By Donnelly McCleland

The small East African nation of Uganda, already host to millions of refugees from war-torn neighbours, is again anticipating a surge in refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Heavy weapon clashes between Congolese government forces and the mostly Tutsi M23 rebellion has spiked in recent days. The DRC, United Nations (UN) and Western countries claim Rwanda is supporting the rebels in a bid to control vast mineral resources, an allegation Rwanda denies. The recent intensification of the decades-long war has increased the risk of an all-out conflict between the DRC and Rwanda that could draw in neighbours and regional forces including South Africa, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi.

While various diplomatic and military solutions are considered, Congolese civilians are fleeing, many on foot. Neighbouring Uganda has welcomed refugees from DRC for many years, however, it does place pressure on their limited resources – especially as floods, droughts, forest fires, and hailstorms in 2023 directly impacted agriculture and food security. Pressure to provide food, shelter, healthcare, and education is thus not limited to refugees, but also locals impacted by climate-related crises. Such humanitarian assistance is, however, not reserved for international organisations and government agencies alone; local churches and larger ecumenical bodies can also provide both physical support as well as spiritual and social assistance. A large proportion of Ugandans (83% of the population) profess to be Christian and local church communities are widespread. Of the Christian population, 33% are considered Evangelical, making Uganda one of the countries with the world’s highest proportion of evangelical Christians, according to Operation World.

A Ugandan pastor, Godfrey Tinka, shared about his conviction regarding the need for Christians to minister to refugees. He explained his reason for relocating to a town, Kyaka, where there is a large refugee camp, mostly housing Congolese: “My motivation was based on the desire to get a deeper understanding of the situation and how the body of Christ in Uganda could be involved in fulfilling the call to care for strangers as captured by the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:36 ‘…I was a stranger and you invited Me in…’ and also the word in Hebrews 13:2: ‘Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.’” There are many ways that Christians and their local churches can be involved in caring for refugees. Besides basic necessities, refugees are often traumatised and in need of counselling, which Christians can be trained to effectively provide. In addition, language challenges often make it difficult for asylum seekers to navigate even the simplest of tasks, and here too, believers who are proficient in the refugees’ native tongue, can assist with translation. ‘Unaccompanied minors’ is another vulnerable group that the Church can embrace with the love and compassion of Christ, being fathers and mothers to the “fatherless”.

While many Congolese are also Christians, language, cultural differences and background, can make it difficult to develop a sense of belonging. This should not be insurmountable within the Body of Christ, though. One contact mentioned that in his border town there is clear evidence of ‘cross pollination’, where Congolese believers have influenced local worship styles and songs.

Given the tremendous and varied needs, Pastor Tinka shared that there is still so much more that the local Church can do to assist refugees, and here he stressed that greater awareness is crucial. Another vital area where the local Church, together with assistance from the larger Body of Christ, can be involved is in sustainability projects such as farming, skills development and training, since this can be beneficial both to refugees and their host communities. Considering how long the war in Eastern DRC has raged, refugees will potentially continue seeking safety in Uganda, and thus the Church will continue to play a much-needed role in the region.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For a peaceful, negotiated resolution to the protracted war in Eastern DRC
  • For an expansion of the work of the Ugandan Church among Congolese refugees
  • For believers within the region, and beyond, to effectively address the needs of refugees