Moments with missionaries: Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya

Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya 

Terry L. Schultz

Pilgrims in another land

I met Nyaduel while visiting the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya to help conduct leadership training. Kakuma Refugee Camp and nearby Kalobeyei Settlement have been at times the largest refugee settlements in the world, with over 185,000 inhabitants counted in 2017. For more than 25 years, South Sudanese men and women, even children with no accompanying relative or friend, have walked for miles to refugee camps to escape the carnage of the civil war in South Sudan.

Since 2014, Peter Bur, a revered elder among the Nuer people of South Sudan who emigrated to the United States and now serves as the North American coordinator for South Sudanese ministry for our synod, has made trips back to Africa to train South Sudanese church leaders in Kenya and Ethiopia. The Spirit-powered results have been astounding. Currently 23 groups (three in Kakuma, 20 in Ethiopia) serve more than 2,600 people with the gospel. On the day of our visit to Kakuma, more than 300 members—including Nyaduel—gathered for a combined church service.

Nyaduel is 17 and has already lived over 10 years in Kakuma. “How did you get here?” I asked her. She remembered and, in her second language of English, replied, “I am running. My mother is running. I never see her again.” Nyaduel, her mother, and her father were in different locations in the village when the government soldiers arrived. They each had to run for their lives. Sylvia has met her father since then. Tragically, he is currently not a Christian. Neither of them have found her mother. But Nyaduel is blessed to be part of a new family with many brothers and sisters of the faith in Kakuma. And while Nyaduel would like to study to become a pilot one day, right now she loves serving as one of the congregation’s youth leaders.

As a youth leader, Nyaduel teaches Bible lessons to the children. She also directs the choir and teaches dance movements to accompany the singing. Several large, goat-skin drums are used to keep the beat during worship. The drums are exuberantly played with beaters made from eight-inch strips of durable rubber tire tread cut from discarded tires.

Nyaduel’s humble, servant-like attitude is clearly evident in her youth work. As a young girl, Nyaduel lost her left foot in a fire. She managed to obtain an artificial foot made of wood. But that was years ago. Nyaduel has grown since then and now needs a new artificial foot that is a couple of inches taller. But having one leg shorter than the other does not impede Nyaduel. The girl with one wooden foot doesn’t worry about looking awkward as she teaches dance steps to the children and youth choirs to use in praise of Jesus!

During worship, the Kakuma congregation sings a song written by the refugees themselves: “Lord, we know you are here with us. Lord, you know we want to go back home.”

No one will be going back home until there is peace in South Sudan. And no one is optimistic that that will happen any time soon. But God’s message that in this world we are always aliens, foreigners, and pilgrims resonates deeply with our Kakuma brothers and sisters. An eternity with our heavenly Father in paradise is coming for those who put their trust and faith in Jesus.

On this Sunday, in the barren refugee camp of Kakuma, there is a three-hour worship service of preaching, prayer, singing, and dancing. The celebration has already begun! God’s children in Kakuma are secure in the knowledge that the eternal kingdom awaits them, thanks to their Savior Jesus!

Terry Schultz serves as a consultant for WELS Multi-Language Publications. 


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Author: Terry L. Schultz 
Volume 105, Number 3
Issue: March 2018

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