By Missy Ward
For the last six years, I have dreamed of developing a victim's aftercare ministry in an area where there are no resources. My life's calling is to be a resource for refugee women in violent or vulnerable situations. And my journey of pursuing my calling in Uganda has been the most incredible journey of my life.
My undergraduate coursework in political science, religious studies and rhetoric exposed me to the dire state of women's rights in our world. I was especially shocked to learn how many women were sexually assaulted during wartime and how many refugees were trafficked or exploited in various ways afterwards. Still, with these high levels of violence, there were often few resources for after-care and healing. Instead, women were often blamed and sometimes ostracized from their community.
I became even more aware of these complexities while interning with refugee ministries alongside CBF Field personnel through Student.Go. I taught as an ESL teacher to refugee women from Afghanistan in Fremont, CA during the summer after my junior and senior years of college. I have had additional opportunities to teach ESL to East African refugees for a semester and two summers at a refugee community center in Kampala, Uganda, while enrolled at McAfee.
These experiences changed my life. I could no longer live the same.
These women were no longer a statistic, article or news story- -they were my students, friends and family. These women, like everyone else in our world, deserve to be treated with equal dignity, respect and love.
I will never forget Claire, one of the first students I tutored and worked with in Kampala. She arrived as a new student to the center during my second week serving as an intern. She seemed eager and excited to learn but was very far behind other beginning ESL students. I tutored her for a few hours every day over the next month and a half. Despite the language differences, we bonded. One day, just before we were about to start class, Claire was flipping through her notebook and handed me a letter that was addressed to me and translated into English. The letter explained that her parents abandoned Claire at the age of three as the war started in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Claire grew up as an orphan and was subjected to physical and sexual violence. She managed to come to Uganda and find a family to stay with, but they could no longer take care of her, and she was afraid. She asked me in the letter, “Teacher, help me. I want a better education and better life. I want to be productive in the society where I live. Help me.”
My heart absolutely broke. We sat together in silence, my hand in hers, and cried. As her teacher, I wanted to do something to help ensure that she found safety and the resources she needed. My search for these resources came up empty although there were organizations that did advocacy within refugee communities, there were none that assisted in aftercare or provided shelter.
I quickly learned that Claire was not alone as there were other students who were being abused, neglected or were orphaned without a place to go. This abuse and oppression compounded an already grave injustice that they faced due to war, violence and various oppressions within their countries. What an unimaginable tragedy that these women continue to experience violence and oppression in the place where they are seeking peace!
I am dedicating the rest of my life to ministering with and among refugee women and girls in East Africa. I am moving to Uganda in less than two months to serve as CBF field personnel. I will serve on staff as the Refugee Women's Advocacy Coordinator with Refuge and Hope International, a ministry dedicated to ministering with and among people affected by war and conflict in East Africa. I will develop a new ministry program focused on assisting refugee women and girls who are in violent or vulnerable situations. This new ministry project will involve opening the first shelter for refugee women and girls in Kampala; strengthening the education and vocational training initiatives for women at the community center; and counseling, discipleship and self-help saving groups for women.
This project seeks to holistically minister to female refugees in violent or vulnerable situations through empowering them with shelter, life skills and community.
Injustice, suffering and oppression can at times seem overwhelming and all-consuming. Still, in the midst of this sea of suffering, as Christians we are called to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. The opportunity to develop this ministry project is a privilege and dream come true for me. I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am grateful for my communities at McAfee, CBF and elsewhere that have encouraged and supported me over the last five years as I have developed as a minister of the gospel.
This article was originally published for Tableaux: McAfee's Global Footprints.
Missy Ward recently finished McAfee with her Master of Divinity in Christian Social Ethics. Over the last four years, she served with ministries serving refugees in California and Uganda through Student.Go. In June, Missy was appointed as CBF field personnel to serve in Uganda. Soon Missy will move to Uganda to serve as the Refugee Women's Advocacy Coordinator with Refuge and Hope International (www.refugeandhope.org). She will work to develop a ministry project that holistically empowers and ministers to refugee women and girls in violent or vulnerable situations in Kampala, Uganda.