Menders: How the Ugandan Church is helping S. Sudanese Refugees to Thrive

By Andrew Shaughnessy, Jul 25, 2017

There are 480 names on Jeremy Martin’s list. Young and old, men and women, Nuer and Dinka and Acholi. Different tribes, same fear. But for the grace of God, a few trucks, and the Ugandan army, 480 lives could have been snuffed out like so many candles.

In July 2016, South Sudan’s fragile peace was shattered in a hail of gunfire as shooting broke out once again between government troops and rebels in Juba, the capital city of the newest country in the world. As the violence escalated, reports of ethnic killings and atrocities from both sides filtered across the airwaves, and thousands fled the cities and towns to hide out in the bush or seek shelter across the Ugandan border to the south.

A call to action
That’s when missionary Jeremy Martin and MTW’s team in Kampala, Uganda, got the call—people were trapped between Juba and the Ugandan border. They needed help. The call came from Rev. James Bab Manyol, a South Sudanese graduate of Westminster Christian Institute Uganda, the Bible school run by the Presbyterian Church of Uganda and at which a number of MTW missionaries teach. He saw his people in crisis and was determined to offer aide.

Jeremy asked MTW for help, and received funding from the PCA Compassion Fund to get as many of the refugees out of South Sudan as they could manage. Initially Jeremy and his team estimated that with the available funding James would be able to transport 250 people out of harm’s way, but when the MTW and Presbyterian Church of South Sudan team sent vehicles north to the rescue, they fell in with a Ugandan military convoy of large trucks that was also heading into South Sudan. With the army’s assistance, James and his team were able to transport 480 South Sudanese safely into the Kiryandongo refugee settlement across the border—nearly twice as many as they had thought possible.

“They were protected the whole way,” said Jeremy. “It’s been breathtaking at times to see how the Lord is providing for His people.”

Since then, Jeremy has been working in the Kiryandongo refugee settlement in central Uganda in partnership with the leadership of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan and the South Sudan Christian International Fund for Refugees (SSCIFR). What began simply as emergency financial support has evolved to address the long-term needs of the refugees in Kiryandongo.

“The Lord really started working on my heart while we were in the camp,” Jeremy said. “One of the passages that has been on my heart is Deuteronomy 10:19: ‘Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.’ We started exploring possibilities. ‘What can we bring? How can we come alongside and love these people the way the Lord commanded us to?’”

The Church and sustainable farming
The U.N. offers security and basic supplies for the 62,000 South Sudanese refugees who have materialized in Kiryandongo since conflict first broke out in 2013. As Jeremy initially took stock of the camp’s surroundings and began asking questions, he noted several things. First, two of the refugees’ major problems were food security and a lack of means to generate income. Second, Kiryandongo is set in a fertile area ripe for farming and with ample room to do so. While the refugees had access to the land and were farming it to some extent, they weren’t utilizing its full potential.

To address these needs, Jeremy partnered with missionaries from World Gospel Mission to put on classes in Farming God’s Way (FGW). These sessions combine training in sound, sustainable agricultural techniques with biblical teaching.

“We had 47 participants in the last training,” Jeremy said. “About 30 of them were women and they were very enthusiastic. … They’re striving for their families and their kids. It was really exciting to hear them asking, ‘How are you going to take this to everybody else in the camp?’”

Tribal reconciliation among believers
In building these programs, Jeremy has been working with the leadership of the South Sudanese Presbyterian Church in conjunction with community leaders of various tribes represented in the camp. Back in South Sudan, the civil war has pitted primarily Dinka government troops against primarily Nuer rebels, with other tribes being caught up in the crossfire. Despite this root conflict, Jeremy has witnessed reconciliation between tribes as they come together under the umbrella of the Church.

“When I went to meet with the leaders, most are Nuer, but I’m sitting next to Dinka, Moru, Kuku. You name the tribe, they’re there,” said Jeremy. “It’s exciting to see Dinka community leaders embracing Nuer community leaders with a hug of friendship. I think you’re seeing very clear evidence of tribal relations being rebuilt.”

And that’s the power of Christ and the gospel: tribes and nations fracture and fly at each other’s throats, yet Jesus can mend even rifts wrought in bloodshed and hate.

In South Sudan, the conflict and atrocities continue, but God remembers every name on Jeremy’s list. In a refugee camp in central Uganda, God is working through the Church to care for the physical and spiritual needs of the fatherless, the widow, and the refugee, to mend relationships broken by war, and to draw many into the lasting hope offered in Christ.

Help support refugees in Uganda by donating to the South Sudanese Refuge Project. 

Andrew Shaughnessy

Andrew Shaughnessy is a long-time word slinger who spent nearly six years as MTW’s staff writer, gathering and telling impact stories from missionaries across the globe. These days, he’s off working as an analyst and editor in the publishing industry, writing fiction, and mountaineering. He holds a B.A. in history and English literature from Covenant College, and an M.S. in political science from Portland State University.

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