“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” These well-known words from Matthew 28:19-20 were an affirmation to one of our passengers recently, as he responded to a request to visit a group of people very much in need of pastoral and educational input.
James May, Nairobi-based Director of Lutherans in Africa, was happy to answer the call for spiritual assistance, and so along with his colleague Jason Stephenson, travelled with MAF Kenya to and from Kakuma Refugee Camp in January.
Located in the Turkana district of north western Kenya, Kakuma is second largest refugee camp in the country, the largest being the Dadaab refugee ‘complex’ in eastern Kenya, which actually consists of four camps. Opened in 1992, Kakuma currently serves over 179,000 people who have fled wars and violence in neighbouring countries. The majority of refugees are from South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia, but many other nations are also represented amongst the inhabitants. Over 30 different aid, development and mission organisations, both governmental and NGOs, are currently working at Kakuma, offering services that range from education and sustainable livelihoods to child protection, water and sanitation services and health care.
‘I was contacted by Anyuak Refugees (originally from South Sudan) in Kalobeyei, who had been relocated from Dadaab,’ James explains. ‘They are members of the Lutheran Church and had not had a visit from an ordained pastor since 2006. I had tried several times to visit them in Dadaab but it was not easy to get a permit from the Department of Refugee Affairs, and there were many security issues. Some of them had visited me in Nairobi and told me that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Many of their people had died throughout the years and many babies had been born to their wives.’
Life in the camps can be exceptionally challenging. Sadly for many refugees, escaping their homes does not always mean they are able to leave conflict behind, as was evidenced by an incident in Kakuma in November 2014. Following an influx of new refugees from South Sudan, tensions rose between the Dinka and Nuer communities inside the camp, tragically mirroring the crisis from which they had fled. Eventually the dispute erupted into a violent incident in which eight people died; a stark reminder that fear and insecurity can continue to be a feature of daily life for those who have been displaced.
In spite of the hardships refugees face, James found a great desire for teaching and for spiritual growth amongst the people he visited. ‘Their concerns were two-fold,’ he continues. ‘They wanted someone to teach them and train their evangelists and they also wanted me to baptize many who had waited several years without anyone to baptize them.’
‘Upon arrival I was amazed by the hunger of the people to hear the Gospel,’ James reflects. ‘We taught about the meaning of Epiphany, the visit of the wise men, the baptism of Jesus, and baptism. Much more teaching is needed.’
He hopes that he and his team will be able to go back in future and continue supporting these people.
MAF has served a number of partners in Kakuma Refugee Camp over the years; there are many agencies working there with our shared goals of bringing help, hope and healing to people isolated by their circumstances. James concludes, “I am thankful that MAF has this service because how else would we be able to get to these locations? Thank you for all that you do!”