Equipping Local Churches in East Africa: A Daring Faith Story

09/01/2016 .
Ben Reed  .  Guest Storyteller

In a remote East African town, four hours from the nearest airport, a UN refugee camp has swelled in recent years to accommodate over 150,000 people. As we entered riding in the back of a pickup truck, we were met with curious stares. Not many people venture this far into the desert to offer help.

In this dry and oppressively hot region of the world, dust storms and poverty battle for control. It’s a small city, until you realize that the United Nations has placed a refugee camp here that serves surrounding nations. Individuals have fled their homes because of hostility in their own country to find refuge among the tents, shacks, and make-shift buildings of a city of more than 150,000 other refugees.

Refugees receive monthly food stipends from the UN, but not nearly enough to fill the bellies of their families. And they’re stuck in this camp, many for decades on end. In fact, the camp is beginning to see its next generation: people who were born in the camp, now having children that are growing up there.

We delivered over a ton of maize, beans, and rice. We pulled all of the church leaders together and prayed over the food. But instead of actually giving away the food, we left. We walked right out of the building, and didn’t scoop out even one ounce. We wanted the local church pastors to give the food away.

We wanted them to be the ones that helped feed their people. We wanted the local church there to be the hero, not us. In just a few days we would be leaving and these churches would remain long after we’re gone. And if the people see us as the heroes, they’ll just be waiting on the next team to come in and give them the next round of food. When we can set up the local church to win, people begin to see the local church as the hope God intends to bring to the world.

While we were there our team helped lead a conference for local pastors. Many of the pastors lead multiple churches, and walk 15 km or more to serve the people God’s called them to. For hours, these men and women soaked up every ounce of information and resources we could give them.

One of my favorite encounters was with Pastor Jackson. He pastors one of the churches in the camp, having fled Ethiopia a decade earlier. He doesn’t hate the fact that he had to leave his country. He’s chosen to rejoice, because he realizes God called him to shepherd people in the camp. I asked him if he thinks he’ll get to go back home anytime soon. “These people need Jesus, so I’m staying. This is right where God wants me,” he responded. “This is the church God’s called me to.” I don’t know what you would call that, but I’d call it love.

After returning home, I told my son about some of the kids I met in the camp. His response brought tears to my eyes. “Dad, I’ve got some toys, books, and stuffed animals that I don’t use as much anymore. Well, I use them, but I think those kids would like them. Can I send them with you next time you go?”

As a dad, it doesn’t get much better. I can’t manufacture a response in my children, I can only pray that they’re driven to action, driven to help, when they see others in need. And my seven-year-old son was in that moment. He saw what he had that would benefit others, and he was willing to sacrifice.

Saddleback Church will continue to go to the last, least, and lost. Through our three-year Daring Faith goals, the Gospel will be taken to all unreached people groups and will continue to help those in need through the local church, equipping people with skills, training, and basic necessities to make a difference in their own community.

Click HERE to learn more about our Daring Faith Initiatives and how to get involved.

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