Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dzaleka Refugee Camp

"But oh! When gloomy doubts prevail, I fear to call Thee mine.  The springs of comfort seem to fail, And all my hopes decline. Yet gracious God where shall I flee? Thou art my only trust. And still my soul would cleave to Thee though prostrate in the dust"

 Linda(student)Patience-DRC refugee, Enettie(student) Deborah-DRC refugee

"Hast thou not bid me seek Thy face, and shall I seek in vain? And can the ear of sovereign grace, be deaf when I complain? No, still the ear of sovereign grace, attends the mourner's prayer. Oh may I ever find access, to breathe my sorrows there."-verses from "Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul" -Steele

Last Saturday, we traveled with 45 students and staff to Dzaleka refugee camp in Dowa, fifty minutes north of Lilongwe. Dzaleka used to be a Malawian prison, and now hosts up to 11, 000 refugees. We were granted special access to the camp for the day. We listened to people's stories and prayed with them.  Mingoli, our jazz ensemble, played a concert.

This was the most emotional experience we've had since arriving in August. Yes, we live across the street from many villages without power or running water, but villages are fundamentally different. These refugees suffered unspeakable trauma, and are far from their homes.

Refugees at Dzaleka are not permitted to leave or do any income producing work. They are lonely and afraid. Prostitution is prevalent, and the percentage of those with HIV is staggering.

 Food is provided by the World Food Programme although distribution is problematic. We were told that the resettlement program is full of corruption. Only those who can offer bribes are relocated to permanent homes.

 We traveled around the camp with five students and a couple translators. Our students were incredibly effected by this experience. For most, this was their first time crossing cultures. The languages were unfamiliar, and the reality of the refugee situation was upsetting.

We met two sisters who fled the Congo with two younger brothers just six months ago. When we asked them to tell their story, they couldn't. They explained that the past was too horrible to speak about. The girls hugged us and cried.

Next, we met a family that was expecting their second baby. They were fearing for the baby and mother because her first delivery was a C-section. The father was close to crying when he asked us to pray that this second child would deliver naturally. I could barely hold it together. I was sitting on a dirt floor hut, looking at a woman about my age, praying for the life of her baby.

The concert was in the afternoon. The children loved singing and dancing with the music. You can see their smiles in the photos. Jonathan gave a brief Gospel talk with Swahili translation.

This Thanksgiving we are thankful. We see that God is present with those who suffer the most. We wait for the day when every tear will be wiped from all of our eyes. But for now, we're a long way from home.


  1. "You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other." Deut. 4:34-36

    And in their distress they turned to the LORD, the God of Israel, and sought him and he was found by them. 2Chron.15:4

    God Bless your willingness to do His work and to pray for and with His suffering people. Your words and pictures help us to understand what we rarely even think about. You have given us a reason and a purpose on this Thanksgiving Day.... to be thankful for the unbelievable blessings that we have and to PRAY for the people of Dzaleka Refuge Camp.

    We love you with all our hearts,
    Mom and Dad

  2. Jessica, thank you for sharing. I am humbled and thankful for the perspective these pictures and stories gives me. Keep doing God's work and sharing it with those of us who are pretty comfortable yet longing to know Him deeper.

  3. Jess,
    What an amazing experience and faith deepening experience. I work in Providence with a refugee family from Burundi that moved to the U.S a three years ago. It has been an amazing journey to be with them on their journey of resettlement and learn a bit about their past experiences. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Can't wait to hear more about what your are up to!
    God Bless,
    Jenny Surgenor