Based on an article from Us (formerly USPG)
350,000 refugees fled South Sudan for the Gambella and Asosa regions of Ethiopia during 2014 and 150,000 new arrivals are putting immense pressure on relief work, according to Us (formerly USPG), which is supporting the Anglican Church in Ethiopia’s assistance efforts.
The needs are enormous, according to Us. Most of the refugees arrive with only what they can carry – usually their children and a few clothes.
The churches, located directly in established refugee camps or in villages and towns nearby, are usually the first stop for the refugees, says Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa Grant LeMarquand.
“They ask for food and shelter.”
Bishop Grant reports that new refugee camps have opened or are being established close to the towns of Gambella and Matar, and in the Asosa region near the permanent camp Sherkole. One of the new camps has been given the poignant name ‘Sorry’, he adds.
There are 15 Anglican mission centres in Gambella, each of which is a cluster of churches, and a team of 16 clergy and 90 lay readers in the area.
The communities in Gambella are isolated and prone to seasonal drought and flooding, so have limited capacity to support the flow of refugees that have poured over the border since the outbreak of fighting in December 2013, notes Dr Janice Proud, Anglican Alliance relief and programme manager, who worked in the area for nine years with the Anglican Church in Ethiopia.
But hospitality is part of the culture of the church in Gambella, she says. “They give sacrificially to those they welcome.”
Bishop Grant reports that the church has planned food distribution for 500 families in the Akobo-Tiergol region, accessible only by boat, and in Matar.
“New church buildings will benefit a further 4,000 refugees. Two new churches are planned for the Jewi and Sorry refugee camps, and repairs will be made to a church in Dima camp,” he adds.
As well as providing food aid, churches in the camps offer literacy classes and other educational support and function as community centres.
These acts of welcoming the stranger despite limited means do not surprise Janice.
“I was talking to the priest from Matar just a week before the conflict began in South Sudan about how they would help refugees with disabilities if they came over the border. He said simply, ‘We would settle them in the church compound and send the youth to go and meet those that were struggling to travel, the elderly, the disabled, those with young children, to help them the last bit of the way.’”
“We are moved by the way the church in Ethiopia is upholding the call to welcome those seeking refuge in their midst,” says the Revd Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance co-executive director.
The Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan has been assisting internally displaced persons in South Sudan since 2013, supported by agencies and other churches in the Anglican Alliance family. The Alliance is encouraged to see other churches in the region responding to those who have fled the country as well, Rachel adds.
Bishop Grant says that the Church hopes to receive enough support from other Anglican agencies to cover immediate needs for the next couple of months.
“When the churches can offer something to eat to go with the welcome [they are giving], I am sure that the refugees will feel truly blessed,” Janice Proud says.
Photo credit: Us/Leah Gordon. South Sudanese child in Ethiopia