Nazarenes in East Africa train and equip refugees for ministry

Michelle McLane
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
As more than half a million refugees seek shelter throughout northeastern Africa, longtime Nazarene missionaries Gabor* and Tafui* Buhari are employing innovative ways to serve them: radio broadcast, training in handicrafts, and reuniting separated family members.
 
Refugee internet radio
One of the tools they have found most effective is radio ministry. Through radio, Gabor, Tafui, and their partners are reaching areas near and far, especially those they cannot easily or safely travel to. Nazarene in East Africa transmit radio programs through World Mission Broadcast in 11 native languages, reaching thousands of listeners every week. Counterintuitively, the radio programs that are broadcast to camps made up of refugees and local communities from other faith groups do not include explicit gospel messages. There is a lack of openness to Christianity among these groups. Instead, programs cover subjects like reconciliation, peace, hope, love, public hygiene, relationships, family and marriage. Through these neutral topics, the people find many needs met, and every message brings them God’s comfort.
 
“They’re scared,” Gabor explains. “They lack peace, so we talk about peace. They lack love; talk about love. They lack hope; we talk about hope.”
 
ImageIn fact, refugees have been so deeply touched by the love of Christ through Nazarene radio that they now run many of the radio programs produced, writing and recording programs to reach their communities. Sixty to 65 programs are created every three months. These are posted to the Africa East Field isoundcloud.com website and Facebook, and pastors are encouraged to download and broadcast the programs in their local areas.
 
Providing security
Ministry to refugees in east Africa reaches well beyond radio. The physical needs within the refugee camps are overwhelming. There are constant requests for food, material resources, and help finding separated loved ones.
 
When Tafui met  refugee women and children from the camps, she was struck by the complex issues that brought suffering to their everyday lives.

“I found that women refugees and the children are more affected by their [lack of] security,” Tafui said.

Young women are targets for human trafficking and refugee children often go without basic education.
 
“They are suffering lack of enough resources, lack of security in their home area. They’re raped, they’re trafficked…. So, I spent time with some of them. They shared their struggle. They shared their challenge. They shared their suffering.”
 
Seeing their needs, Tafui began praying. She discussed the problems with church leaders, refugee leaders, and United Nations Refugee Agency local leaders. In the cultures of northeast Africa, women are viewed as responsible to provide for the well-being of the family unit. These women needed to feel the encouragement of being useful and productive. Through help from a professional beads worker in Central Church Refugee French congregation, they started the bead working group “Trainers Training.”
 
In doing bead work, the women find something to put their hands to and create. However, the group’s greater purpose is to train women leaders in the slum areas where the refugee community lives, to articulate messages of Christian hope, love, and peace to their communities. Then, they are encouraged to train other young people. Through this purposeful gathering, in addition to weekly prayer meetings and Bible studies, the Buharis and their partners are finding another way to creatively take the message of the gospel everywhere.

Reuniting families
Many refugee cases involve one or more members of a family fleeing across borders, becoming separated from spouses, parents, children, or other loved ones.

One man became a refugee by deserting the military. He encountered the message of the gospel through Nazarene bible study prayer fellowship and decided that he must return to his family. However, he faced the possibility of punishment from his government for desertion. For several months, Gabor and Tafui prayed with the man for safety for him and his family. Finally, when he went home, the government granted him amnesty. After some time, his wife became a Christian, and his family began to accept him as a Christian. He is now a leader in the underground church in his area.

As ministry continues, the Buharis recognize several challenges. The local and state governments are frequently unstable; communities and families lack security, and sometimes are in critical danger. Also, travel is difficult due to continually changing regulations; the appropriate paperwork for travel is in short supply. Safe and legal travel methods are essential as families attempt to reconnect or refugees take the risk to return and share the message of Christ with their families.
 
Additionally, ministry resources are scarce, especially training and teaching materials. This can make equipping and training new leaders difficult.
 
Still, God works miracles. Even people who do not have any access to the gospel message find themselves hearing directly from the Spirit. Several people have testified first encountering Jesus through dreams and visions. Five years ago, one man became a follower through a vision of Jesus. Although the man did not have access to a Bible, through these visions and reading another faith’s holy book, his eyes were opened and he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Now, he is a radio presenter, teacher, and pastor of a Nazarene bible study fellowship.
 
The Buharis are grateful for the prayers of people around the world. There is so much to do, and the partnership of the Nazarene community is needed.
 
“We encourage all Nazarenes,” Gabor says, “to open their home, their church, their heart for the refugee – to connect them to Jesus.”

*Names changed and exact location omitted for security reasons