We have just returned from an emotional but important third trip to visit our South Sudanese community in exile. For Fiona, Andrew and myself the lasting impression from this trip is a positive one as we witnessed significant strides forward for both dioceses, particularly the Diocese of Liwolo which has only been in existence since May 2017.
With more than 1.4 million South Sudanese people in exile, the country’s Church has done outstandingly well to overcome substantial hurdles allowing it to restart it’s ministries of gospel teaching, education, pastoral care and training, to name just a few of its activities. In truth the church is these people’s single hope for a positive future; they are the only organisation with the required lines of communication, a leadership team spread throughout the camps and the ability to instil hope and peace among its people. Although there are all the large NGOs in the camps they are not working closely with communities who know and trust them as the church is
The camps and the distances between them are vast – we often drove 40 minutes across a single camp. There are some food distribution networks but they insufficient. The South Sudanese refugees are given a plot of land to live on but the majority are not given any land to cultivate food and those who do the area provided is tiny. The people are operating in survival mode, but the church is well organised and offers a genuine hope and an invaluable sense of community.
Both Bishops Joseph and Emmanuel have done a brilliant job of re-starting their churches within the camps, and have worked at empowering and up-skilling their church community leaders within the camps. Perhaps the most memorable example we witnessed was of Pastor Elly Mawa. He has been working with a group of people who could not face life in a refugee camp and instead set-up a home for themselves just over the Ugandan border. Over the last year Elly has overseen a church being built with wood they’ve found and a grass roof, along with a nursery school set-up with no funding beyond the small amount CRESS could provide in January. Remarkably, with no NGO-provided food and no idea of how long they will be there, the school is up and running with 183 under-five children taught by three teachers and an inspirational head teacher.
Given what we have seen in just a week, it is difficult to summarise however we were all struck by their absolutely resilience and ingenuity in the face of the most trying of circumstances. It is remarkable. The leadership of the Bishops is exemplarily and inspiring, which is why CRESS is committed to empowering and educating them and the other church leaders.
Edward Mika, who runs the new clinic serving the camps, is doing an excellent job and essential work.
We saw 11 of the 14 agricultural groups who are saving funds by selling their produce. An important step towards self-sufficiency.
We also met with the parents of the CRESS children, along with our eight diploma students and three University students.
Andrew and Fiona did their double act of teaching a mixture of stress management and Christian hope across six workshops, with Fiona also providing one-to-one trauma managements whenever she could. Andrew was also able to attend meetings and pray with a number of people. My upmost thanks to them both for their hard work and empathy across this visit.
We spent time in both dioceses and were able to take with us an eclectic mixture of hugely valuable items including laptops, solar chargers, ladies underwear, prayer books and bibles.
My thanks to you all for your continued and crucial generosity in making CRESS, and trips like this, possible and of course your prayers for our wellbeing.