Witnessing Change in a Refugee Settlement

January 7, 2015 • Uganda
Witnessing Change in a Refugee Settlement

An intern sees the important role the church plays in changing lives

Catherine Hauck is a Samaritan’s Purse intern with a sports ministry program in Uganda.

When I was offered the position as a sports ministry intern in Uganda, more emotions flooded through my head and heart than I even knew I had.

If you’ve left home to serve overseas for a long period, you understand the feeling of leaving your comfort zone and the doubts that come with it. You leave your family, your friends, your fiancé (in my case), your favorite cheeses (also in my case), your comfortable bed, your go-to restaurants, your ability to communicate in the same language, and so much more. It’s a scary thing, and it’s a wonderfully freeing thing.

I knew I had always wanted to serve in a foreign country, and sports ministry is my passion. I knew the Lord had opened this door for me. I knew when I got to Uganda I would only want to work on the sports project.

Witnessing Change in a Refugee Settlement

Catherine with staff members Loyce and Amos

What I didn’t know, and the Lord so graciously showed me, was that although soccer is an incredible way to spread the Gospel, there are so many other projects Samaritan’s Purse is leading that are having a Kingdom impact.

I’ve been staying in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement for the last few months working on implementing the Pamoja Sports Ministry program. Pamoja means togetherness in Swahili, and the name was chosen to show how we hoped that children and youth playing sports together in the refugee settlement could help bring different groups and nationalities together.

Nakivale is located in southwest Uganda near the Tanzania and Rwanda borders and is one of the oldest and largest settlements in Africa. There are about 60,000 refugees that reside in the settlement that have fled their homes in Rwanda, Somalia, Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundi.

When I arrived in Nakivale, my heart was filled with joy, and the beauty I saw was incredible. There were miles and miles of dirt roads, banana plantations, open fields with amazing African trees and bushes, herds of long horned cows, mud houses, a beautiful lake, and many businesses lining the main street. Because the settlement has been operating for more than 40 years, people have begun to call Nakivale home instead of seeing it as a temporary shelter.

Samaritan’s Purse currently has a food project and ministry project active in the settlement. In my spare time, I’ve been able to visit the ministry project. There are currently eight church action groups throughout the settlement. They are made up of about 30 church members who have a desire and commitment to further learn about the Bible and how to engage the church in compassionate care for the community.

Witnessing Change in a Refugee Settlement

A church action group helps an elderly woman with her garden.

Loyce, a Samaritan’s Purse staff member, equips the members of these groups with trainings on how to organize their members, chronological Bible storytelling, psychosocial trainings, and many others. On training days, they meet in a church and are completely engaged throughout the session.

The first time I visited, I was overjoyed by their interest and desire to learn more. You don’t need to understand the language to see the joy exuding from their faces. The ear-to-ear smiles, the hands being raised, the clapping, and the constant dialogue showed me how truly invested the participants and Loyce were.

Their respect for Loyce was encouraging, and the joy she brought them through the knowledge she was sharing was unexplainable. Christ is involved in the trainings, and anyone who walks through the church doors can see it.

When they aren’t training, the members are taking care of their community. This can be seen through door-to-door evangelism, building houses for vulnerable families, planting gardens for the elderly, and taking care of the sick. These refugees don’t have much to give; they can barely take care of their own families. But by coming together and trusting in the Lord, they’re making a lasting impact in their communities. With eight church action groups throughout Nakivale, the impact can be seen throughout the entire settlement.

I came to Uganda to help with the implementation of a sports project, but my eyes were opened to the many other amazing things Samaritan’s Purse is doing throughout the settlement and throughout the whole of Uganda. I still have a passion for sports as I have seen how Jesus Christ can be shared through them, but I have also seen how important the church is to communities.

Witnessing Change in a Refugee Settlement

The church action group shows appreciation for Loyce.

I’ve seen how leaders have been shaped and how a small bit of knowledge can light fires and change lives. I’ve seen how the churches have cared for vulnerable families and how elderly have been blessed by the work of the young hands in the church. I’ve seen the joy in these refugee’s faces as the church action groups bless them. And I’ve seen how eagerly these members yell “teacher” from across the street because they want to greet Loyce and request she return to their churches to continue training them.

Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that Jesus gave us teachers, like Loyce, to build up the church for service and to spread the Gospel. The ministry program has gracefully used their gifts from God to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and to equip the local churches to do the same. Seeing how seriously Loyce and the rest of the Samaritan’s Purse team in Uganda have taken God’s command to joyfully serve one another and to spread the Gospel has changed me.

Uganda Projects Samaritan’s Purse has been active across Uganda since the late 1990s and is currently working to meet the needs of these refugees by helping to provide food, water, latrines and other hygiene items, and temporary shelter. Whether drilling wells, empowering women to start a business, distributing food to refugees, spreading awareness about HIV/AIDS, or providing livestock to impoverished families, our aim is to demonstrate the love of God to individuals and communities in great need.

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