Serving South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda

Joseph Chandia, a vicar in northern Uganda, has been involved with BUILD for many years. His Eleku parish lies close to Rhino Camp refugee settlement and members of the churches have been reaching out sacrificially as part of a wider humanitarian intervention. That has included some BUILD training and we spoke to him about the challenges and opportunities.

As of August 2017 there were 1,355,764 formally registered refugees and asylum seekers in Uganda (Uganda Refugee Response Portal). Over 900,000 of these refugees are South Sudanese who are hosted in northern Uganda, having escaped violence in South Sudan. This is reflected in the nearest settlement to Joseph, who explains that, there, in Rhino Camp, “the Sudanese are the majority, along with some Congolese, and a few Burundians and Somalis.”

In the past and in a previous parish, which was even closer to the settlement, Joseph’s church reached out to the settlement with basic clothing and provisions that they themselves gathered together – those with very little, serving those with even less. Now, with Rhino Camp growing and the ongoing influx of refugees, Joseph has been reaching out under the joint initiative of Madi-West Nile Diocese and the Church of Uganda’s (COU) Directorate of Household and Community Transformation (HCT), led by Nason Baluku.

Joseph and some of his parishioners serve in the largest zone of the settlement, where around 15,000 people are living. He describes the churches there as “mixed up,” meaning there are a number of Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS) churches together with “Pentecostal churches of different kinds.” He estimates that there are around twenty churches in the zone, with a dozen ECS churches among them. Most of the ECS leaders are lay leaders who have come from the Diocese of Yei, and they are led by a Pastor Joyce who helps to organise and encourage them.

Currently their churches meet under trees, although they are beginning to access materials to create simple thatched structures. And they lack basic training for their different ministries. In addition to the provision of basic needs and psycho-social support from the diocese and HCT, Joseph has been gathering ECS leaders together for BUILD workshops. The leaders “stay in different clusters and they travel far, so things are not easy.” But they have been “looking into Paul’s letters to Timothy, together, and the training has benefited them a lot. Many of them have not had a background of training; they feel the ministry should go on, but they are lacking the training.”

Joseph is both leading a parish and studying, but he is determined for the BUILD training to continue because he is sure “it can work very, very, very much.” So, in partnership with the BUILD Unit at the COU’s Provincial Secretariat, Joseph is looking at ways of making that happen, with the constant prayer that one day these leaders will return, rebuild and serve back in Yei.