of their particular policies – most of those arriving have no idea what the policies are.  But, rather, because their border countries are creating some of the largest refugee populations in the world.

Uganda is the part of Africa in between DR Congo and Kenya:

word refugee map.jpg

This map is older (2012).  As of 2017, there were over 1 Million Refugees in Uganda – more than in all 28 European Union Countries put together.  And 8,000 more arriving Daily.

Pastor Benjamin’s Story

While we were staying with our friends in Soroti, Rachel took me to visit a family of Sudanese Refugees which had just recently moved in to a village nearby.  Another missionary family had told her about them (I think).  Pastor Benjamin was incredibly candid with us, especially considering he had never met us before.  I got the sense that he’s told his story before, and Pastors often know how to tell stories very well.

This one is a little long, and a little gruesome, but I think it’s worth it.

IMG_20170801_111536 (1)

Benjamin lives with his wife, 6 kids, 2 nephews, and one grandchild.  They are currently living in a small house with no furniture, electricity, running water or cook-stove; they eat and wash outside.  He wants the kids in school, but with no money for school fees, they’re all helping to farm the land around their house.  Despite these hardships, he was so happy to be in Uganda.  His family can sleep at night, he says, because they are safe and free.  He feels that they might have some hope in Uganda.

Benjamin wasn’t always a pastor.  As a young man, he was a soldier in the army (likely during Sudan’s 1990s conflict).  He did well, and was promoted to rank of general.  But, eventually, he grew tired of fighting.  Somehow, he heard God’s saving grace changed his life, and he retired from the army.  Soon, he was leading others in his church, preaching and teaching them, as well as raising his own children.  Then, South Sudan’s conflicts began again in 2013.

This time, Pastor Benjamin would have none of it.

He warned his sons, the men of his church, the men of his village, anyone who would listen:  do not fight this war.  Benjamin felt God had called him to be a prophet, preaching peace.  He had survived his years in the army, but then God had changed his life.  What kind of Christian country would they be, he reasoned, if they kept killing each other?  He wouldn’t let his sons or nephews join the newly announced civil war.

For his public stance on peace, Pastor Benjamin was arrested.  The new government felt that his  message wasn’t a patriotic plea, but rather a bold treasonous stance.

Pastor Benjamin was a target because he preached peace.

He and others like him were tortured in prison for two years.  Their families were also tortured back home.  While he was in prison, soldiers sexually assaulted his daughter and murdered his brother.  Faced with that much hate, it is a miracle that he kept his faith in peace. Most would have joined the fighting, I’m sure. Instead, Pastor Benjamin is grateful he was able to escape to Uganda with his wife and children. (he didn’t give many details on the how or when of that, and I didn’t press him, because it likely isn’t an easy explanation to share).

Now, Benjamin is hoping beyond hope that somehow, he can also get his nieces and nephews out of the country.  As he’s not their legal guardian, he can’t legally take responsibility for them in a foreign country (their parents were murdered, but as he’s an ex-con in a country engulfed in civil war, it’s not like he can fight a custody battle).  He also can’t help them file for Asylum without birth certificates and adoption certificates, which he doesn’t have.  But, somehow, he is determined to start an orphanage in Uganda for children whose parents have been murdered in the conflict in Sudan.

sudan refugees at camp entrance.jpg

I’m not exactly sure what to do with Pastor Benjamin’s story. Over a million refugees, mainly from Sudan and Congo, have fled to Uganda, each with a horrible story to share.  LWF and UNHCR are doing the best they can do.  Churches in Uganda and Kenya try to support refugees and other displaced people.  But a region in poverty and drought can do little to help those also displaced by armed conflict and genocide.

Until God shows me what to do with Benjamin’s story, or how to help him or others like him, I will keep praying.  I pray for peace, because I believe that God can make peace.  I pray for healing, because I believe God’s word can heal people.  I pray for miracles, because I do not see how peace or justice or healing or safety can come to these nations, but I believe in a God of miracles.

Rev. Jemma Allen wrote this Peace Prayer 

In the face of war and rumours of war,
We cry: peace, peace, peace.
When there is talk of fire and fury,
We cry: peace, peace, peace.
In communities mourning violent deaths,
We cry: peace, peace, peace.
In broken relationships and with broken hearts,
We cry: peace, peace, peace.
We are your people and we long to hear your word of peace:
“Peace, peace to the far and the near”
Be pleased, O God, to deliver us.
Lord, make haste to help us!

(Scripture references: Matthew 24:6, Isaiah 57:19, Psalm 70:1)

Amen, Amen, let it be so.

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