A visit to Kakuma Refugee Camp….

We awoke early to make the 95km drive south to the Kakuma Refugee Camp.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the road from Lokichoggio to Kakuma was remarkably smooth and well-paved.  It was a beautifully scenic drive, offering views of large mountains and semi-desert landscapes.  Other than the occasional military checkpoint, passing Turkana pastoralist, or camel crossing, very few people were encountered on the journey.  The camp is located just north of Kakuma town.  Kakuma means “nowhere” in Kiswahili, which is an accurate name due to it’s being extremely isolated.   The camp was established in 1992 to serve refugees that were displaced from their home countries due to war or persecution.  It was originally for Sudanese refugees, but the camp has since expanded to serve refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda, and Rwanda.  The current population is over 175,000 people.  I had been aware of the camp for many years having read about it in numerous articles, journals, memoirs, and novels about the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.  The camp was much of what I expected, but nothing could have prepared me for it’s size.  It is a basically a small city of mabati (ironsheet) structures, thatched roof huts, tents, and mud-brick abodes.  We had made arrangements to meet with a pastor that had started a church in the camp.  He has lived in the camp the majority of his life since fleeing from Burundi as a boy.  His church has a large congregation that is made up of people from several different nations.  They also have a feeding program for children within the community. 

Aerial shot of Kakuma Refugee Camp, taken from plane...

Aerial shot of Kakuma Refugee Camp, taken from plane…

We joined them on a Sunday, so the service was in progress when we arrived.  We were welcomed into the partially built structure by joyful worship, led by adults, teenagers, and children.  After the time of worship, the members began to bring their offering to the front of the church.  I immediately noticed that there were multiple baskets for the offering.  One for tithes, one for missions and outreach, and one for the building fund.  I watched as members placed their offerings into the different baskets.  Then a strange, but beautiful, thing happened.  An elderly lady came forward carrying a burlap sack of flour.  I watched as she stepped onto the platform and laid her bag on the floor beside the offering baskets.  After a few moments, several others came forward with bags of flour, rice, and maize.  This food offering was a sacrifice…so much more of a sacrifice than the few bills I had placed in the basket.  I was stunned by the beauty of it.  Residents of the camp are largely unable to find work within the camp and they are restricted from seeking education or employment outside of it.  The semi-arid climate of Kakuma is not suited for agriculture, which makes it difficult to produce food.  Many of the refugees only have the rations that are provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Which, unfortunately, I have recently read will be reduced greatly due to lack of funding.  At the church I witnessed people that may not have had money, but that realized that everyone has something that can be given.  They offered a sacrificial offering, giving a portion of all that they had.  This portion could then be used by the church to supplement the feeding program. 

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The pastor asked me if I would share a message with the church.  I spoke on Ephesians 3:20, that, through Christ, God is capable of doing more for us than we can ask or even imagine.  I referenced the Gospel account of Jesus’ feeding the 5,000.  As I spoke I couldn’t help but wonder…..if I had been through the difficulties and trials of these people, would my faith be as strong?  Would I be able to believe that God was capable of more, if I had been torn from my home nation and now lived as a second-class citizen in an impoverished camp?  As I shared with them of God’s faithfulness, I realized that they already knew this far more than I did.  Life had handed them very difficult circumstances, but through them these survivors had found the faithfulness of God.  They had found healing and restoration in Him.  A great thing is happening in the people of this church (and the other 6 churches this pastor has planted throughout the camp) and I truly believe that God is going to do even more for them.

After the service we met with the pastor in a small mud-walled room.  He offered us each a warm bottle of soda that was, surprisingly, refreshing.  He shared about the good things that were happening, but also of the current needs and challenges they were facing.  I left him with a large bag of moringa seeds, in hopes that this versatile “miracle” plant would produce a crop that benefits the church and community.  I also made a commitment to him to search for ways that we can potentially partner with them and offer more support…something we are currently considering.

Moringa seeds...

Moringa seeds…

After the meeting we began the journey back to Lokichoggio.  I looked forward to spending the evening relaxing at the Trackmark Camp and watching the “Survival Sunday” EPL football matches.  With heaviness, I contemplated the disparity between the coming events of my evening (even at a rustic camp in Loki) and those of the people I had just left.  The lessons of the day went though my mind.   There is always more that can be given, always more that can be offered.  Christ can do more through us than we can ask or imagine.  My prayer is that I will live my life in a way that demonstrates that I truly believe these truths.  That is my prayer for all of us.

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