Last Sunday I received a text and some photos (via WhatsApp) during the worship service at my church in Minnesota. They were from a Somali mama in Kakuma refugee camp. She had been bitten by a poisonous snake and was in the camp hospital. She was asking for prayer. I’ve been told that the snakes in Kakuma can kill a person in 10 minutes.
I was able to pay the mama a visit yesterday evening. Thank God she is fine now. Fully recovered. She gave me a cold glass bottle of Coke and we talked for over an hour together, with Bianca, a 28 year old single mother from Burundi serving as our translator.
Bianca is pretty sick. High fever. Chills. Body pain. She went to the medical clinic suspecting a diagnosis of malaria, but it came back negative. But she is still sure that is what she has. In spite of her condition, she was happy to translate – and share a bit of her own story with me.
Bianca’s husband left her because she has diabetes and is often sick. It’s tough to manage diabetes here. She isn’t in control of her diet and there isn’t much food to begin with. She also cannot afford testing strips. She has an 11 month old son from her marriage. In the world of a refugee camp, Bianca is among the most vulnerable of refugees – a single mother with chronic illness.
Bianca has a job in the camp with a humanitarian organisation. It doesn’t pay well, but she desperately needs the money. She is afraid she will soon be let go due to her health issues and because of a shortfall in UN funding that is causing NGOs to reduce expenses by 30%. The shortfall is in part because the USA is drastically reducing its contribution to the UN budget. It is hard to see how American foreign policy is impacting a life of someone so far away.
I offered to pray with and for Bianca. Mama Fartun joined with us.
Bianca then said; “This never happens in the camp.”
I asked, “What?”
“White visitors never come to talk for more than five minutes and then go away. We have sat together for more than an hour, talking about life and praying together. When you came, I was feeling so sick and tired. Now I feel better. I even have hope. Thank you.”
I’ve heard that before. I’m grateful to be part of IAFR, an organisation that values not only service – but relationship. It is often what is missing in the lives of those in refugee camps or traversing continents and seas in search of safety and peace. People who care and who will simply take time to sit together, listen to one another and pray together.
We will never be able to solve all of the problems of the people here in Kakuma. But we can be present with them.
It’s important to also mention that I came away from our visit changed as well. I am inspired by the faith and perseverance of Bianca and Mama as they face incredible daily challenges and yet remain welcoming, hospitable and generous with what they have (did I mention Mama offered me a meal as we sat together?).