On Friday, after many goodbyes to the CRESS team in the office, we flew back from Arua to Kajjinski, the first leg of a long journey home for most of us. It was a good flight with no detours: the MAF flights often operate as a taxi service, hopping from airstrip to airstrip picking up passengers. This time the aircraft was full, as we were joined by some Wycliffe Bible translators who are based in the Congo but who were going to a conference in Cameroon. Because of local laws about airspace they had to take a very convoluted route via Ethiopia, lasting a couple of days: rather them than me! But it was fascinating learning about their work.
So a 90 minute hop to Kajjinski, and then back to the Airport Guest Hotel with Bishop Joseph for the evening.
Danda, our filmmaker, has been completing the footage for the film she is planning to make about the work CRESS is doing. We’re very excited to see it! So she, Caroline and Bishop hid away for a couple of hours once we arrived so she could film and record Bishop who is the narrator for the film. By the time they had finished we were in for a treat. Friday night is barbeque night at the hotel and they have a barbeque any British man would be proud of: brick built, lots of room for dishes and tools, with multiple cooking spaces. It even has a roof! And my oh my, the chef did us proud. Tilapia, the ubiquitous Nile fish, beautifully grilled, and barbequed chicken; avocado salad; soup; rice; posho; beans; greens; and a range of sauces. And then we had a pudding I can guarantee no-one in England has ever had: beetroot in chilled yoghurt. And it wasn’t bad! It seems as if beetroot is regarded as a fruit here, and it had been in the fruit bowl at the White Castle hotel.
All of the team bar Caroline were due to leave Saturday lunchtime to catch the long flight home, but Caroline doesn’t allow anyone to idle! So on Saturday morning, we were hosting the seventeen sponsored students who hadn’t been able to get to the family day in Moyo the previous week. Most of the university students and some of the younger ones are in schools in and around Kampala. Some board, some stay with relatives. But because of the cost of travel, many only get home once a year in the long holidays in December and January. We had popped into a very Western style supermarket the day before to pick up supplies: Oreo-like biscuits, sweets and a few balls and some bubbles. We’d envisaged a lovely morning playing with children in the garden of the hotel, but then the rain came. And when it rains in Uganda, it rains. And rains. And rains. So instead of luxuriating in the lovely grounds, we had to use the hotel’s restaurant. And the poor children arrived soaking wet at about 11am. Most had set off by 7am to get to the hotel; a few had started the journey at 5am. CRESS had funded their travel – bus, walking and boda boda motorbikes – otherwise they simply wouldn’t have been able to afford to get here. But it was lovely to see them – and Jamie met the little girl he and his family sponsor – and chat to them about their schools and their dreams for the future. Again and again we hear the same ambition: to use their education and their skills to help restore their country and their people.
But the flight beckoned, so Jamie, Jeremy, Danda and Becky left for the airport to pick up the flight to Dubai. We had one of those surreal experiences of enjoying a lovely meal at 1.30am in Dubai airport before boarding the overnight flight to Heathrow; a lot of films later, we landed, safe and sound, home again.
It’s always hard adapting back to life here. When you’ve spent time with people who have so little, our Western lifestyles can seem ridiculously indulgent. And then there are the new experiences you’ve had. Trying to process the so very different stories you’ve heard, come to terms with the reality of life for the precious refugees, takes time. But we have each resolved to find ways to respond that will further their cause and bring hope.
This is my third visit and one of my overwhelming joys has been to see how the projects CRESS have instituted are bringing about life-changing and sustainable changes for some of the poorest people in the world. The savings clubs and the agricultural groups are so impressive in the way the members grasp the opportunity and take it to the next level. Not content with one plot, a group rents a second field to grow more crops. A savings group thinks of really innovative ways to make money. Ladies who are already hugely busy resolve to club together to fund and run a little restaurant in the camp. There’s lots the refugees don’t have control over, but with the support of CRESS, they are taking control over what they can. And this breeds hope, and self-esteem, and a future.
And while the long-term aim is for the communities to become self-sustainable, not needing CRESS any more, in the meanwhile tiny amounts of our vast wealth (and we are so very rich) make a huge difference. You can put a good quality Bible into the hands of a refugee for only £6: and when you consider that in a church only two or three people might have a Bible, this has huge impact.
Time and time again we heard that CRESS is providing vital support, resources and love to people no-one else is reaching and also getting the support to the people who really need it not middle level administrators. But we can’t stop now. More than ever, our South Sudanese brothers and sisters need our help. By partnering with CRESS through your prayers and your generosity, you are part of that. Thank you.