Our Lutheran family supports hundreds of thousands of people living in refugee camps in eastern Africa through Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS), including at Kakuma in northern Kenya and Ali Addeh in Djibouti. Many have fled war and drought in neighbouring countries. ALWS Community Action Manager Jonathan Krause has recently returned from visiting the camps and shares his reflections – based on Matthew 25:34–40 – on the impact of your donations and prayers bringing love and hope to people there.
I saw Jesus today … she was waiting in a queue for food being stirred in a pot over a fire by a refugee called Regina.
Regina is here at Kakuma Refugee Camp because bombs fell on her home. Her children saw people die.
She gathered her children in her arms and found a ride in the back of a cattle truck.
Regina says she will do anything for her children.
‘I have nobody here at Kakuma, but I know that education is the biggest gift I can give my children’, she says. ‘That is why we are here, and why I work in this kitchen. After we arrived, I was one year without a job.
‘I was praying very hard God will bring me a job because I did not have any money to help my children. I kept coming here in the reception centre asking for a job. They kept saying “no”. But I kept asking and asking. I begged the officer, even if you don’t pay me, let me work here for just a little extra food I can give my children.
‘I worked for one month without pay, and then I got this official job. They had seen my efforts, and my good work, and so they gave me a job. I see LWF as like my own people, my family.
‘If you ask me where God is, then I say to you God is there even when the bombs come. We had to pray. No matter how many problems you face, you must put God first.’
I was hungry and you fed me.
I saw Jesus today … just an 8-year-old boy, he shepherded two of his family’s goats to the water pump drilled 100 metres deep into the sand alongside the dried-up riverbed.
Out here in the desert, snakes and scorpions creep among the thorns. The sun steals all colour from anything misguided enough to think it could stay green.
Naferitom, a woman who seems as ancient as the landscape, speaks for the boy and the village gathered around her in a scrap of shade.
‘Now we are very happy’, she says. ‘We can wash our clothes. Even the children can collect water easily. We pray this borehole may be here for a very long time. We are saying “thank you”, and may God bless you.’
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink.
I saw Jesus today … the 18 year old is dad of his family now.
Miraj’s father was hunted by enemies, and now hides in another country. His sister Nadia contracted malaria and it’s left her paralysed and unable to talk. A little brother and little sister are in hospital. His mother is so stressed by it all, she cannot cope. It’s all up to Miraj now. He sits in the 2 metre x 3 metre space at the Kakuma Reception Centre that is ‘home’ for the next few days while permanent shelter is organised.
‘When our mum is hungry, she is stressed and does not cope’, Miraj tells me. My mother’s dream is just to see Nadia walk again. At home, Nadia was in Senior 1.
She was very smart.
‘I don’t feel we will ever be able to go back to Burundi. I don’t see any hope back there – the land is taken, everything is gone. I just want to be a normal person, going to school.’
I was homeless and you gave me a room.
I saw Jesus today … there were three of them, two sisters and a cousin, leaned up against their mud hut.
At their feet, a small square of mud garden is home to a flower that opens its eyes with a pink smile each morning, then slumps in defeat as the scorching sun saps its life. The three girls share how their parents died the night the gunshots came.
Who knows how the girls found each other in the terror, but they did, and here they are. ‘Our parents died in 2012 during the conflict in South Sudan’, Diana says.
‘We heard gunshots in the night. We were staying in the village with neighbours. Everybody ran. We walked from our home to Tonj. It took three days.
‘Here we are at school together. We are all in Grade 5.
‘The hardest thing about being here on our own is missing our brother Deng. He is our protector and can sort out problems.
‘We would like him to be here but we are very happy he got a scholarship and is getting an education. LWF are very good people. They look after us very much.’
Judith is in rags, but Diana and Joy wear yellow head scarves – they are going to church to sing in the choir. Tomorrow they will put on school uniforms sewn for them by a woman, herself orphaned from joy by the same war as the girls, but trained to be a tailor by the LWF team our Lutheran family supports.
I was shivering and you gave me clothes.
I saw Jesus today … he had laid down the guns and power he’d commanded as a captain in the army in Ethiopia and taken up arms at a rusty pedal sewing machine instead.
Mulugeta sweats stitches into simple dresses he sells for shillings.
He uses the coins to buy whatever medicine the market may offer for his daughter who is twisted by palsy and ‘sits’ in a chair within touching distance of his sewing machine. For a moment, her face is lit by a smile. Seeing it, at the same moment his face is wracked by pain, his words become tears, and each stitch is sewn with a sob.
Mulugeta pleads, ‘Please, please can you do something for my girl, my Meron?’.
‘When Meron was born, the midwife was not a professional. She pulled her out forcibly. She cannot be improved in Djibouti. My child cannot get medicine. This is why I am suffering for my child.
‘Meron’s mind is brilliant. She can remember names very well. She has no pain, but is physically unable to move. With this condition, her future is dark. But God knows what will be. God is everywhere.
‘Meron is happy when people come and take her out in the camp. She likes to see children playing. She has one teacher, and she is learning. She even tries to walk.
‘Nothing at this time makes me happy. But if my child wakes up, and is like other children, then I am happy.’
I was sick and you stopped to visit.
I saw Jesus today … after she had been kidnapped and raped by a man who was their family’s neighbour and supposed to be their friend.
When she escaped, Angelina was rescued by the team our Lutheran family supports.
‘On behalf of every child here, especially those who are suffering, I would like to thank all who help us’, she tells me.
‘When I was trapped in the community, I was thinking, “How can I get out?”. Now you have rescued me. I would like to thank you for all you do. If not for you, I don’t know where I would be. I thank you and pray may God help you to stay a long time in this world.’
I was in prison and you came to me.
I saw Jesus today … when I visited the refugee camps our Lutheran family supports through ALWS on the borders of South Sudan and Somalia.
The Australian Government warns against travelling to these countries, but there you are, welcoming strangers as they knock on the door.
You cook the food with Regina. You add the metres of pipe to make the borehole once again reach the watertable, so that Naferitom’s body is no longer broken by her burden.
You give Miraj and Nadia a mattress to sleep on.
You taught the tailor who sewed those school uniforms for Diana, Joy and Judith. You massage the calves of Meron, help stretch her limbs, and offer your shoulder to Mulugeta when the hurt is too much. You give new hope to the rescued Angelina.
‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me.’ Jesus
I saw Jesus today … and he, she, they, told me to thank you.