I have not written anything for the blog so here I am at Dubai airport in the middle of the night with a 4-hour wait and finally have time to reflect on our visit. Everyone is home now and I will be by tomorrow morning.
It really was the toughest of all the trips we have done of eight years of CRESS. Not only physically but also emotionally seeing what the South Sudanese Refugees are going through. And then for me as the CEO of a charity where all the goal posts have changed and we are back to the start in many areas. There has been no time to write a blog until now as the last three days have been in Entebbe either spent in long talks with the Africans on how CRESS can restart and begin to help the people or taking a few hours to relax and think through ideas.
The week got off to a challenging start with us missing the MAF flight however, the seven-hour drive was our first insight into one of the many tough life issues that South Sudanese Leaders have to endure. Fred and Joseph frequently take the night bus to Kampala to put their children into school or visit them. It was hot, tiring, time consuming and dangerous.
On day two we were thrown straight into the greatest challenge visiting Joseph’s ministry as Bishop of his flock of around 150,000. His diocese has three Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps with 35,000 people in them and one refugee camp Invepi with 125,000 – but the hardest part is the nearest one is three hours away. This is like having a parish that goes from Salisbury to the north of Birmingham in terms of time to get from A to B, and everything happens at Birmingham distances.
Joseph says everytime he goes out to visit one of these four places he has to put $100 of fuel into the vehicle – next major challenge – money.
Then it is stamina – as you probably read Jonathan Cullis’ account we were aiming for Logu IDP camp in South Sudan, which normally takes three and half hours but took us four and a half. We had three breakdowns and got stuck twice. All roads are rough tracks with no tarmac and in places dangerous.
However, humour is never far away in Africa as without it one would go crazy. The most amusing moment was when we got to the IDP which was awful and I was talking to the crowd and we had noticed no sign of Jonathan, when suddenly there he is on the back of a motorcycle. Sort of like a James Bond film when Bond suddenly appears when you never thought he would !!
The other moment that was pure Africa was about 6.30pm on the way back. The hired vehicle after getting stuck twice because the tyres were no good finally broke down completely – wheel off bearing gone. But suddenly out of the blue “ God Is Faithful “ the ten-year-old trusty vehicle that I have travelled in every time I have come out appeared, miraculously mended. We had left it at midday beside the road being told the gearbox had gone and it was in serious trouble. To this day I honestly do not know how it got mended so quickly and in “ Africa”.
So back in our two vehicles we set off for Moyo another three-hour journey and got there at 9.30pm – dirty, hot and weary – only to find we were expected at the Diocese of Kajo-Keji (DOKK) for a welcome! Africans are so hospitable!
The rest of the trip was more normal – Belamaling Refugee camp was only just over an hour away on rough roads but that did not seem long and we got the most AMAZING welcome from the Mother’s Union Leaders. It was an invitation event and there were fifteen leaders, five from each zone in the camp (it is huge) and others. They completely spoilt us and made us feel so special and it was extremely humbling. I managed to interview a number of people and take some film – again so impressive how the church has organised itself into zones and leaders. They have not lost their faith – it has increased.
I hope we can find ten bicycles for Mothers Union leaders in this camp and then for Joseph’s 3 IDP camps.
When we got back to Moyo the Diocesan Offices we were given a great welcome by the whole staff of the DOKK led by Bishop Emmanuel. I was encouraged to see what a strong team there was, how well they seemed as leaders of their people and how they have reorganised themselves and are now serving their people in the refugee camps. Some of them living in the camps too.
I will write about the camps separately and upon my return.
I want to thank my team of Dr Jane Guy, Dr Jonathan Cullis and Mama Jane Poggo – I could not have gone with a better team. They were completely unflappable, physically strong and never complained, coping with whatever happened, CRESS visits now being much much more challenging. No more stays in the comfortable Bishop’s house in Kajo Keji with the CRESS Office a short walk away and the college and diocesan offices all around.
The Diocese of Liwolo which Joseph heads is a new Diocese, splitting his time between CRESS and his pastoral and leadership role. Projects will take place over three-hour visits – Joseph’s flock scattered and he does not see the CRESS children regularly like he used to. Agriculture has to restart – the people are traumatised – transport costs are huge and so much time is spent in travelling.
BUT they stay strong in their faith. I thought Joseph and his wife Yango looked well and happy – Yango wants to go and start teaching in the IDP camps – Joseph confirmed 550 candidates in Invepi the other day.
He is the most amazing Christian – strong yet compassionate and totally committed to Christ. On one of our afternoons off in Entebbe – I chose to spend my three hours by the pool at the Lake Victoria Hotel – Fred slept as he had taken the painkiller from Dr Jane but double what she had prescribed – Joseph decided to go for a walk and ended up in the little shop at the guest house. Got talking to the shop assistant and found her a muslim and an hour later led her to the Lord. Then today we were waiting for him thinking he was packing – not a bit of it – he was just doing some discipling !
So I was encouraged to see the leaders settled and well – but I came home daunted at the task ahead – but If God is for us Who can be against us?
Caroline Lamb, Founder and CEO
Tuesday 3rd October