Sudanese Refugees - Grace Under Fire

Tuesday, August 6, 2002

By Michael K. Gantt, Friends of Sudan Special to ASSIST News Service

KAMPALA, UGANDA (ANS) -- You can find them by following the sounds of the singing. The familiar tune of "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" carries over the crying of children, the honking of the horns, and the general confusion created by cramming 25,000 people into one run down slum.

A team of eight Americans recently visited members of the Sudanese church who are living in exile in the city of Kampala, Uganda. The five pastors and three laymen visited the compound operated by Operation Nehemiah Mission International, and headed by Michael Longwa, a Sudanese national. For 6 days the group listened to the heartbeat of believers who have been driven from their homeland because of their faith in Christ; and their hearts beat for home.

The close knit group of believers has developed the ability to live as productive and industrious members of one society while always longing to return to another; another which is never far from their minds or lips. They speak often, and longingly of their home; Sudan. When they sing, they sing about the restoration of their land. When they pray, it is for the rebuilding of Sudan. As they work, they work not only to survive here and now, but for the restoration of and return to their beloved homeland.

Every conversation bears a story: A loved one missing or dead, a home burned to the ground, a family uprooted and scattered, children with no parents, parents with no children. Rose talks about her dead husband, killed in the war. Her children have now become "street kids" because she has no means to care for them. "They think I have abandoned them," she says with eyes staring blankly off into space, "but I have not abandoned them, I simply have no way to care for them."

As you look at her face, you can almost see the memories racing through her head, memories of a better, happier day, gone for now. Hassan shows the visitors the bed where he sleeps. He has no house, no furniture, no place he can call his own; but Operation Nehemiah has given him a bed and he shows it to us. He is a Muslim who has found Christ as Savior. His father has driven him from his home in anger; his family will not look him in the eye or address him directly. Michael Longwa has become his father and Operation Nehemiah, his family.

Another woman wants the group to pray for her little boy. They have just come from Sudan to Kampala. His father, her husband, was shot dead by government forces. "He misses his daddy and doesn't understand what has happened; he is very lonely," she says with tears streaming down her face revealing that he isn't the only one whose heart is filled with loneliness.

As the team leader, I asked, "What can we do for you while we are here?"

The answer comes back quick and sure, "Teach us the Word of God." "We are the leaders of 'New Sudan' and we want to lead with integrity - as men and women of God!" So, under a blue tent in the sweltering heat of Uganda eight American missionaries poured out their hearts into eyes and ears bright with hope and brimming with anticipation of a day when they will go home to Sudan and begin the rebuilding.

As they teach about such issues as integrity and purity, purpose and vision, restoration and reconciliation it becomes obvious that in these amazing people there is no anger and no bitterness; not one word of condemnation toward those who have so brutally abused them. Instead, there is laughter and celebration, hopeful planning for a day which is still in some unknowable future time as they patiently move through the teeming population of Kampala locating and gathering up every Sudanese they can find, binding the family together, ministering and tending wounds rent in body and soul, getting their people ready to go home.

It becomes apparent that these remarkable young Sudanese men and women are a modern day embodiment of Nehemiah, Ezra, Zechariah and Zerubbabel. God has given them a vision for a New Sudan and they are steadily preparing their people to go home. When the day comes and the word is given they will be ready.