By Cindy Akiyama
The first half of our mission was filled with a stream of celebrations: occupying JHR, electricity turned on, reunions with family members who were unsure if their children were alive or well since fleeing Burundi, celebrations with the church family and community, prayers of praise erupting into spontaneous singing and dancing. The Joyful House of Refuge exemplified every word of its name: Joyful, a House (really a home), and a place of Refuge. The Africans know how to celebrate! Unbridled laughter, singing and dancing all in praise and thanks to God filled JHR.
It was also an incredible privilege for Hannah and me to join Pastor Dave Hino in a day of individual prayer ministry. Jesus revealed himself and God’s Word became personal callings. The Spirit was so present that one could sense Him in tangible ways as we prayed.
There have been and continue to be tremendous losses in these interrupted lives. Each person continues to recall classmates, friends, and family members imprisoned, in hiding, or dead because of the current regime. Still, they reject bitterness and despair, remaining instead positive, hopeful, and wanting to contribute to a better future for themselves and others.
Like us, they have their human frailties. Some have a history of drinking and even as they have given their lives to Christ, have gone against their own wishes and fallen back into what is for them sin. Makinto and Mukarabe have been counseling the affected men in this area.
On Monday 8/1, our team met with L., an intelligent, well-spoken 19-year-old refugee who is officially housed at the UNHCR Nakivale Refugee Camp. He is a friend of one of the JHR residents, and had come to visit. Early on, the harsh conditions at Nakivale drove L.'s friends to leave for Rwanda or Kenya. L.’s mother, still in Burundi, begged him not to return; she knew of others like him who had returned and were killed at the border. She sent money she could not afford so he could go to a boarding high school outside of camp. L. has four trimesters remaining (the Burundian educational system starts at age 7 so that high school is not completed until at least age 21). Educational costs are modest: a little over $100 per trimester for the boarding school. One of our team members offered to sponsor L., and so now Amahoro International has the beginnings of an AMI scholarship fund for refugees to continue their education. We have details to work out when we return home, but it will happen!
We have had some sobering trips. On Tuesday 8/2, after dropping off Pastor Dave at the Entebbe airport, we visited the Ugandan government’s Mulago hospital in the capital city, Kampala. One of the JHR refugees, E., has been getting treatment there because of a gunshot wound that almost caused him to have his leg amputated. This is the hospital to which refugees are sent.
A flurry of emotions accompanied the visit: shock, horror, and disbelief, mixed in with anger, outrage, and profound sadness. The facility looks like something you’d expect to see in a war zone. Shattered concrete walkways, darkened passages with nothing to light the way; almost every window broken, with large chunks of missing glass; filthy dirty walls and floors; bedding provided by patients with no thought of sanitation; a constant buzzing of mosquitos,…and not a nurse, doctor, heath care worker, custodian, or administrator in sight for the hour or so we spent inside.
I left thinking that there is no way I would allow anyone I knew to go to that hospital; which looks like a place of death, not healing. Days later, as I met with E. and others to put together a budget for JHR, I discovered that the UNHCR and Interaid are still directing E. to Mulago hospital. Mukarabe had been trying to get him approved to come to the US for treatment but has been twice denied. I wonder if, even if we get private funding, he’ll be able to go anywhere else, given his refugee status. Something to follow up on.
On Friday we visited Nakivale, the UNHCR refugee camp in Uganda that thousands of Burundian refugees have been fleeing to. It is a harsh, desolate place where lives are placed on hold and dreams are deferred, sometimes for decades. We visited E.’s sister, her husband, and their 6-month old child in the home they built from the dirt in their assigned plot. When they left Burundi, this poised, twenty-something woman was studying to be a lawyer and her husband was working for the government. They arrived and became brick makers and masons as they used the dry dirt in their plot to make a home for themselves. Somehow, in the midst of all this, they remain joyful and are focused on helping others around them. They have already taken in a widowed Burundian refugee whom they met at Nakivale. This woman's husband had been taken as a political prisoner and was never seen or heard from again; she was left to care for their six children. We were treated to a simple feast and enjoyed sweet fellowship in the family's mud-brick home with plastic-tarp roof and dirt floor.
There are so many who deserve a better life. As well, there are many challenges for how JHR and the Amahoro Life Center will develop. Please pray for wisdom so we will see and follow God’s leading.