Trauma-healing ministry reaches refugees in Uganda

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ARUA DISTRICT, Uganda ( — The South Sudanese people who live in the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Uganda know Deborah* is an outsider. They can see it on her skin. She’s Liberian, with lighter skin than theirs — a fact that wasn’t erased by the years she lived in South Sudan married to a South Sudanese man.

But the scars on her heart are the same as theirs — they can see that too.

“She really is like one of them,” said Rebecca Shapley, who along with her husband Tyson serves as an International Mission Board missionary near the camp.

Deborah fled there, same as the other refugees did. In the Rhino camp, more than 120,000 people live together with the scars they brought with them. The camp was opened in 1980 but expanded when the Second Sudanese Civil War started a few years later and raged on for more than two decades.

As Tyson worked with ministry partners to provide housing and wells and meet other physical needs there, a singular need kept rising to the top again and again: trauma care.

Trauma-healing ministry reaches refugees in Uganda

The Shapleys — whose sending church is Harmony Baptist in Weatherford, Texas — have heard stories of mass casualties. Some of the refugees are from places where rebel groups came in and opened fire.

“We’ve also heard stories of specific people being targeted for their beliefs,” Tyson said. “Their houses are set on fire. Their things are set on fire. They’ll have siblings who are killed or kidnapped, women are raped, children are kidnapped to become child soldiers. If you can name it, it’s probably happened to this group of people.”

And everywhere the Shapleys went, they heard and saw the need for someone to come alongside the refugees and help them walk through it. So when the couple came across a resource called New Hope, they saw it as a game changer.

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The New Hope model is a seven-week small group curriculum that teaches one story to the group each week in a way that it can be passed on orally. Each story focuses on someone from the Bible who faced trauma and explores how God interacted with them through that tragedy.

For example, the story set starts with Joseph, a man who had the favor of God and his father, but was then sold into slavery by his brothers.

“Through each step in the life of Joseph you see hardship after hardship, but the Bible tells us how God had favor on Joseph and He was with him the whole time,” Rebecca said. “Just as with Joseph, we see how God is using their suffering for the salvation of many.”

She said it gives them hope to hear that the Bible talks a lot about suffering and that no one is immune to it. In the group, they memorize a key truth right away from the story of Joseph in Genesis 50: “What you meant for harm, God meant for good, not just for me but for the salvation of many.”

“New Hope slowly uses the seven stories to walk them through how God is good, how He is redemptive and how He allows things to happen, but in the end He gets the glory,” Rebecca said.