The story of faith from the refugee camps of Nyumanzi and Ayillo, Northern Uganda


[Adjumani, Northern Uganda, TCT] Based on my experience, there is a tendency that Christians more often think that congregants who attend church services are the ones to receive Gods blessing from the gospel ministers who are facilitating the services. This is true, but there is more to that. The gospel ministers too are equally blessed by the faith of the members of the congregation.

[Adjumani, Northern Uganda, TCT] Based on my experience, there is a tendency that Christians more often think that congregants who attend church services are the ones to receive Gods blessing from the gospel ministers who are facilitating the services. This is true, but there is more to that. The gospel ministers too are equally blessed by the faith of the members of the congregation.


Early in October 2015, I and my coworkers in the Lord went for a teaching trip in the refugee camps in Northern Uganda. The two colleagues were the Rt. Revd. Abraham Yel Nhial, bishop of the Diocese of Aweil in South Sudan, and Father John C. Daau. All of us from the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan (Anglican).

The refugee camps in Adjumani District, Northern Uganda are hosting over 90 thousands South Sudanese who fled war from South Sudan. Majority of the refugees are Christians.

The trip I made was in addition to number of other teaching trips I have had earlier to the refugee camps to teach pastors and laity through the invitation by Fr. John Daau and Dr. Katie Rhoads. Both John and Katie share a vision to raise, develop and equip leaders through teaching and training, a vision John wants practically realize through the establishment of Good Shepherd College and Seminary in South Sudan.

But this October trip was a faith uplifting, inspiring and full of blessing. We were blessed by the testimonies shared with us by the strong faithful in the camps. Upon our arrival, we were warmly received and welcomed. Over a thousand youths and women came out marching and singing Christian songs particularly in acknowledgement of the arrival of Bishop Abraham.

While we were in the camps, we were touched by many stories of faith of our South Sudanese refugees in the camps. One of the stories of faith from Nyumanzi, and Ayilo Camps was exceptional! When skirmishes began in December 15, 2013 in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan, other major cities of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States were not spared from the sound of bullets. A power wrangle between the former vice president of South Sudan Riek Machar and the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir sparked the war. Machar formed a rebellion against the government of South Sudan and the fight, which started in juba, the capital, extended speedily to most parts of the country.

In South Sudan, the early part of 2014 was known for massive displacement and deaths of innocent thousands of people. Thousands left South Sudan to take refuge in Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda. They fled their homes and were forced to make trees their shelters, a state of life, which took longer before they were resettled. For those who went to Uganda, the humanitarian agencies with the guidance of government of Uganda did their best to settle these huge numbers of refugees. Nyumanzi, Ayilo and other sites were identified for settlement of the refugees in northern Uganda.

It was a dire situation. Rains and cold overwhelmed the exhausted refugees. Children and vulnerable people including elderly live in the open and poor hygienic conditions. It would be obvious that shelters should be quickly erected especially to offer shade on vulnerable and protect them from the rains, cold and heat. On the contrary, these faithful refugee Christians resolved to build worshiping centers and churches first. They said they must not build shelters of their own before they built shelters for worshiping and learning the Word of the true saving God. Building house of God was their priority in such a desperate situation. They showed their unreserved love for God.

In Nyumanzi Camp, about 12 semi-permanent church buildings were constructed and roofed with iron sheets while some are with grass-thatched roofs. They contributed food items and little money to buy building materials for the churches.

But within a short time, humanitarian agencies felt a pressing need for elderly persons among the refugees. These vulnerable needed shelters desperately. Graciously, the agencies offered to put up shelters for them. The humanitarian agencies provided building materials for construction of temporary shelters particularly to the elderly. This came as a result of great faithfulness and trust of the refugee Christians. They did not expect agencies to consider shelters for the vulnerable. I have lived in different refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, in 1990s, but I have never witnessed agencies doing this to the refugees. Truly, this was now God’s turn to put the roofs on His people after worshiping houses were first put up by the faithful.

As we moved to Ayillo, there was a similar welcoming in honor of Bishop Nhial, who was not just coming to teach them Evangelism and Mission but he was expected to do pastoral services including confirmation and preaching on Sunday. Bishop Abraham confirmed over 700 people in two different services while we were in the camps.

Also In Ayillo 1, large grass thatched or roofed with iron sheets churches are constructed. We found churches named with names implying the trust in God. The refugees trust God for everything. One church is named Demda in Dinka, meaning “Our healing,” Another is Liech Jieng “Look upon Jieng." Dom ha kok, “Hold my arm” was another name for the church.

We were amazed of the practical examples of how the Dinka Christians are living their faith in the midst of suffering of refugee life in a foreign land.

However, the teaching we brought to them was highly appreciated. One of the things that caught my attention was the thirst and commitment of the leaders to receive teaching. They want to be taught. Both old and young were ready to receive training of necessary knowledge and information to enhance effectiveness in their ministry among refugees.

In Liech Jieng church, for a weeklong, about 200 hundred church leaders gathered for our teaching. They included ordained pastors, lay readers and youth leaders. I was teaching them Introduction to the Old Testament, Bishop Abraham taught Evangelism, Mission and Outreach and Fr. John taught Culture and Communications. We alternate teaching in a daylong program. The time was limited but the teaching was sweet and inspiring. The participants raised both theological and practical questions. We tried out best to provide some answers. One question among many that kept featuring quite strongly was the issue of “sheep stealing business.” Other Christian denominations or other faith groups intruded to entice members of the congregations in these churches. They teach them strange doctrines. For instance, the Seven Day Adventist is forcefully teaching its strange doctrine of urging people to pray on Sabbath (Saturdays) and not Sundays. This was quite a pressing issue to the refugee pastors. We were able to help explain the background of such arguments. We tried also to help them understand what to say once faced with such arguments. Other questions on culture and bible strongly featured.

It was a great time for to disciple each other. We learned a lot from the refugee leaders and they learned from us.

It was my pleasure to walk and work alongside my brother Father John C. Daau and our missionary doctor Katie Rhoads, whom God have called to partner in raising, equipping and developing leaders who may lead the flocks of Christ effectively.

Fr. John and Dr. Katie felt led to reach out to the exiled church. It is a great investment for the Kingdom of Christ. Not in permanent sense such as in physical structures but it is an invisible long lasting investment in the leaders who will go out and make more disciples for Christ.

Let us hold Fr. John Daau and Dr. Katie Rhoads in our prayers for the continuity of this great ministry of teaching and training.

The Very Revd. Samuel G. Marial is the Principal of Bishop Gwynne College, a theological school of the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan based in Juba, South Sudan. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Sign up via our free email subscription service to receive notifications when new information is available.

Responsive Google Ads 4

[Tab] Content Navigation - Article