The gift was a small goat. It couldn’t have weighed more than 30 pounds. As it was led to a tree and tied up in the shade next to our Land Cruiser we all looked at each other with uncomfortable eyes. Finally one of us said what we were all thinking. “We are NOT going to keep that, are we?” No. No. No way. How could we?
Our group from the Western Region of the CLB was visiting refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR), who had received relief through Lutheran Brethren International Mission (LBIM). These people had lost everything! They had been nomads, now they are confined to one place. They had been herders, now by circumstance they are forced to become farmers. Their cattle are dead or stolen. Many of the men have been killed. They fled the fighting in the CAR and arrived in Chad with the clothes on their backs and little else.
We had come as observers. We were there to distribute food, blankets and tarps for shelter. We were there to see the digging of a well. Personally, I wasn’t prepared for what I would experience. When I pictured a refugee camp in my head I saw an organized community. I imagined fences and a plan. That is nothing like the reality. The truth is that these displaced people have been given land by the Chadian government and that is all. They have land and they are left to themselves to make something of it.
Through LBIM we are helping, but there is no fixing. An intense feeling of helplessness overcame me as we walked through the camp. Over and over again in my head was the thought, “Jesus, come quickly.” We came with food, but how long would it last? We came with blankets, but were there enough for everyone? We came with tarps, but how many would receive and how many would not? We were digging a well, but these people need more than clean water, they need the living water of the gospel. Physically, they need mercy and they are receiving it through the work of LBIM. And mercy is a bridge to the gospel. But the task is great and the workers are few! “Jesus, come quickly.”
As we were preparing to leave we noticed that the little goat was no longer tied to the tree beside our ride. Much to our relief, Dan Venberg, our fearless leader for the trip, convinced the chief to keep the goat. He explained that he would gladly accept a gift from them on another trip, after they have had a harvest, after they were a little more settled.
Maybe the harvest will be greater than any of us could imagine. Maybe the fruit of the harvest will be many sons and daughters, brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God. But how will they hear if no one preaches to them? We sat on mats on the ground and talked about water. And we talked about Jesus. Then we left.
Our calling to minister to the physical and spiritual needs of these refugees is intimidating. The need is so much bigger than our resources. The challenges to effective ministry are greater than we can imagine. And yet, this is where God has called us, and Jesus is already there.
Rev. Ed Nugent is the preaching and teaching pastor of Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Brethren Church in Minot, North Dakota.