A glimpse into the refugee crisis in Africa

Some days are burned into your memory forever. Painful memories have the power to shake us loose from our selfish existence and remind us of the people we want to be.

One Sunday afternoon, in Rhino Refugee Settlement, my colleague Curt and I visited with a refugee friend. After the typical African greetings, he asked us to meet with a widow who lost her child that day. These are common invitations for us, but I had no idea how profoundly the next few hours would affect my life.

The widow, Martha, came from the Murle tribe in South Sudan. She and her three children set out to find refuge in Uganda from her homeland’s ongoing war and conflict. Over the previous three months, she lost her husband to war and her son to unexpected sickness. She arrived in Uganda longing to find peace and hope.

After weeks of walking through the bush, they finally arrived in the refugee camp and sickness followed them. She immediately took her young son Sabit to the medical clinic, praying that someone could help. Two-year-old Sabit died after two days in the clinic, and Martha found herself burying another loved one.

The small neglected clinic was packed with refugees when we arrived. Martha stood in the middle of the nurses station: the focus of everyone’s compassion and sympathy. No one in that room knew how to comfort such deep unfathomable sorrow.

We greeted her and prayed with her, as was expected. My voice caught as I prayed; I pondered the senseless death of this child. As they prepared the boy for burial, we watched in somber silence.

I remembered how Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus and how he taught us about hope and resurrection. Still, I was overwhelmed by the room full of pain and trauma — dozens of mothers who had lost their children to political conflict, famine, and hatred.

After walking to the burial site, I watched Martha’s every move. I prayed for her silently because that is all I knew to do. The pastor gave a beautiful message of hope.

As they carried the boy to the small hole in the ground, two church leaders took off their shoes and got down into the muddy hole to gently receive the body of little Sabit. They tenderly placed his body in the ground and began putting soil on his lifeless form.

A senseless tragedy gathered a small crowd of strangers together that day. The sun was stifling, and the despair loomed like a heavy cloud robbing us of sunshine and hope. Christians from two different churches gathered to comfort Martha, even though they didn’t know her family until they arrived in the refugee camp two days earlier. They ministered to her by singing songs of hope and eternity in her time of need.

I bowed my head. I prayed for this now incomplete family. As I contemplated the pain and trauma that they were experiencing, a phrase came to mind that adequately described this terrible scene:

sorrow upon sorrow.

As I opened my eyes and looked up, I spotted Sabit’s older sister standing near me. Tears of uncontrollable mourning stained her little face. She locked eyes with me. I could see in her eyes the question that we were all asking, “Why has this happened?”

It broke me. Tears flowed down my face.

Children need to run and play. Homes should be filled with laughter and joking. There are too many tear-stained faces in these refugee settlements. They are all victims of this senseless war, bearing witness to the depravity of man and to those profiting off of the suffering of the helpless.

It infuriates me. And it infuriates God. Unfortunately, this is the path the human race has chosen.

But there is hope.

The pastor shared a story about Naomi. A refugee woman who lost her husband and her sons while seeking refuge in a foreign land. All seemed lost, but in the book of Matthew, we learn that she became the distant grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ.

Life seemed impossible, but God redeemed her suffering and brought a blessing to all people through it.

When we were nearing the end of the funeral, six compassionate men tapped down the grave’s soil while a multitude of women sang songs to a suffering stranger. One of the pastors stood to pray. Sweat from digging in the sweltering heat soaked his shirt.

This scene reminded me that the hope in this darkness is the church. We are the hands and feet of Christ.

We are to bind up the wounds of the hurting and stand by those who are mourning. I am proud to be a part of the Body of Christ, the hope for a world filled with hatred and pain.

Would you please pray for Martha and her two remaining children Rhoda and Sabbath?

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