Nowhere to escape if God does not make a way: a reflection out of an African refugee camp

By guest blogger Jacques Baeni Mwendabandu, student at Regis University through Jesuit Common Higher Education at the Margin in Dzaleka

“Then they cried to the Lord in their troubles, and he delivered them out of their distresses” (Psalm, 107: 6. American King James Version). Despite the hospitality of host people and humanitarian assistance, refugees and asylum seekers face challenges in their daily life. They believe that their vulnerability is no different from Israelites’ sufferings at the time of Moses. It is true that God hears and delivers his people from their suffering. However, God’s intervention took a while. Humans’ life is not only made of happiness. There is always a time of troubles. This allows people to grow up through the experience. When the time of troubles appears and an individual is forced to be far from his family, heritage and friends, it is absolutely painful. Difficult is as well that relief intervenes at an unexpected time. During the painful period, refugees and asylum seekers do not have another option than to wait for the time of relief.

Suffering in a refugee camp, turning to God

dzaleka1Refugees and asylum seekers face many challenges in their everyday life. Even though humanitarian organizations provide assistance, they cannot replace properly the comfort which refugees had in their home countries. Comparing life in the home country to life in a refugee camp, it seems that living in the camp feels much like living in a prison. In fact the Dzaleka facilities, the accommodation where I stay as a refugee in Malawi, had served as a political prison in the past. It was established as a refugee camp by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994.

Finding employment here is a dream. Refugees and asylum seekers can work only as volunteers. So what they can receive is only a premium. Their movement is also limited. Before leaving the camp, people have to request an exit authorization document. Isolated in Dzaleka refugee camp and far from their biological family and friends, most refugees live solitary lives in clay-brick houses covered by thatch. However, refugees do not have the choice of rejecting this situation of distress because they cannot go back to their home countries.

Individuals who have lived through violence, heartbreak, and persecution in their home countries face new challenges when seeking for asylum. People forcibly displaced, people fleeing genocide, violence and wars, would rather suffer in a refugee camp than be persecuted or killed at home. Consequently, they restore their hope in entrusting their life to God.

They have no option but to cry unto God and wait for being saved out of their troubles. They evangelize. They also make their effort to obey God’s commands. Established on a surface area of 456 acres, Dzaleka refugee camp has a population of more than twenty-five thousand people. This population attends more than sixty churches and one mosque. People believe that distress cannot separate them from God. Rather, for many their attachment to God grows stronger. They believe in God’s promises within the Bible. Nevertheless God does not respond exactly when someone calls him.

God always responds at the right time according to His own will. But an individual who is in troubles needs quick relief. For some displaced people, quick relief represents a lifting of the cdzaleka-integrity-family-churchross, the moment they are no longer refugees, their time of salvation, or perhaps more appropriately, of resurrection. Leaving the camp is their daily prayer. For them, the third country is the Promised Land. Others pray God to help them to speed up their social integration in the host country as citizens. But refugees and asylum seekers observe that God’s response to their suffering takes too long.  Even though living in a refugee camp is painful and temporary, refugees live a real life. Some are born in the camp. Some get married there. Others find their faith in the camp, while others live bad lives. Waiting for relief, they wonder whether God will deliver some of these people.

Lazarus, or salvation in God’s time

Maybe the story of Lazarus can throw a light on this? Mary and Martha watched their brother dying. They waited for Jesus but he did not come and they wondered why. Then Lazarus died. Jesus came when Lazarus was buried four days ago. Martha ran to him and then she cried “Lord, if you had been here, you could have healed him. He would still be alive but you are four days late and all hope is gone” (John 11: 22). They did not understand why Jesus waited so long. But later, Jesus brought Lazarus to life.

Lazarus’ situation brings hope not only to refugees but to all people who need relief. God responds at his time. As says the Bible in Isaiah 49:8; “In the time of his favor He will answer you, and in the day of salvation He will help you; He will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances.” God had never ignored people. The problem is that people want to speed up receiving relief from God. In this way, they sometimes make a big mistake when they believe the word from some people who disguise themselves as men of God. They do not develop the faculty of thinking critically. Some clergies ask them to offer more than what they have. They do it ignoring the budget of their homes. Additionally they cannot offer to God in their respective churches in the same way they do with the prophets.

These prophets organize prayer sessions. They invite people to pray with them. In searching for God’s response, some individuals come even though they were not invited. They not only come to the prayer session, they also go to visit prophets to their homes. Impatiently waiting for salvation, some refugees are willing to offer more than what they have if the command comes from a self-proclaimed prophet. Some decide to contract even a debt. They believe that this can be the right way in which God may talk to them about their situation. Refugees and asylum seekers are used to this kind of practices in the camp. If a prophet comes, some are ready to follow him and to abandon their churches and their pastors who are not prophets. However, when they prophecy them about God’s anger related to their sins, they are disappointed and hopeless.

Love is God’s way for salvation

God answers at the appropriate time, according to his own will. The prophecy is only a foretelling of what is to come. Hence, what is to come is God’s plan. The only way which leads people to experience God’s greatness is love. The parable of the Good Samaritan talks greatly about love (Luke 10:25-37). Jesus’s answer to the lawyer who asked him who his neighbor were, had two parts.

Firstly, He talked about love towards God.

No one has ever seen God. Showing love to God is to obey his commands. Humans should consecrate their life to God. Some refugees see their way of salvation in God, others are turning to wrongdoing. Once hopeless, some think that their relief can be found in alcohol and drug-taking; while others consider prostitution as the easier way of finding incomes.

Secondly, Jesus insisted on the love towards his neighbor as himself.

When the lawyer asked Jesus who is my neighbor, he would like to limit the extent of his neighborhood. According to this parable, someone’s neighbor is an individual who needs someone’s help. Saying that you should love your neighbor as yourself leads to the concept of compassion. Showing compassion is to feel someone’s suffering and to overcome it. Of course, people out of the camp should show compassion to refugees, and indeed, Malawians are hospitable people. But also, refugees as well should be united, showing compassion to one another. Refugees should gather according to neither their countries nor the tribes. God has a wonderful plan for human beings. The first and highest command is love. By loving one’s neighbor in the camp, people might be able to wait together for God’s response in His own time with stronger hope and faith.

In sum, God response may come through people’s compassion. Some people, who are in a safe and comfortable position, would have to do something to help alleviate the situation of refugees or other people needing relief. God acts through other people. In a refugee camp some people try to speed up God, which is a way of trying to control God through payments to a prophet. But might not a similar error or sin be committed by those people in comfortable positions who rather slow down God by not doing what they are able to do, because they rather keep their comfort and control instead of participating in God’s plan. For instance a political leader, who holds on to his position of power and who says “refugees will be helped by God in His own time, I don’t have to do anything”.


Jacques, at the right, with two brothers refugees like him.

This entry was posted in Love, Relationality, Vulnerability and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s