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Hope for the Scattered

By Phil Mobley, May 11, 2015

The Rev. James Bab was already on foreign soil in late 2013 on the day he became a refugee. In the middle of December, civil war came to his homeland of South Sudan when conflict broke out between the president and a political rival. Bab was visiting Uganda when the shooting started.

Unable to return home and aware that his family was imperiled, he soon received tragic news from friends in the network of six churches he helped plant in South Sudan. As he wrote in January of 2014: "As a church [we have] lost many beloved brothers and sisters, [which] means we have orphans, widows, and widowers." Since then, three of the congregations have managed to continue meeting despite the conflict, but the others have been scattered. Also dispersed was a group of 60 pastors Bab had been mentoring in the town of Bentiu, several of whom were killed.

The young nation of South Sudan, founded only in 2011, had devolved into ethnic warfare between the Dinka and the Nuer, two of the country's largest traditional groups. Many thousands have been killed since the fighting began, with many hundreds of thousands displaced.

A clean and clear theology
Though not at home, Bab was among friends in Uganda. One of them was Don McNeill, part of the MTW team in Kampala, the nation's capital. The team's primary emphasis has been providing theological training to pastors and church planters like Bab, which they do in partnership with Westminster Theological College (WTC). (See the sidebar at the end of this story for more on MTW's theological training efforts in Uganda.) McNeill first met Bab in 2007 and knew him throughout Bab's Bible college days.

When Bab first arrived at WTC, he—like many others before and since—had a Bible, but no other books or teaching resources. He had very little historical or doctrinal knowledge to guide his interpretation of the Bible. He also barely spoke English, which meant he was learning language alongside theology. "Don and the team taught us very clean and clear biblical theology," Bab said. "They generously gave us books and Kindles."

The training was invaluable to Bab as he returned to South Sudan in 2011 where he planted churches and trained pastors. And his relationship with the MTW team proved fruitful in crisis when the team was able to supply financing and logistical assistance to get his family out of South Sudan in the spring of 2014. The reunited family now lives at the Kiryandongo U.N. refugee settlement in Uganda.

Crisis with kingdom opportunities
According to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, nearly 140,000 South Sudanese refugees were in Uganda as of January, a figure that is expected to double by year's end. Bab and MTW have been diligent in seizing the kingdom opportunity afforded by this crisis. As he had done before, Bab planted a church—this time among the South Sudanese refugees in Uganda. With some financial assistance from MTW and various individuals, the church put up walls and a tin-sheet roof. At the same time, they worked together to bring more people safely to Uganda.

In April of 2014, MTW Compassion funds helped provide travel costs and border fees for 99 refugees from Juba, the South Sudan capital. Most of them were particularly vulnerable: widows and orphans, the sick and disabled. Their arrival on a Sunday via a fleet of large vans they called "taxis" touched off celebratory worship. More joined them in September, again financed by donations coordinated by MTW and believers in Kampala, who also helped provide clothing. Bab continues to raise money to bring even more taxis full of his countrymen to safety.

A fruitful sojourn
Led in part by the theological perspective he gained at WTC, Bab sees God's sovereignty at work at Kiryandongo, despite the horror of civil war and ethnic strife. In fact he even reminded friends in a series of text messages that we should not be surprised to see such events, since Jesus Himself warned us they would come in Matthew 24. "When my family was caught in war-torn South Sudan, I felt bad, but my motto is 'God is in control'—and He actually is! My faith was strengthened. When they came out, I praised God for His protection."

Bab also sees God's hand in the mix of people who, though all South Sudanese, come from different places and are different colors. "Galatians 3:28 says that in Christ we are one," Bab said. "I am now connected with many people I did not dream I would meet." Their joy and unity has not gone unnoticed among the U.N. workers at the camp, who initially marveled at the uplifted countenance of people forced from their homes and carrying precious little with them.

During their sojourn as refugees, Bab has not lost sight of the possibilities for this latest church plant. His vision goes far beyond the refugee camp, and it is borne of the simplest of strategies. "My aim is to let the people I meet know Jesus and be saved—like me!" he said. "Then those who are saved will serve God and teach others everywhere they go."

"James is still training pastors," said his old instructor Don McNeill. "After the war, there will be even more people trained to carry on church-planting work." McNeill and Steven Edging, MTW missionary and coordinator for the South Sudanese relief project, have also taught in the camp.

All three men long to see the gospel multiply in South Sudan. For now, they wait and learn. It is not yet safe to return, though they pray that it will be soon. Then the band of refugees will "scatter" anew, this time not to flee from war, but to sow seeds. Both James Bab and Don McNeill have seen enough to trust in God to make them grow.

You can help South Sudanese refugees by making a donation to MTW's South Sudanese Refugee Project.

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The Importance of Theological Training
MTW focuses on theological training at Westminster Theological College (WTC) in Uganda and through dozens of independent pastoral training centers initiated and coordinated by African leaders, many of them former graduates of WTC.

Missionary Don McNeill and Bruce Sinclair, MTW Uganda team leader, teach at some of these centers in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda. Jeff Borden, MTW missionary and MINTS International Seminary coordinator for Africa, has seen an explosive interest in the MINTS study center paradigm, reaching pastors who don't have the opportunity to study at residential schools.

According to McNeill, who taught at WTC from 2007-2011, this type of training can be a slow process, particularly because many African pastors do not initially see the need. After all, their congregations are growing rapidly as the Holy Spirit brings new believers. But McNeill has seen great benefit come to these newly trained leaders. Many beginning students approach Christianity legalistically; learning more about the doctrines of grace proves corrective and liberating in their understanding of justification and sanctification.

McNeill also has seen theological training manifest itself in practical attitudinal and behavioral changes. "Many students believed that working in the fields was beneath the dignity of an educated person," he explained. "We teach them about the dignity of all labor before God, and many come to an understanding that manual labor is as sacred as preaching a sermon."

McNeill is encouraged to see leaders impacted by truth. "God uses solid biblical teaching to reach His people," said McNeill. "Very often, as the leadership goes, so goes the church."

"Hope for the Scattered" is the cover story for the 2015 Spring/Summer issue of Network magazine. Magazine copies available free of charge upon request. Email [email protected].

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Pray for national believers taking on growing leadership roles in Uganda. 

Pray for the Church in Africa to deepen and for African believers to live holy lives in accordance with God's Word.  

Give thanks for the new growth in Kampala as a Bible study multiplies and the church grows. 

Pray for the South Sudanese church that has formed in Uganda from refugees who have fled their homeland.

Pray for MTW's ministry to refugees in Greece, Germany, Ukraine, Uganda, Panama, and the U.S.

Pray for our ministries in Africa, where many have come to expect broken systems and corruption. Pray that God would intervene and change hearts that would change communities.

Pray for Christian businessmen and women making a difference through the Business Development Center in Kampala, Uganda.

Pray for Rev. James Bab and the South Sudanese refugee church in Uganda, that they'll be strengthened spiritually while living as refugees, and be able to be reunited with their families.

Pray for BAM efforts in Uganda. BAM helps people provide for themselves, but the ultimate vision is for them to use their businesses for kingdom purposes.

Pray for believers in Africa to grasp God's grace apart from works. Pray for men and women to receive solid Reformed theological teaching.

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