I received an email today from a Burundian refugee woman in Kakuma refugee camp. God brought me across her path while there in April. I’ll call her Josie…
I was taking a US pastor and his wife for a quick tour of the refugee camp. Courtesy of our partner NGO, National Council of Churches Kenya (NCCK), Elizabeth was our driver for the day. She is a strong Turkana woman who often drives the UN Toyota Land Cruiser like a NASCAR driver with an ever present smile on her face (while wearing a full-length dress).
We were pretty deep in the camp when Elizabeth asked if I wanted to stop and talk to people. I smiled because she’s driven me around many times over the years and knows that I am always asking to stop to meet with people. She pulled over and we got out. It didn’t take long before we were surrounded by a group of refugee women, children and men. They were eager to talk.
Josie worked her way through the crowd and asked if she could talk.
We walked over to her mud brick shelter. She introduced me to her 3 year old son. Her English was broken, but she was desperate to tell me her story. It was apparent that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
She had been a refugee in Rwanda prior to fleeing to Kenya earlier this year. After being assaulted and gang raped in Rwanda, she fled to Kenya with her son. Now she is pregnant. She is alone. She is vulnerable. She doesn’t know what to do. She begged me to find someone who speaks Swahili to come visit her, listen to her story and help her. Above all, she wanted to be moved to a safer place in the camp.
I hate feeling powerless. But I often do. I’ve learned over the years that I need to push through my own sense of helplessness and bring such friends into the presence of Jesus through prayer. I asked her if I could pray with her. She was so thankful. Praying together didn’t solve the problem, but we named Jesus together and remembered God is with her and that he is good.
It was getting late. Elizabeth called us back to the vehicle. We continued our tour of the camp. When we returned to the NGO compound, I told leaders serving with NCCK and Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) about Josie and her need for psychological support. They said they would reach out to her.
Josie has since kept in touch with me through email. She writes that she received only one visit from a NGO worker and that was nearly 2 months ago. He listened to her story, but there has been no follow up. I emailed a friend serving with an NGO and asked if he could have someone follow up with her. But the NGO workers already carry an impossible burden as they work on shoe-string budget to keep 186,000 refugees alive each day. I know they will do what they can in the midst of the many other responsibilities they carry.
I heard from Josie again yesterday morning. I can’t make out exactly what she is trying to communicate, but it sounds like someone in the camp has threatened her if she refuses to abandon her mud brick shelter and turn it over to him. I get the impression that camp security is not protecting her.
Once again, all I can do is listen and pray.
But thank God, Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera joined IAFR last year! A Burundian by nationality, he lived in Kakuma for 20 years. He not only pastored a refugee church but was also well-known and esteemed as a leader of pastors within the camp and surrounding host community. He knows just about everyone there. He was also among the refugee pastors that IAFR is training in trauma care together with Wheaton College (IL). So I asked Pastor Gatera if he would email Josie and invite her to communicate with us in her mother tongue. He wasted no time. Within minutes, I was copied on his email reaching out to Josie.
I don’t know where things will go from here. But I sense God is at work, caring for Josie in the midst of her fears, suffering and struggle. I believe God hears our cries and sees our struggles – and that he cares. And I suspect he is giving me the privilege of being one of the people in Josie’s life through whom he is answering her prayers.
While it seemed quite random at the time, I think I know what moved Elizabeth to ask me if I wanted to stop and talk to people in the camp that day in April. Divine appointment.