Africa Refugees

Helping Refugees in Uganda Find Sustainability

Seeing Aloysius Kyazze in the mission field of northern Uganda is like watching a tractor operator methodically plow vast acres of farmland. The work is often slow and difficult, but eventually the soil is ready for the seed and the promise of harvest. Over the more than 20 years that I have known Pastor Aloysius, he has been like that — consistently demonstrating his faithfulness to Christ and his love for people, fulfilling God’s call on his life and ministry.

Aloysius (his last name is pronounced “Chah-seh”) and I met in 1997 during my first trip to Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, as Winston Churchill called it in his 1908 book, My African Journey. He is a former Ugandan national football (soccer) player who began his ministry career working for a U.S.-based sports evangelism and discipleship organization when that ministry launched work in Uganda in the 1990s. Today he is founder and director of New Foundation Community Ministry in Gulu, northern Uganda. New Foundation focuses on four primary areas of ministry: 1) church planting, 2) leader development, 3) trauma counseling, and 4) community economic empowerment.

I recently returned from two weeks with Aloysius in Uganda, where I had the privilege to witness the steady transformation Aloysius and his team are bringing to refugee communities and local Ugandans through a community empowerment program centered on agricultural training and assistance.

Moving beyond subsistence

This beautiful East African country, which has persevered through independence, military coups, ruthless dictators, and civil war, is now gracious host to 1.3 million refugees fleeing their own civil wars, famine, and unrest in nearby countries, particularly South Sudan. One of Uganda’s refugee camps, Bidi Bidi, was the world’s largest with more than a quarter million residents, until the recent Rohingya crisis ballooned the refugee population of Bangladesh’s camps.

refugee camp in uganda
Typical houses in Uganda’s sprawling Pagirinya Refugee Settlement.

The local communities and churches of northern Uganda are open to working with refugees, but they lack the training needed to do so effectively. Also, competition over limited resources, especially farmland, creates conflict. Aloysius has found, however, that the biggest obstacle to economic empowerment, cooperation, and ministry to refugees is not actually the lack of resources but the failure of both locals and refugees to optimize their use of farmland.

Agriculture is the foundation of Uganda’s economy, and subsistence farming remains the primary source of livelihood for more than one-third of all Ugandans. A persistent preference for the cheaper option, along with a lack of knowledge about best practices, makes it hard for farmers to realize greater yields. This is especially true in the poorer regions of northern Uganda. Aloysius seeks to help change that debilitating mentality in order to bring both economic and spiritual blessings to these communities. “I am a man answering a call to a community with great need,” says Aloysius. “[I asked God] ‘What am I to do in addition to preaching the Word?’ Now I know I can help them become self-sustainable.”

Looking toward abundance

Aloysius is starting with churches because he is convinced that the church — not an NGO — should be the first agent of change, the foremost example of what it means to work hard and to provide for one’s family, following the biblical example of Abraham. Through Abraham’s hard work in the context of his covenant relationship with God, the Lord blessed Abraham and his family. One result of God’s blessing was an abundance from which to bless others. Development within the Christian community will enable churches to bless others, including the refugees in their areas.

Aloysius’ core approach is to engage communities through farming assistance, with training in both skills and techniques. After conducting a two-day Bible teaching mission in the Adjumani area, I watched with great fascination and admiration as Aloysius laid out his plan for economic empowerment through agricultural assistance to nearly 100 local pastors and leaders. He demonstrated how a systematic approach using agricultural and economic best practices could bring self-sustaining development to both local communities and refugee settlements through the local church.

Aloysius showed me two of his corn planting test plots in the north, one near Gulu and the other in the small community of Pakele, near Adjumani, just south of the South Sudan border. In each location, local farmers had also planted their own corn in adjacent plots. The contrast was dramatic. The local corn was often stunted and substantially unproductive. Aloysius’ test corn was healthy, tall, and promising of a good harvest.

Aloysius shows his test crop of corn next to a local crop; methods being taught to locals and refugees in uganda
Aloysius Kyazze shows the difference between one of his test crops on the right and a local farmer’s crop on the left.

What made the dramatically visible difference? The answer is quite simple: Aloysius begins with quality seed (yes, it costs more, but its yield is far greater), plants at the correct time before each of the multiple rainy seasons, weeds consistently, and uses earth-friendly but effective fertilizer. These are basic, proven farming best practices: good seed in season in fertile ground, then keep out the weeds and bugs. Farmers that utilized the least expensive seed (and consequently the least productive), planted out of sync with the seasons, did not weed properly, and used no fertilizers, consistently produced stunted stalks with few ears of corn.  

Sustainability and hope

In the next three years, Aloysius’ vision — practical, sustainable, and ultimately transformative — is to see many refugees come to true faith in Jesus, some developed into healthy spiritual leaders, and at least one new church planted in each refugee settlement. In short, he wants to see life and hope flourish through Christ in those who now exist in hopelessness.

Churches and pastors in both the refugee and host communities are now discovering new opportunities for evangelism, church planting, and discipleship through Aloysius’ program of agricultural assistance and economic empowerment, all paired with leader development and Christian discipleship training. His ministry exhibits a unique blend of evangelistic fervor, leader development, community engagement, and compassionate concern for refugees and other vulnerable people. He excels in bringing the power and blessing of the gospel into each of these areas of ministry. “Now that God has given me a platform,” Aloysius says, “When I go into a community, it doesn’t take me two days to explain what it takes to transform that community through the power of the gospel.”

Even though I have known Aloysius for more than two decades, seeing him and his ministry up close has only increased my love and respect for this hardworking husband, father, pastor, and ministry leader. Aloysius is faithfully demonstrating that crop planting and church planting can grow and flourish together.

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