You say that discipleship and biblical training were always your main focus? Were you also involved with physical care?
Angela: When we served in refugee camps, UNHCR, and WFP (World Food Program) provided food and health care. We helped only in emergency situations.
In Gesses we were the only organization so were heavily involved in helping with community projects such as well drilling and medical care (first aid and “ambulance” trips) and provided opportunities for income during times of hunger.
We always attempted to balance physical and spiritual ministry and they ended up being completely intertwined. Jesus has modelled this best. Jesus went through the towns and cities, “preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35).
How did you invite people to hear the gospel when they were so traumatized?
Angela: I have only served in refugee camps after their immediate physical needs were met. Refugees deeply desired to tell their story and this begins a relationship and in our case, we called this discipleship.
Someone recently asked me, how many cups of coffee do you share before you start sharing the gospel?
Sharing coffee in many cultures is an invitation to friendship. As a disciple of Jesus, I have a passion to share and this usually starts by asking a question, sharing a biblical story or something that I am learning from God’s word during my very first “coffee time.”
People of other religions are as curious about Christianity as we are about their religion. At the same time, we had to be wise in overtly spiritual discussions in public settings unless we were invited to share or given permission.
In refugee camps, people are hungry for relationship and truth because their lives have just been turned upside-down and most of them are struggling with incredible loss.
Do you have thoughts for churches on sharing your faith with refugees?
Angela: We have had the honour of sharing in numerous evangelical churches and have heard of the thriving compassion ministries to immigrants. While churches seem eager to hear of our compassion ministry and even how people are coming to faith in Ethiopia and Sudan, some have responded with hesitation or even opposition about whether we, in Canada, should be actively sharing the gospel, building bridges to Christ and discipling immigrants.
Our greatest ministry was not the education we provided nor the endless physical help we provided, but introducing men and women to Jesus Christ—many who are now passionately serving Christ in wartorn South Sudan. This is lasting fruit.
Rolf and Angela served for 12 years in Sudanese refugee camps. They spent the past five years living among the Gumuz people in Northwest Ethiopia.