Not ashamed of being called a refugee : Rediscovering God’s invisible footprints in the migration journey
And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:19)
Refugee kids around the camp
As inferred by the prophet, love is well expressed when it is motivated by a sense of gratitude and altruism. To breathe the experience, representing A Cup for Humanity, I voyaged from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda to Kiziba refugee camp which hosts around eighteen thousand (18000), Congolese refugees. The camp is located in Karongi district of the western province and it has been there since 1996. It is built near lake Kivu at a high altitude facing Congo on the other side of the lake.
According to the world refugee statistics, each of the five east African community states host refugees. Regional countries namely, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, DRC, and Kenya are home to more than 2000 000 refugees as well as internally displaced people from Somalia, South Sudan, DR Congo, Ethiopia Burundi Eritrea, and Rwanda. Of this number, most are citizens of East African states living as a refugee in the territory of other community member states.
The current migration trend, at least in the East African region, saw a demographic explosion of refugees as well as internally displaced people. The highs and low of peace and stability in the region created inevitably the choice of fleeing home for millions of people.
Most refugees in the region are fleeing civil war and famine, only to find themselves unsettled, plagued by funding’s shortfalls from international donors, xenophobia and corrupt officials. Some move from place to place, country to country only to find themselves hooked on an endless cycle of migration.
Migration experience goes beyond crossing physical boundaries. It encompasses a mental migration, the journey of taking on a new mindset, adopting a new way of looking at the world, living out a different image, stamped with new social labels, and ultimately an endless quest to find a place one can call home. A journey that I find more defiant than physical migration.
The journey was emotional for it served as a moment of my migration experiences, for I was a migrant. Through rough and dusty roads, by bus and motorbike, my imagination was dazed by the unspeakable hardship faced by refugees along the way. I could not escape relieving as if it were, haunting moments of traveling by UNHCR big trucks fleeing from violence in Uvira, moments I crossed deadly roadblocks and borders with no parent to unknown territories, moments I slept in refugee camps(Nyagatare, Ndera, and many other places which will never be erased from my memories), moments I waited in long lines for bread, soap, and blanket, moments I looked up to the skies with no clue about the four corners of the earth and many others episodes of my plights which are still deeply interred in the sea of my memories.
When I was allowed by the police guards to enter the refugee camp, I could smell my past experiences. However, I was overwhelmed by joy to see that I now have the opportunity to instill joy among my fellow pilgrims a share with them the secret of tracing God’s hand in our journey. Though my time was short ( for I had to travel back to Kigali the same day), I was blessed to interact for a brief moment, with different people living in the camp including pastors. Consequently, I realized that some refugees have been living in the camp for 22 years with no hope to cross back and get home.
Despite all the revealing stories about joblessness, loneliness, famine, and fear, which oftentimes insinuate God’s indiscernibility along the way, my message was about hope and resilience. As a result, people expressed great joy to see that there are others outside there who can share their stories. Besides, they manifested a great sense of hope just because they can be reached out to.
It is undeniable that migration is a multifaceted issue that necessitates a holistic approach in order to deal with its trauma-related factors. However, as a premier Christian organization whose objective among others is to equip migrants, we find it imperative to theologically reinterpret migration as a way of creating hope and resilience among migrants.
The approach offers a special opportunity not only to clearly understand the concept of incarnation in the general history of migration, but also the acquisition of essential skills for recollecting small, often forfeited fragments of migration stories that will stand as signposts to mark the terrain of God’s redemptive plan. At the same time, future generations will be piloted by these migration signposts as they embark on their pilgrim journey.
Furthermore, this approach reiterates a great need to formulate proper hermeneutical ground about the theology of migration which may serve as a guide for appropriate policy-making about migration-related factors, and positive moral choices within our society. As the salt and the light of the world, the church must take a leading role in this regard.
It is in this framework that, Stichting A Cup for Humanity, visited the Kiziba refugee camp. Besides, we shall organize conferences to equip refugee church leaders in the East African community. The focus will center around the theological ground upon which migrants/refugees can see God in their journey thus embracing purpose and hope. Furthermore, ACfH will connect refugee pastors from different camps, countries, and continents in the future to share experiences and embrace the missional aspect of migration as we joyfully participate in making this world a kingdom of our God.
While migration remains a crucial controversial factor in our social construct, for it creates a dichotomic divide between migrants and nonmigrants, if not even, the human and non-human grouping of people, it should not be denied its theological distinction of always being atop the wheels of God’s purpose as the transporter of the good news of the Kingdom of God.
It is by embracing the later aspect of migration that our society will live the dream of a better world. Furthermore, migrants have an additional role to play, by writing their own stories and championing for social-economic changes in their receiving communities.
I can not end this note without expressing our special thanks to our partners whose contribution makes it possible for us to reach people in need. May God bless you as you bless others.
Thanks to the hard work of the entire ACfH team which makes this work possible