From 19 June to 5 August, 1996 I worked in the Lukole Refugee Camp near the
point where the Rwanda/Burundi border meets Tanzania. My pastoral work involved
working with Father Daniel Ohmann, M.M., Father Paul Shija from the Diocese of
Shinyanga, catechists, Small Christian Community leaders and choir leaders to
set up and develop week1y prayer gatherings on each street. The camp is
organized into 25 streets each of approximately 1000 people. This involved
meeting with these people for discussion as well as visiting the streets. A
ministry of presence was very possible through the home visits done with CARE
representatives in the camp. I assisted and advised CARE in regard to their
fuel-efficient, mud stove project.
When I first arrived at Lukole Refugee Camp, I noted a certain attitude of
dependency among the refugees, fostered by the distribution of nearly everything
they need by the NGOs. I was often greeted by "Naomba…" (“I ask for…”) and
when I would try to discuss their situation (questions or problems they have
with their mud stoves, for example), invariably the conversation turned to "Give
me this" or "Give us that". Fortunately, we were able to get beyond this stage.
People were happy to have someone listen to them. The greatest gift we, as
missioners, can bring is our listening and our caring. I laughed to myself —
my ministry is one of giving rides and waving and smiling. But the smiling I
meant and that’s a big help when life is tough.
The Camp Manager told us: "Your work is important. We provide for the refugees’
physical needs, but you provide for their spiritual needs." For a people who
have been forced to flee from their homes, these needs can be great. It has
been a pleasure and an honor to be a part of the Lukole Pastoral Team, if only
for a short time.