They lost everything: their homes, their livestock, their way of life. Travelling for months, many people lost hope and many died on the journey. Seeing and experiencing violent atrocities caused some to question their faith.
They found a safe haven in the Jewi Refugee camp. Many there also found hope through the leadership and caring of two pastors, also refugees, who put their own struggles aside to minister to the lost and hurting in the camp.
Shepherds in the Wilderness
Like thousands of others in 2013, Pastors James and Peter fled ethnic violence in their area, taking only their families. Even as they struggled to care for themselves and their loved ones, the pastors joined forces to shepherd their flocks through the wilderness to the safety of Ethiopian border. According to the pastors, every family had lost loved ones, homes, and cattle, but they had to keep moving or risk death.
In January 2014, the United Nations established Jewi Refugee Camp about 100 kilometers from Gambella, Ethiopia, for the newly arrived Nuer refugees coming in from the South Sudan. Pastor Peter said though they had nothing except the clothes they wore, he, Pastor James and others immediately began the work of caring for the community. Part of this help and care came from Mekane Yesus church (meaning the dwelling place of Jesus) in Gambella by distributing 24 Talking Bibles to help in their work of ministering to the souls of the refugees and establishing new churches in the camp.
Hearing Brings Restoration
In the 18 months since arriving in Jewi Camp, the pastors believe the Talking Bible listening groups were instrumental in helping establish multiple congregations, including the about 2,000 people meeting every Sunday with Pastor James and 1,800 people meeting with Pastor Peter.
Pastor James said the Talking Bibles were helpful because few of his people can read and hearing the Word of God is the only way to extend peace to the refugees. He added, “Most do not even know the alphabet, but when we listen to passages like Matthew 24 and Luke 21 we know sometimes God’s people will suffer and this helps us restore our faith and keep our faith in this hardship.”
Pastor Peter agreed with his fellow shepherd of refugees by saying there is comfort for the people to hear in their own Nuer language how Jesus suffered, but was never forsaken by God. He added it helps them understand and identify with God’s people who have suffered war and persecution in the past.
Hearing Brings Forgiveness
Both Pastor James and Peter expressed how part of the ministry to those who have suffered such violence and loss is helping them forgive. Pastor James gave an example of two people in the camp and how the Talking Bible helped.
“One man lost all hope and when he came to the camp he went mad to the point of brutally killing a single woman’s two children,” he said, and added, “He had lost everything, including his mind.”
Pastor James said he and others went with a Talking Bible to comfort the woman, but were not sure of how she would respond. He said they spent time simply listening to large portions of the New Testament. The pastor said as they listened to Luke 7, “It was like the grieving mother was revived, and she said she must forgive much because she has been forgiven much.”
Both pastors said they’ve learned to play sections like the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus exhorts His listeners to love their enemies and pray for the very people persecuting them. Pastor Peter said, “As their souls are ministered to, people who have suffered so much can learn to forgive." He finished by adding, “As they learn to love and pray for their enemies it can end the pattern of violence.”