“God’s grace is abundant,” the refugee pastor said. His answer to the Refuge and Hope International team’s question was baffling.
He faces many challenges as the head of a 21-member household and pastor of a small South Sudanese congregation in Bidi Bidi, the largest refugee settlement in the world. However, when asked how he makes ends meet, he joyfully proclaimed God’s provision is ample.
He is one of 278,480 refugees who resides in Bidi Bidi, according to statistics from the Uganda Office of the Prime Minister.
He was trained as a professional chef and started taking Bible classes at a Bible school where he catered.
He and his wife fled their war-torn country last year, bringing their eight biological children and 11 adopted children with them.
On the way, officials interrogated the pastor, asking him if he was taking the children to train them as child soldiers, a sad but common reality in South Sudan.
“I told them the children were in a school,” he recalled. “They let me pass.”
When the family arrived in Northern Uganda last summer, they started meeting under a tree nearby their home on Sundays for worship. They sang and shared their faith. Others joined.
The fellowship has grown to about 300 in attendance. A women’s ministry and youth group have formed, as well.
Life is safer in Bidi Bidi, but not necessarily easier. Hardships of the past and present haunt the minds of many.
“Without prayer, talking to people and encouraging them, we feel the mind will get worse,” the pastor commented.
Psycho-social support is interwoven in services made possible by the Office of the Prime Minister, but there are no independent psychological services in the settlement. Refugees have started their own faith communities, which have become social networks of support.
In Zone 1, the first of five zones in Bidi Bidi, an interdenominational committee of 20 different churches gathers. The church is part of this co-op.
Despite this support group, there are limited faith resources within the settlement. The refugee pastor noted the biggest need they have is access to Bibles.
Although he and his family live in abject poverty, the joy of the Lord is evident in his life.
“Christmas is going to be really good this year,” he reflected positively. “We will sing and dance.”
Jaclyn Bonner, a May 2017 graduate of Howard Payne University, served through Go Now Missions as a student missionary in Uganda, working with Refuge and Hope International