“I’m a pastor. In my ministry the blind have seen, the deaf have heard and I saw 17 people raised from the dead”. Wow. A strong opening statement from Morris. It was the start of an enthralling bus buddy conversation with an incredible refugee leader*. He has lived for 3 years in Bidi Bidi, the second largest refugee camp in the world.
The 12 tribes of Israel
The 10 languages Morris knows are eclipsed only by the number of his children. “I’ve only ever had one wife, and she produced 15 children. Unfortunately 3 died from illness, so 12 remain. But 12 is enough, like the 12 tribes of Israel are enough”. Morris is really concerned for the future of his children. He laments the school system in the camp. When I asked him about his education and how he learnt such good English I was surprised that he only finished primary school
“But Nick, the standard of education was much better in those days”
After a poor standard of primary school in the camps, secondary school is even worse. Few students get to attend and barely any pass their secondary exams meaning university is impossible. He felt that the high schools are there more to benefit the highly paid Ugandan teachers than the students. “There are no materials and no practicals. How can you do chemistry minus chemicals?”
He was proud that his eldest daughter was sponsored to high school in Kampala by his sister, who managed to reach America as a refugee. After successfully completing high school, his daughter is now back in Juba, the capital of South Sudan trying to get work to help the family.
Deep seated bitterness
“Any 2 year old will tell you, if you go back to South Sudan, a Dinka will kill you. Out of 1000 Dinkas you will not find one good one”
Morris is understandably bitter. He hails from the Bari tribal group, the fourth biggest in Southern Sudan. He first became a refugee in Uganda in the 1960s after being driven out of his home by Dinka armies in the 1960s. A Dinka army drove him out again in 2016. When I asked him if sometime the seriously christian Dinkas were ever good people, he thought for a moment then shook his head. “Not even them”.
“This thing is bad like the Israelis and the Palestinians. As long as the Dinkas are in power, there can never be peace in Southern Sudan”
A literal gold mine
Morris had two suggestions of ways that I might be able to help him.
1. A speaker system to attract young people to his new church
2. Investment in his gold mining venture
“With a bit of mercury and some simple machines, we can make serious money” Morris claimed he had discovered a rich vein of gold close to his home. He was quick to say that the vein was currently inaccessible due to conflict, but that we should be ready to mine as soon as it was safe. This might sound fanciful, but ‘artisinal’ gold mining is a way of life for many in South Sudan
“We manage to deal with most of the problems before they reach the police”
Morris is a leader on his local council. His major role is mediating conflicts in his patch of the camp. The most common conflicts are within relationships. “Often the man will sell the family’s food allocation for alcohol. Sometimes he beats his wife.” Besides this, minor theft and tribal tensions makes up much of the rest of his work. He assured me that the community is well organized, cohesive and usually finds a way to resolve problems amicably.
A 5 hour bus trip was barely enough to scratch the surface, and I was sad to say goodbye to Morris. Will we ever meet again?
*Morris gave permission to both share his story and the photo we took.