With only one arm, Agnes carries a five-gallon jug on her head in a refugee camp near the South Sudan border in northern Uganda. On her own, she’s a single mom with two children to care for and has to make the hour-long trek because it’s the closest well to her house.
As she nears her house, Agnes sees guests waiting for her. Among them is Paul Chitwood, the International Mission Board’s new president and his wife Michelle; their 12-year-old daughter Cai is nearby playing with missionary kids and village children. The Chitwoods heard about Agnes and wanted to meet her and see her new home, which was built through efforts by IMB and their partner organization Baptist Global Response (BGR).
“… To see the joy in her face,” Chitwood reflected on his visit with Agnes. “Those are memories that I won’t lose.”
Agnes is among 1.5 million refugees in Uganda, and 85 percent of them are women and children under the age of 18, according to IMB stats. IMB missionaries are responding to the crisis, meeting both physical and spiritual needs — among them is building wells in refugee camps to help those like Agnes.
In addition to building houses and wells, missionaries are providing trauma healing for refugees forced to leave their homes, as well as evangelism efforts, offering theological training and helping with church planting efforts in the refugee camps.
Providing physical relief is just one part of IMB’s work among the refugees, but Chitwood said it is an important part.
“The Lord modeled for us to not only embody the Word, preach the Word … but He also modeled the healing ministry, meeting those who were hurting and struggling and touching them in very practical ways.”
The trip to Uganda this week (March 31-April 6) is Chitwood’s first extended trip overseas in his new role. During the weeklong trip, Chitwood is meeting with missionaries in the country to see their efforts among refugees as well as other ministry work in urban areas in the country.
The refugee ministry team based out of Aura makes the two-hour drive from the city several times a week along unforgiving dirt roads that can be a challenge to navigate. On the day of Chitwood’s visit to a refugee camp, the brakes on one of the missionary vehicles locked up leaving one missionary family temporarily stuck in the road until help from another missionary arrived.
The team of missionaries and Journeymen workers involved in refugee ministry is led by missionary Jeremy Taliaferro, who moved from the northeast corner of Uganda to Aura with his wife Susan and family a couple years ago. Soon after arriving in the city, the couple helped start Borderlands Co-op, a hub for his team as well as other Christian humanitarian workers and secular NGO workers. The facility, funded through gifts from IMB’s partner organization BGR, provides a place for them and other humanitarian groups that work with refugees to collaborate, utilizing each other’s strengths and resources to confront the crisis.
“The biggest part of my vision is to see the people of God come under that banner to meet the physical and spiritual needs of refugees that are here … to gather together as one team under the name of Jesus Christ,” Taliaferro said.
Taliaferro also sees the co-op as a way to build relationships with secular humanitarian groups that may be skeptical toward Southern Baptists. He shared about one worker who went from being confrontational to asking for recommendations for churches to visit.
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Source: Baptist Press