This article appeared in the March/April 2015 issue
Afflictions, Affiliates and Jesus | What Sudanese refugees know about Jesus
By Paul Carline
When you hope, be joyful. When you suffer, be patient. When you pray, be faithful. (Romans 12:12)
Of late I’ve had a run-in with some depression-like, hard to figure out, hard to treat mental problems. It’s in that context that I’ve been re-learning joy, patience and faithfulness. I wouldn’t wish my trials on anyone, but also wouldn’t know where I’d be without them.
A big help on this rough road has been people we got to know in Kenya, servants of God, who had more problems than I’ll ever have (I think). They were the happiest, most heavenly-minded hopers, the most persevering plodders and the most persistent pray-ers I’ve met.
In ’96 when we arrived in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee centre and probably its most isolated, we discovered that the most needy refugees were the Sudanese who didn’t even have ration cards. They would snare sparrows for sickening soups and would sit Lazarus-like at our gate while we, rich man-like, would eat hearty breakfasts and lunches in their full view. We invited them into our world as much as we felt we could (I wish we’d done more). And they invited us into theirs: “Come to church with us in the camp on Sunday.”
We went, expecting cramped crudeness, dust and heat. Check, check, check. (I swear my tailbone is still bruised from the pole we’d sit on – and we were always given the widest one). What we didn’t expect was joy. You’ve never seen such smiles, such spontaneous clapping and laughter. After two or so hours they’d file out singing: “Hallelujah, ha, ha, ha, Jesus loves me,” over and over and over again until everyone was in a big circle dancing outside and until people started dispersing to their huts where there was probably no lunch.
They knew some good news. They had a God who had joined them in their physical sufferings and they would soon join Him in his physical resurrection. They delighted in their destiny. Their troubles and trials only made it more tantalizingly tangible. They were joyful in hope.
Such religion was no opiate. These people worked hard for signs of the coming kingdom to break out in the here and now. They made the homiest homes and neatest neighbourhoods in the whole camp. They lobbied for justice. They invented ovens and baked the best bread. They worked (slaved) for better-off refugees. They caught quail when a huge flock landed during the drought and caught lungfish during the ensuing flood. They educated themselves. (Hakim, who we helped with school fees, is now a father, businessman and church leader in Baltimore.) They persevered in suffering.
Biblical lists build in intensity. The crescendo of this one falls on “faithful in prayer.” For my Sudanese friends, prayer wasn’t ritualistic drudgery, but a consistent lifestyle, a constant communion, and life’s best practice. Like sheep with wolves about, they crowded the Shepherd, listened to His voice, trusted His weapons and ended up more anointed than disappointed.
Peter, a friend and hardworking tailor, finally got to move his family to Winnipeg. He wrote us and said, “In Africa we had many trials and were so close to God. Here we have many temptations and feel far from him.”
There’s much to be said for trials. That they get us experiencing more of God, His grace and His strength tops the list. But I must confess that despite my present problems, and the past examples of these dear brothers and sisters, I continue to bring up the rear in Christ’s remedial discipleship class. But He, with joy and perseverance, continues to call me to joy and perseverance, but mostly He calls me to prayer.
Paul is a strategic associate with Canadian Baptist Ministries. He works as the director of Intercultural Ministries with the Atlantic Baptist Convention.