Scorched Earth

February 14, 2014 • Uganda
South Sudanese Refugees in Uganda

Despite their difficult conditions, South Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda have hope that God will restore them.

Seth Williamson is the Samaritan’s Purse refugee food assistance program manager in Uganda.

As I traveled the cratered road from Kampala to the Adjumani refugee settlement, I watched out my window as the lush green terrain gradually morphed into a parched, scorched earth. Adjumani lies in the north of Uganda and has received more than 60,000 new South Sudanese refugees since mid-December. These people are desperately running to save their lives as their country is being torn apart by civil strife and ethnic conflict.

Come January each year, northern Uganda is transformed into a blackened land as the inhabitants burn the harvested crops in preparation for the next planting season. This method of farming leaves the land looking as desolate and parched as its new refugee inhabitants. I could see across the empty land for miles.

As I rode in the passenger seat and stared out the window, I thought about how the burning of the land is cyclical. Not a year goes by that a fire is not set to the land, burning every weed, bush, and chaff to the ground. I was struck by the similarity of what God does in my own life. Every so often, there comes a point where things have become overgrown, stale, and even detrimental for the heart. Then God steps in and clears it out with an all-consuming fire.

As I strained my eyes to look closer, I began to notice small patches where the grass and bush had started to grow back. In the midst of the scorched earth, I could see green sprouts of grass and leaves starting to push through. It was a great reminder that God doesn’t leave us in a scorched, parched state but instead gives us hope and new life.

Fire is not the end. It’s only a refining process to remove the chaff, weeds, and stubble from our lives in order to make room for new growth. It’s not a comfortable process, but I’m thankful for God’s faithfulness to never let the weeds take over and choke out the good.

Promise of New Growth

As we entered the refugee settlement, the same thoughts still applied.

These people have fled their own scorched earth; however, it’s not just fire but the start of a conflict that could last. Looking at their faces, I could see a mixture of fear, sadness, hope, and relief.

They took flight to escape the flames, the hurt, and the terror they were experiencing in their homeland and have found a place in northern Uganda to take a rest. As we spoke with some of the refugees about the flight from their country, they commonly expressed feelings of loneliness and anxiety, but they also had hope and, the most amazing and humbling emotion to me, thankfulness. Their humility hit me like a freight train every time I heard a grateful refugee say, “God has protected us; He has brought us here. We have hope that we will be able to go home again.”

These people have likely never had power in their houses, much less running water and a hot water heater. Instead, I witnessed pregnant mothers walking in the blazing heat with jerry cans of water atop their heads. I was profoundly reminded on this trip of the hope that we have in Christ. No matter how much burning or hurt, there is a promise of new growth to come.

It is a privilege to serve as the program manager of the refugee food assistance project in Uganda and even more of a privilege to be able to respond to the recent influx of more than 60,000 South Sudanese refugees who continue to enter Uganda on a daily basis. Over the next couple of weeks, Samaritan’s Purse Uganda will be taking over the management and daily feeding of these refugees from South Sudan and will have the opportunity to walk with them in the beginning of the new growth process.

Please join us in praying for this process: that the Lord will equip Samaritan’s Purse staff with servants’ heart and, that He will give us words to encourage, ears to listen, and hearts to be in constant prayer for these refugees. Also, please join us in praying for peace and stability for South Sudan so that families will be able to return home and find peace and rest.