It’s one of the poorest countries on earth, yet Uganda hosts one of the world’s largest refugee camps, Bidi Bidi. Refugees here and in several other camps along the South Sudan border receive extreme generosity. They can work, travel, and own land.
A two-time refugee, Joshua, first fled war in Khartoum, Sudan, to South Sudan. As a Muslim at the time, he discovered an English gospel tract on the ground and held onto it until meeting Christians who explained the message. After later fleeing to Bidi Bidi from war in South Sudan, Joshua became a pastor. He now works in Uganda with Reaching Africa’s Unreached (RAU) and helps distribute Bibles and Christian resources to refugee camps.
Uganda is considered predominantly Christian, but the northern region has little biblical training to offer, according to RAU missionaries Jacob and Carol Lee. The middle-aged couple from south Texas established the mission in 2011 with several Ugandan pastors.
During earlier, short-term trips to northern Uganda, the Lees observed that pastors and leaders needed support. This led to their primary calling, which Jacob says, “is to come alongside what God is already doing here.” The couple built the RAU headquarters on 17 acres in a town only a mile from the South Sudan border. Two years later they moved to the site as full-time workers.
He’d been warned by Islamic religious leaders in Sudan not to touch the Christian Bible. But after watching a mosque full of people destroyed by a rival Islamic group, he fled to South Sudan and began to doubt his Muslim faith.
“The plan was to settle in a small, underserved region and bring pastoral and discipleship training,” Carol explained. “But with each passing year, we have been surprised to see the plan enlarging with new opportunities in biblical training as well as in agricultural empowerment.”
Some of those new opportunities include the refugees—mostly Muslim and Muslim-background believers.
The Joshua Project defines “unreached” as less than 2 percent Christian. The country of Sudan, at 5 percent, is classified as “minimally unreached.” Even so, approximately 80 percent of its people groups are primarily Muslim—and unreached.
Twenty Sudanese pastors attended RAU’s November 2017 training. Many of these, like Joshua, first heard the gospel either in a refugee camp or during war in Sudan. As he explains, “Out of war, we came to meet Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”
One of those who came to Christ is Adam. He’d been warned by Islamic religious leaders in Sudan not to touch the Christian Bible. But after watching a mosque full of people destroyed by a rival Islamic group, he fled to South Sudan and began to doubt his Muslim faith. While in a refugee camp there, he met Christians with Bibles who encouraged him to read it. Adam says he “found out the Bible is the true way.”
Jacob says the North Sudanese pastors all share a general story in coming to Uganda: “They say that God in all his sovereignty brought them to himself and had them here to train and equip them.”
Some of these men desire to return to their home country despite dangers in order to share the Good News. Jacob says RAU’s main goal is discipleship, “to get them ready to go back to plant churches. God is at work even in North Sudan—working and building the church.”
The Lees place quality biblical resources into the hands of Sudanese pastors who have a heart to plant churches in their homeland. RAU has sent materials to various unreached parts of Sudan and to the Ugandan refugee camps. The materials have included free resources supplied by TGC International Outreach: nearly 500 ESV Global Study Bibles. The Lees have also received copies of an IO resource available in Arabic—Knowing God by J. I. Packer. They plan to distribute the book at this summer’s training for Sudanese pastors.
RAU recently partnered with Reaching & Teaching International Ministries, and they now use this organization’s curriculum to prepare African pastors for effective ministry. The curriculum comprises nine training modules taught over five days. National church leaders from around Uganda and various refugee camps come to RAU’s headquarters several times a year until they complete this program.
More Muslim-Outreach Opportunities
In addition to their refugee work, the Lees discovered ways to share the gospel with Ugandan Muslims in their region. In June 2016, they began an outreach to the Aringa people in the Yumbe District about an hour and a half from RAU’s headquarters. While some Christians live there, the area is around 76 percent Muslim, which is a stark contrast to Uganda at more than 80 percent Christian.
Working with a local Ugandan church, Jacob has conducted open-air ministry throughout the Yumbe district, preaching from the roof of a Land Cruiser and showing the Jesus film in the Aringa language. According to Carol, these efforts appealed more to the Muslim women, “who were listening and engaged,” while the men remained in the backdrop. Some of the women later sought out local churches to find out more about Jesus.
However, Jacob and a Ugandan pastor, Charles, dialogued with a group of Muslim religious leaders in Yumbe about who Jesus is according to the Bible. In return, the two men listened to one of the “sheiks” explain what the Qu’ran says about Jesus. Over time, one leader became a Christian, and a small group of others asked Jacob to teach them from the Bible—no dialogue needed.
“The door was open wide but is kind of shut now,” Carol said, explaining the meetings were stopped by other Muslim leaders.
Jacob says, in the meantime, “agriculture remains a hook” to get the Aringa to their ministry center. RAU hired a believing Ugandan man who is trained in teaching agriculture. This new staff member, Emma, shows locals how to plant bananas and soybeans, but he also shares Christ with visitors at RAU’s demonstration farm.
The Lees expect 12 pastors from the Yumbe District to begin RAU training soon. They hope the men will catch a vision to reach the Aringa with the gospel. And they pray for more workers to join their expanding ministry among these and other Muslims within their reach.