Holy Communion is celebrated everywhere

They have lost everything: their possessions, their home, and many of them loved ones. More than 50 million people worldwide have been forced from their homes. Tomorrow, 20 June, is World Refugee Day, an occasion for nac.today to take a look at some of the refugee camps in East Africa.

They look like huge sprawling cities of tents and shacks and stretch over an area of 50 square kilometres in the plains of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. According to estimates by the United Nations, some 1.5 million displaced persons live in this part of East Africa. They come from countries like Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, Rwanda, Somalia, Congo, and Sudan. Political and ethnic conflicts, terrorism, and famine have driven them from their home countries.

Not even 70 grams of cornmeal a day

Kakuma, Katumba, Kyaka, Kyangwali, Nakivale, Nyarugusu, or Daadab. These are the names of some of the refugee camps. Daadab is considered the world’s largest camp. Even though numerous humanitarian aid organizations work in these camps, the condition of the people is desperate. This is what New Apostolic members report. Following a request by nac.today, Apostle David Mwaniki spoke with the local people. “Hunger” is the word he heard the most often. There is never enough to eat. In some areas, up to five people have to live on ten kilograms of posho—cornmeal—for a month. This does not even amount to 70 grams per person per day.

The camps are hopelessly overcrowded. There are far too few sanitation facilities, resulting in the spread of disease. People have to cope with malnutrition, malaria, anaemia, and respiratory infections. Many people are traumatized and suffer from anxiety, depression, grief and loss—all scars on account of horrible experiences in their home countries: torture, murder, rape. And on top of all this there is a lack of medical care in the camps: far too few doctors, not enough medication, and not enough medical centres.

Divine service under a tree

But even under such squalid conditions there is a living faith. There are 15 congregations in the refugee camps that fall within the area cared for by District Apostle Joseph Opemba Ekhuya from Kenya. Alone in Nyarugusu Refugee Camp in north-western Tanzania there are six congregations. There are regular divine services—in some places not only on Sundays, but also on Wednesdays. And Holy Communion is celebrated everywhere.

The equipment is far from what people in many other parts of the world are accustomed to and consider a minimum for a divine service. A Bible? Sometimes there is not even a decent Bible. Hymnals? There are hardly any. An altar? The best the brothers can come up with is a table. A church? In Nakivale the members gather for service under a tree, with the congregation receiving some shade from an improvised shelter. In Kyaka the people managed to organize some beams and were then given a corrugated iron roof from the Church administrative offices. In Nyarugusu Refugee Camp there are even brick buildings with a thatched roof.

Pastoral care not only for Church members

Most of the brothers and sisters living in refugee camps can speak about their faith openly. Only in Daadab—the world’s largest refugee camp—this is not all that easy. The majority of the occupants of the camp are Muslims from Somalia, many of whom are intolerant of and hostile towards Christians. Divine services are not held in the camp, but in a security area outside. The people who attend divine services there are employees from the camp’s administrative offices as well as business people.

In other camps, the ministers—Shepherds, Evangelists, Priests, and Deacons—can move about freely and do family visits in the tents and huts of members. In Nyarugusu they are sometimes even asked to conduct divine services for people who are not New Apostolic.

Gratitude and joy despite misery

Faith gives us strength, “Despite being traumatized, the brothers and sisters are thankful to God and experience joy in Christ,” we are told by someone from this camp in north-western Tanzania. Congolese refugees have found shelter there. They have organized choirs and bring their joy in Christ to expression in song.

Apart from hoping to escape the chronic misery, the refugees have a few other wishes which they would like to voice to the brothers and sisters around the world. “Pray for the orphans, widows, and widowers. There are so many of them here,” is the urgent appeal from Kyaka. The refugees in Kakuma have expressed the following wish, “Pray fervently for peace so that the refugees can return home.”

Photo credits, Photo 1: UNHCR/R. Chalasani - Refugees and Returnees in the Great Lakes Region of Africa - CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / Photo 2: Brendan Bannon/IOM/UNHCR - CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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