LOUISVILLE — A disaster relief team assembled at the request of Baptist Global Response found South Sudanese refugees living in dire circumstances in refugee camps in nearby Uganda where water, food and other basic necessities were in short supply.
Coy Webb, the longtime disaster relief director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, led the four-man team to the African country where he recommended a variety of actions to meet the needs of those left hurting and hopeless by conflict in their homeland.
International missionaries on the ground in Uganda had requested a rapid response team to come in to assess the needs of the South Sudanese refugees. Baptist Global Response sent Webb, along with disaster relief volunteers Glenn Hickey of Monticello, Ky., Larry Hunt from Campbellsville, Ky., and Matt Stickel of West Jefferson, Ohio.
“Every person we encountered had experienced unbelievable loss and trauma,” Webb said. “The images seared into my mind have left me a bit broken. The camps are overflowing and short on resources. People are drinking contaminated water because they do not have a decent well. The food never lasts long enough. Some water tanks have been dry for days. Families are living under US AID tarps. Orphaned children are trying to survive alone.”
Webb estimated nearly 100,000 South Sudanese refugees living in a series of camps. They have fled to Uganda to escape violence from civil unrest that’s been raging since December in their home country.
The United Nations has reported an outbreak of hepatitis E that has affected thousands of the refugees. The UN also has reported mass casualties from the violence in South Sudan.
Webb said one of the refugees he talked to likened the tribal violence in South Sudan to two bull elephants fighting, crushing the people caught between them.
“These words sum up the despair of tens of thousands of displaced refugees,” Webb said. “Our team drove over 2,500 kilometers, assessed 20 refugee camps, and witnessed the tragic deprivation of more than 100,000 displaced people. The vast majority of these driven from their homes and living in these hopeless camps were women and children.”
Webb recommended that Baptist Global Response arrange to have wells drilled for four of the camps the team visited, and possibly a fifth that had nearly exhausted its water supply.
Members of the team also urged distribution of “Momma Kits” filled with birthing supplies for pregnant women who would be delivering in the refugee camps and mosquito nets to protect refugees from the biting insects at night. They also called for soap and laundry detergent, women’s sanitary cloths, hoes and seeds for planting, and supplies specifically for the elderly and disabled who have arrived at the camps.
The team said trauma chaplains are needed in the camps to focus on the needs of women and children who have been exposed to violence and bloodshed. Ministers need bicycles or motorcycle taxis for transportation to the camps. Volunteers are needed to help build shelters for the more vulnerable people in the camps. And the team recommended partnering with Vapor ministries or Rawling Sports to provide athletic equipment for children living in the camps.
The struggles of the refugees and the South Sudan unrest is getting little media attention, which means people who could help are unaware of the need.
“The media has moved on to the crisis in the Ukraine and other breaking stories,” Webb said. “Fighting in Sudan is old news, and those in the camps feel forgotten and forsaken.”
Webb said he promised the refugees that he wouldn’t forget them, “that I would lift their needs to the God of glory and share their story with followers of Christ.”
He is calling on Christians in the U.S. to pray for the people of South Sudan, for missionaries serving in the region, and for God to use this time of brokenness to awaken people to the Good News of Christ.
Webb urged Christians give to help the refugees who have so little.
“A gift through Baptist Global Response or Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief of $25 could provide a hoe and seed to a mother trying to feed her hungry children in a camp. A gift of $500 could provide blankets, care kits, and hope to the elderly living under tarps. A gift of $10,000 could drill a borehole providing clean water to an entire settlement. Your continued support of the Cooperative Program, through your local church, enables missionaries and ministries like Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief to offer help, healing, and hope to the hurting.”
Webb also called on Christians to urge their churches to reach out to tribes in South Sudan and others around the world who are waiting for someone to bring them the hope of Christ.
“My heart was broken over the need that I witnessed,” Webb said, “and I was reminded of a word from Isaiah: ‘And if you offer yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will be like noonday.'”