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  • Linda Abwa

Finding Refuge in Yei

On Sunday 21st September, Bishop Hilary made an announcement at Immanuel Cathedral in Yei, South Sudan, appealing for any available clothes to be brought to the cathedral. The announcement was made to congregation comprising people who have been displaced from their villages, others who have recently returned from refugee camps in Uganda and folks who have weathered the three-year storm of violence and food insecurity in Yei. And still, they were asked to give out of what they had.

The reason for Bishop Hilary’s request was the sudden influx of people injured, hungry and bewildered from an attack on their village. He told CMSI:

“We have received hundreds of displaced people of Logo Village, 10-11 miles along Mardi Road. There has been heavy fighting in the middle of that community, which forced them to flee to the church compound of the Diocese of Yei. This is the fourth time we have hosted such large numbers of displaced persons from the communities of the same location.”

Bishop Hilary reminded us that the people chose to run to the cathedral for help because they trust the Church.

Billy Smyth is currently in Yei, having travelled from Belfast to South Sudan on 16th September with Bishop Moses, Mama Rejoice and Rev Patti Johnson (all of whom were heading for Maridi Diocese). Patti had a useful visit to Maridi and is now en route home to the USA. Billy gave us his reaction to meeting some of the newly displaced people in Yei last Saturday.

“I have been with Bishop Hilary to visit the recently displaced people who are now at the cathedral area. I don't know what to say... old men, women and children with nowhere to call home. The village chief was there standing with his people.

"The crowd is waiting for their names to be called out to receive a UN food voucher. The UN says it will start feeding them on Monday. A few days ago these were ordinary people living in an ordinary African village. Now their village is no more. All their personal belongings, their chickens and goats are gone. Their tukals have been burnt to the ground, the children are looking bewildered.

"When we visited refugee camps, people were singing and rejoicing to welcome us. There was no singing this morning, no rejoicing for our visit, just a huge crowd of people, with only each other and what they were wearing.”

On the same Sunday that Bishop Hilary made his appeal for clothes to the church in Yei, I worshipped in a little parish church in Ireland, where a red admiral butterfly had made its home. When I saw it perching against a stained glassed window, it brought to mind the poetic assurances of Psalm 84:

Even the sparrow has found a home,

and the swallow a nest for herself

where she places her young by Your altars,

O LORD of Hosts, my King and my God.

Psalm 84:3

The sense of God offering places of refuge is even more striking in the more challenging and painful scene at Immanuel Cathedral in Yei.

In spite of their own suffering - or perhaps because of it - the people at the cathedral in Yei are providing a centre of safety and care for those who need it. While I reflected on poetry and butterflies, the Church in South Sudan was being wrung out by the raw reality of manifesting the God who makes his dwelling place with us.

Billy recently updated us to say that the the Church is working closely with the UN agencies and that food has now been made available for the displaced people. CMSI sent emergency funds as soon as we heard of the new influx people. Those funds have arrived with Bishop Hilary and will enable the Church to provide more of what is needed for the people who have chosen the cathedral as their place of refuge.

Please pray for Bishop Hilary and the people of Immanuel Cathedral that this church at the centre of crisis will truly be a place of refuge:

As they pass through the Valley of Baca,

they make it a place of springs;

even the autumn rain covers it with pools.

Psalm 84:6

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