What a trip! The last twenty-four hours have been an emotional roller coaster. We traveled by Toyate Land-Cruiser two hours to the north of Kigoma to the United Nations Nyarugusu Refugee Camp. It was probably the roughest trip I have taken by land in my life! I thank God for travel-mercies!
There are approximately 61,000 refugees in the Nyarugusu Camp. Most come from nearby Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda. The camp has been in existence for close to sixteen years. To the children the camp is all they know. Fortunately, with the wars ending the people can return. However, this does not mean life will be easy. During exile, most lost their homes and properties. What will come next is uncertain. The pastors in these camps have a very difficult time communicating hope in the midst of the pain and suffering. Our prayers and thoughts are with them. As I reflected on their condition, it became very apparent that, if it were not for the ministry of Joy in the Harvest, these refugees would have little to nothing. Unfortunately, the church in the United States and Europe has forgotten them. (Note: Many of the refugees are United Methodists from other countries.)
Therefore, it was a joyful occasion when we arrived at the United Methodist Church in the camp today. Throughout the refugee camps it is important to remember that there are churches of all kinds - e.g., FourSquare Gospel, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, etc. We attended worship at a small, mud-thatched church in the middle of the camp. Approximately 502 believers comprise this particular congregation. Over the last few weeks several have come to Christ - six families from Islamic backgrounds and one family from a pagan background. The pastors and leaders shared with us a letter of welcome and concerns. I was moved by their humility and kindness. The love of God was visible and real! When we return, I will read portions of the letter to the people at Grace.
As part of the worship service, we also presented the pastor with a special gift: 150,000 Schillings, or about $200 (if that much) to complete the roof on the church. The people were thrilled. We all were humbled.
The worship service itself lasted about ninety minutes to two hours. The singing and dancing and praying were lively. Each of us took turns sharing testimonies and devotions. I used portions of John 14 to share words of comfort and encouragement. It was a special moment. I have been to many cathedrals in Europe and famous churches in America but this cathedral beat them all! Amen!
Following the service, in typical United Methodist fashion, we went to what I would call an Administrative Board Meeting! There, they fed us a banana and two boiled eggs, along with a coke. We then settled down to business: what to do with forty-two chickens that had died in route to the camp? The chickens were to supply eggs and meat to the people. The conversation lasted thirty minutes. Some things are universal!
There is a great deal to share about our experiences here. We are simply scratching the surface. It is so easy to fall into despair. However, it is also important to realize that without the ministry of persons like the Wertz's and others there would be nothing! Zero! Nada! The people in this part of God's creation would be forgotten.
Because there are multiple levels to any trip like this, it will take time to process. However, one thing is for sure: going to the refugee camp today changed our lives. We won't be the same.