EMOTIONAL AND SPIRITUAL CHALLENGES FACING SOUTH SUDANESE IN EXILE
By Clement Maring Samuel
Feb 22, 2018(Nyamilepedia) — According to Refuge and Hope International (2017), Uganda has hosted over 920,000 refugees from South Sudan making fifty one percent (50.1%) of all refugees in the country. Uganda has provided the refugees the right to Education, right to own and dispose property, right to public medical help, right to practice own religion, right to access employment and right to move freely in Uganda. Kampala is a home to more than 350,000 registered urban refugees, but the actual figure may be higher. More refugees keep moving to Kampala due to hardships in the refugee camps. Refugees who opt to stay in the cities other than the refugee camps are expected to be self reliant. The government of Uganda and UNHCR do not provide accommodation or material assistance to asylum seekers and refugees in towns and cities. South Sudanese refugees like any other urban refugees are affected by this provision. They sustain their living barely without any source of income, which makes them to suffer much compared to poor Ugandan nationals in the cities. The purpose of this paper is to explain the emotional and spiritual challenges facing South Sudanese in exile, how the church responded to and applied biblical passages. The paper has three sections: section one is the introduction and talks about the challenges of living in exile; sections two talks of how the church in exile respond to these challenges; section three is the application of Biblical messages and, section four conclude this paper. The paper is independently researched, subject to critique and can be used as a reference by scholars to conduct further research on the same.
- Challenges of living in exile
South Sudanese who flew to refuge have experienced varieties of problems whether in urban and in refugee settlements. It was just a difference of eight years from 2005 to 2013 where South Sudanese experience slit of peace, but again, they are sent back to experience life of agony and sorrow in the refuge. Some of them are coming to refuge for their second and third times, while others is their first encounter with life in refuge. Those who were living a very good life before in South Sudan are learning how to cope with new life of a refugee. It is not a surprise for South Sudanese to encounter this life since they have not experience better life after peace was signed in 2005 which was aborted in 2013.
- Living in fear
The mass exodus of South Sudanese refugees into Uganda is challenging Uganda and UNHCR with the responsibility of securing settlement and ensuring peace and stability to both refugees and citizens. Ugandan nationals fear that this will cause economic burden, and security and environmental threats. The proportion of the Ugandan population living below the national poverty line declined from 31.1 % in 2006 to 19.7 % in 2013. Educated South Sudanese are looked as competitors. Uganda nationals fear that they will occupy the meagre jobs that would have been done by the citizens and that, their presence in cities raises high cost of living and contributes to criminal behaviours. On the other hand, South Sudanese are enemies of themselves based on the political affiliation to the government or to the opposition parties. Critics of the government feel insecure that they will be deported back to south Sudan, and some refugees who escaped from refugee settlements also fear that they will be returned back to the refugee camps by Ugandan Authorities.
- Language Barrier
In Uganda, the use of local language is highly valued by the locals making communication difficult. Often those who cannot speak local languages are looked down with contempt. In effect, local people use their languages for backbiting and become a ticket for bullying and intimidating foreigners.
- Lack of accommodation
Students faces severe accommodation problem. Many students congest with relatives causing health hazards and food shortage. Some land owners do not want their houses to be populated; they terminate the contracts of the renter giving hard challenge to look for another house. Others constantly harass the renter to pay house rents even before the period of the previous payment elapsed. To get a new house, land lords demands one year’s or six months’ advance of pay. In the process of relocating to another house, many properties are damaged which demands extra money to pay the rent as well as maintenance of the damaged properties including payment of the brokers. This situation compelled students to sleep in dilapidated houses which are not safer from sicknesses and diseases as well robbery of their belongings by local criminals and gangs.
- Health challenges
South Sudanese Refugees are facing many problems related to their health management in public hospitals. Refugee patients suffer discriminatory treatment in public hospitals by nurses and Doctors even if the refugee policy clearly stated that refugees have access to free health treatment. Health personnel consider the nationals first then the refugees are served last. In such a situation when the refugee’s sickness is severe, he or she dies because of health personnel’s negligence and segregation. Some refugees who felt tired of waiting returns back home without treatment and look for money to seek treatment in private clinics which is very expensive.
- Education difficulties
Education is a basic human right, enshrined in the 1989 convention on the rights of the children, and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Although the government of Uganda has granted the refugees the right to education, yet, refugees are facing many challenges in regards to computer and Scholastic materials. Many teachers use local languages in which foreign students could not cope with leaning. Parents and guardians are challenge with difficulties of requirements for admission to school, scholastic requirements, dormitory and other personal requirements including medical examination form filled by professional medical personnel. Medical personnel demands examination fees of which some parents can’t afford. Many refugee students miss classes because of delay of this form.
- Entrepreneurship business skills
Many refugee drops out students and those whose parents could not afford to pay their tuition fees could not access entrepreneurship business skills. However, churches sometimes provide free entrepreneurship trainings on carpentry, brick making, building tailoring, catering, beads making, and adult education programs, but some refugees are unable to reach to the training sites to acquire these opportunities due to transports difficulties.
- Trauma maladies and deaths
Many families suffer silent stress, depression, and trauma. Others developed mental illnesses with no capacity to afford basic treatment and counselling services and education. In 2017, for example, a depressed South Sudanese hanged himself in Namulanda residential area because of hopelessness situation. The degree of stress, depression and trauma had gone beyond hope, and there are many South Sudanese who are silently suffering similar situation across Kampala city, with no one to cure their maladies.
- How Ugandans interacts with South Sudanese
The social interaction between South Sudanese refugees and the Ugandan nationals is relatively good. Nevertheless, this does not rule out some traits of dislikes, hatred and mistrusts between them. Not all Ugandans appreciate the presence of south Sudanese in their midst. Ugandans talks politely, while South Sudanese talks sarcastically and rude. This attributes are causing cultural shock to many Ugandans, especially those who have not been to South Sudanese before. On the other hand, South Sudanese also view the Ugandans as very dishonest and insincere people. This world views creates misunderstanding and hinders social interaction in many social gatherings.
- Extravagant lifestyle
Many of the South Sudanese who live in urban centres are in the category of the high and middle class citizens. Some of them came from South Sudan to Uganda with their properties like expensive cars that intimidate the nationals. Others have bought expensive houses and plots at inflated rates that the nationals could not afford, while others live in expensive hotels and driving expensive cars such as Toyota V8s and TX V6s. Yet, there are powerful South Sudanese who came to Uganda before the eruption of December 2013 conflict in South Sudan, they have also rented and built expensive houses. This category of South Sudanese are not refugees, they lives a very high life and spent their money extravagantly in the eyes of the nationals. Some of them come from South Sudan to spend short time live in expensive hotels and conduct expensive functions. Some Ugandans do not differentiate between the registered refugees and those south Sudanese who are wealthy, they judged them equally.
- Effect of extravagancy
The high life exhibited by the wealthy South Sudanese in Uganda belittles or intimidates the Uganda nationals and creating xenophobic thoughts, suspicion and jealousy. Some Ugandans are questioning the status of South Sudanese refugees; others could not control their nerves in airing out this excessive lifestyle of South Sudanese of whom generally they called them as Sudanese. Conversely, the social lifestyle of South Sudanese and Sudanese is characterized sharing and brotherhood. The effect of this social life and their extravagant expenditure results to elucidation that all South Sudanese are very rich people without differentiating those who are poor. This stereotyping has made the Landlords in Uganda to inflate house rents, increase school fees and health fares which pose a big challenge to poor urban refugees who could not afford these demands. Besides, market prices do not segregate people in cities whether rich or poor, national or refugee.
- THE ROLE OF THE CHURCH IN EXILE
The church in exile has played a very difficult role amidst the people who are traumatised by war, and amidst assailants who are living side by side with their victims and entertaining revenge.
“Trauma related to war can be … difficult to heal… because assailants may live near the victims, continually reminding victims of past and representing future threats. Trauma survivors need restoration of hope, security, stability and a chance to refocus their lives”.
Churches which border Uganda like the Diocese of Kajokeji, Yei and Morobu have provided psycho-social and spiritual support. Other churches like the African Inland church, Seventh Days Adventists and Pentecostal congregations have also done the same. Churches in exile have played a major role in breaking down ethnic barriers by preaching messages of Love, forgiveness, repentance, peace, hope and restoration. Church leaders have not ceased their role in praying for South Sudan, as guided by the word of God (Ephesians 6:18). Church Leaders are standing at the gap and playing advocacy role as voice of voiceless (Proverbs 31:8-9). The church has provided humanitarian care to the needy as commanded in (Matthew 25:35-36) and, the church stands in at forefront in carrying the ministry of mediation and reconciliation (John 14:27; 2Corinthians 5:18-19).
- Addressing Physical Problems
The church has responded positively in addressing the physical conditions of South Sudanese in exile. There are immediate problems such as lack of food, shelter, clean drinking water and sanitation, health, cooking and drinking utensils, blankets and mattresses. The church in exile has attempted to provide material and developmental supports to the suffering people in exile.
- Overcoming Spiritual problems
The spiritual problems are long term problems which also demands settlement of the physical problems through concerted efforts from the church and other humanitarian health agencies. The psychosocial problems demands overcoming the traumatic conditions of the suffering people in exile. These are stress, depressions, anxieties, phobias, animosities, hates, fears, abusive sentiments, hopelessness, dilemmas fighting, lying, unrepentant hearts, unforgiving hearts, and ferocious minds, practice of magic and witchcrafts, drunkardness, sexual promiscuities, lust, prejudices, jealousy, worship of idols among others. These are deep rooted problems which require time and resources to blot them out from people’s hearts and minds. The Pastors themselves need both psychosocial counselling in order to counsel others because the level of stress surpasses their capacity.
Some tribes have imported their animosities to Uganda, and they use to fight in the refugee camps even though they are Christians. This shows that their level of Christianity is deeply lagging and not rooted in Christ. Basically, the establishment of congregations along ethnic lines has exacerbated this tribal hates and contributed to longstanding animosities. Different churches and health related organizations have attempted to address the psycho-social problems facing South Sudanese in camps, but their effort are constrained by lack of funding.
- South Sudanese Congregations in exile
The church in exile is not a new church that was evangelized and formed in Uganda. South Sudanese came along with their God to Uganda as Christians together with their pastors. Wherever they settled in refugee camps or in the cities, they formed their congregations and pray in their local languages to contextualize the gospel and support themselves in times of needs such as financial needs, funerals and marriages. Others form big interdenominational congregations to cater for their spiritual needs which majorly use English and Arabic interchangeably. This ecumenical gathering broadens their faith as Christians in the refuge. One of the reasons that made them to open worship centres is that many congregations in Uganda conduct their services in local languages which is a communication barrier. On the other hand, some of the South Sudanese came from Arabic background, even if there are English congregations among the Ugandan churches, they could not speak English well which creates language gap. Their assembly helps them to identify problems facing them as Christians in exile and provide emotionally and spiritually support. Visiting church leaders often preach to them messages of hope, and other offer material support. They also form weekly prayer meetings in every member’s house to encourage family members spiritually.
- South Sudanese Christians in Ugandan congregations
The church in Uganda is endowed with love for humanity, and is aware that the Israelites were refugees in Egypt (Deut. 10:19. Church leaders have envisaged that Christians are living as aliens in foreign lands here on earth. Some churches, especially the catholic, Anglican and Seventh Day Adventists churches are empathetic about the situation facing the vulnerable groups. They jointly visited the refugee camps together with South Sudanese Pastors and provided material and spiritual help. Likewise, Uganda Pentecostal denominations also take the Christians among them to visit the conditions of the refugees and they also provided both spiritual and physical support. Generally, South Sudanese Christians feel at home when they are praying in Ugandan churches, because the mode of worship and liturgy is the same in many organized churches.
- Spiritual pride
There is over assumption by some Pastors that South Sudanese are not Christians, equating their faith with the conflict in South Sudan. For this case, they think superficially about South Sudanese Christians amidst them. This spiritual pride makes South Sudanese to reciprocally describe them as heretic and false prophets. South Sudanese have not come to exile as pagans; they came along with their God like the Israelites who moved out of Egypt and walk in the wilderness with their God. Many South Sudanese are spiritually grounded and born again. Others have gone to better theological training. The difference is that, they lack proper feeding and adequate material support. This does not mean they are weak spiritually.
- False teaching and cult practice
Mushrooming churches in Uganda are not organized and their Pastors open churches just for self prosperity without any chain of accountability. Most of their Pastors have not undergone theological training making them to misinterpret the Bible and misuse the Holy Spirit. Some of them mix Christianity with pagan beliefs making them to practice syncretism other than genuine Christianity. Due to lack of knowledge, many of them desire miracles other than desiring Jesus who gives Miracles. Miracles are real, but Christians should differentiate between false miracles and true ones. Many self-proclaimed Pastors in Uganda consult the powers of Lucifer and use magic to open their churches. Others are disciples of illuminati movement and keep snakes in their houses to perform misleading miracles to earn fame, but intrinsically, they are not genuine Christians. Many South Sudanese Christians are misled by these churches. Students who run after material benefits to enable them to pursue their studies find themselves trapped with false miracles and vain promises. A spirit that makes people to doubt God is a false spirit.
- APPLICATION OF BIBLICAL MESSAGES
Biblical messages have often been misinterpreted by some preachers who do not know how to expound the historical and theological meaning and apply to contemporary situations. For example, some preachers interpret Isaiah chapter 18 literally, and they contextualized it that the conflict in South Sudan is a direct punishment of the people of South Sudan by God. Wrong preaching on this chapter has led many people to feel guilty and accept a misleading message that South Sudanese are cursed. Any teaching that brings condemnation in our life is doing more harm to our faith than good.
- Understanding Sudan in the Bible
Sudan is called “Cush” in the bible and named after Ham the grandson of Noah (Gen.10:8; 1Chron. 1:10). Other versions called Sudan as Ethiopia. Many descendants of Cush settled in the region of Southern Egypt from Aswan to the place where the River Nile meets the Blue and White Nile rivers. Cush is located in northern Sudan not South Sudan, and the region engulfs areas surrounding the first Cataract in Aswan in lower Nubia down to sixth cataract in Meroe in upper Nubia. The region that the Bible refers to as Cush is Nubia, which the Greek called Aithiopia. But today this region is located in Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.
- The Judgement of Isaiah chapter 18
The judgement prophecies in Isa. 18 and Ezek. 38-39 concerning Cush specifically point to Northern Sudan. The justification is that, the Biblical region of Cush was centred at Meroe northeast of Khartoum city. However, the judgment of Isaiah chapter 18 was predicted before South Sudan broke away from Sudan. The judgement did not specify timeframe which is binding South Sudan because initially Sudan was the land of the Nuer Dinka and Shilluk who were forced to moved down to the south by wars and Islamic expansion. The only timeframe talks prophesied in the Bible is that the Cushites will submit to God in prayer which is found in Psalms (68:31) it says: “Envoys will come from Egypt; Cush will submit herself to God”. Indeed, South Sudanese are yearning for this time so that God will uplift the heavy burden levied on them. But South Sudanese also need to realize the importance of this prophecy. Verse 7 characterized the Sudanese as “a people, tall and smooth-skinned”, “feared far and wide”, “an aggressive nation of strange speech”. It is no wander that Ugandans describe south Sudanese as aggressive and rude, this aggression has been envisioned since the time of prophet Isaiah. When God made his prophesy, it has to come to pass in the intended time. The suffering that South Sudanese are facing all over the world today might be the fulfilment of this judgement, it is imperative to realize what God wants from us so that he will lift the burden.
“At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers-the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the Lord Almighty”
Many scholars refer to this verse to describe South Sudanese, if this is the justification; still there are tribes in northern Sudan who are tall, black and smooth-skinned such as the Funj and Nuba tribes who occupy the territory earlier described in the Bible as Cush. In this case, there is no definite answer justifying the judgement to Sudan alone. It also affects South Sudanese the country attained her independence later than the time of the Judgement. Some preachers have instilled fear to people that the current war is a curse and is a fulfilment of this Judgement. But to be fair, people who are deeply traumatized don’t need condemnation and judgement, but their ears are itching to hear messages of comfort, love, peace, forgiveness, repentance and hope. In order to interpret “God will Punish Sudan”, first, preachers should find out the biblical geographical of Sudan. Secondly, they should explain the literal meaning of God will punish Sudan; thirdly, they should find out whether there is a figurative meaning of the statement or not; fourthly, they should interpret the theological meaning, and; fifthly, they should apply the message to the contemporary situation. This will avoid preachers who lack knowledge of the Bible from harming the already traumatised people with judgemental messages of doom, other than with encouragement message of hope.
A passage such as Psalms 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of need…” This is an encouragement and healing to a suffering soul. Deuteronomy 10:19 is an important medicine for people in exile. It says, “Love the Sojourner (refugee), therefore, for you were Sojourners in the land of Egypt”. This can be connected with 1Pet.2:11 and Phil. 3:20 which say: “We are living here under all sorts of suffering and troubles whether we are nationals or foreigner…we are citizens of heaven living in a foreign world”. The suffering people in exile can also be encouraged to live a faithful life (Jer.29:30-32). Another healing message is drawn from Jeremiah 29: 4 and Jer. 29: 11-14; and it tells the suffering people in exile that God is in control of history, and also it tells them to trust God’s promise that the exile life won’t last forever. It says,
‘Thus says the Lord of host, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon’ (Jer. 29: 4), “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord , and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile(Jer. 29:11-14).
Such passages send healing and encouragement to restore hope for the suffering people in exile. However, Christians in exile should watch out the snares of false prophets who wanted to take advantage of their suffering in order to mislead them from the genuine faith.
- 0. CONCLUSION
The life of South Sudanese in exile is a discovery of new worldview. South Sudanese have learned hardships and become adaptive to new language, overcame stereotypes, fear or harm. Urban refugees faced unperceived problems compared to those in refugee settlements. Life in refugee settlements is perceived by many as a life of seclusion from modern life. Many South Sudanese have appreciated Uganda for extending humanitarian heart to almost one million South Sudanese in the urban and rural settlements. Although Uganda is credited in extending humanitarian assistance to the refugees, yet, Uganda government and UNHCR should revisit their policy to look beyond the life in the refugee camps and provide policies that address the socio-economic problems facing urban refugees as well. The church in exile is commended for her great role in providing psychosocial and spiritual support to the people in exile. Although the church has responded positively to the emotional and spiritual needs of the refugees; yet, the church and her partners should look beyond the emotional and spiritual support and appeal to the international community to stop the war and restore peace back to south Sudan so that the people in exile can return back home to restart life. Spiritual teachings should be prepared to alleviate the emotional and spiritual burden of the people than overloading them with fearful messages of curses and Judgement. However, Christians in exile have an obligation to discern false teachings and false prophets taking advantage of their suffering conditions to mislead them from follow their one true God who sustains them in exile. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law and freed us from the curse and Judgement of Isaiah chapter 18. Read (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 28: 15-68; Isa. 53: 3-6; 1 Pet.2:24; Heb. 9:26, 27; Isa. 53: 5, 6; see also 1Pet. 2:24).
About the Author
Clement Maring Samuel is a Theologian, Politician, and Peace and Development Activist. Had been an active Pastor, and served under Episcopal Church of Sudan from 1991-2009. Had work in the Governments of Southern Sudan and South Sudan respectively. Hold different government positions and work as a member of Parliament and Chairperson of the Specialized Committee for security and Public order in Central Equatoria State Legislative Assembly in Juba from 2005-2009; Served as Commissioner of Terekeka county from 2009-2012; Deputy Chairperson of Reconstruction and Development Corporation in Central Equatoria State from 2014-2015; Minister of Education, Science and Technology in Central Equatoria State in 2015; Deputy Governor of Terekeka State in 2016; resigned from the government in May 2016, and fled to refuge in Uganda. He is currently doing independent Researches and has participated in discussing issues concerning peace and conflict in South Sudan, presented scholarly papers on National Dialogue in various symposia including Makerere University. He wrote several critical articles about the situation of the conflict in South Sudan. Clement Maring Samuel is a holder of Masters of Arts in Peace and Development from university of Juba. He is pursuing doctoral studies in Governance, leadership and Development. He is currently based in Kampala, can be reached on email@example.com or +256783332685