A pastor who fled the civil war in South Sudan has been equipped to establish a new church thanks to a mobile phone app.
Rev Alex Sokiri and his wife Harriet fled an armed raid on their town in Kajo Keji in South Sudan in July 2016, leaving all their possessions behind. They travelled more than 30 km on foot to the Morobi Refugee Camp in Northern Uganda where they, and people from their own church and community, struggled to adapt to life in the camp that has now been their home for the past two years.
According to Harriet: 'When we came to camp, life was too hard. Some came to us wanting to commit suicide because they had left everything. We could not forget our members in church. Being leaders we had to gather them and tell them what to do. First we began fellowship under trees from there we started collecting simple, simple logs and we put them together and put [up] small structures for us to do the worshipping.'
Alex drew together other pastors from across the camp and small church plants were established to help people gather into supportive communities. He said there were many mental health issues and suicide rates were high.
'They came here without anything, no food, no shelters, they were sleeping under the tree, so they were completely traumatised and discouraged. We encouraged them with the Word, restored their hope,' he said.
Having fled with no possessions he has found the loss of his theological library challenging. However, the eVitabu app developed by the African Pastors Fellowship, which is loaded on to a solar-powered tablet, is enabling him to access a wide range of theological resources and Bible versions from which he can teach, prepare sermons, and inspire and equip fellow pastors in the camp.
He said the app 'gave me guidelines to prepare my sermons for the members of the church. We started developing very many ideas through reading that app, because we can read about counselling, we can read about farming, we can read about church planting. So, that app brought very many changes in our life and life in the refugee camp.'
It has also provided him and Harriet with ideas for youth ministry projects. He said: 'On eVitabu we started reading how we can bring communities together, and how we can do outreach. We formed two clubs in the refugee camp bringing all youths together who are traumatised. They have no work to do in the camp and they were involved in criminal activities, so we brought them together through sports.'
Currently around 100 youths attend the programmes being run, which now has both a girls and a boys football team.
Harriet has reached out to women in their church community and by using some of the practical teachings on the app they have created a small market garden.
Geoff Holder, APF's programme manager, recently met Harriet and Alex at the refugee camp in Uganda. He said: 'Alex is one of almost 100 pastors across East Africa who are already using APF's eVitabu app to help reach out to remote and rural communities around them and change lives. eVitabu has the potential to enable thousands of rural church leaders to access great quality training material possibly for the very first time. Excitingly it also provides a unique platform for the voice of the Africa church. African leaders can use eVitabu to upload and share their own material with other church leaders, so everyone benefits.'
It is estimated that over 3 million churches in the developing world are led by people with few or no qualifications for that responsibility. In Africa, it is reckoned that as many as 90 per cent of pastors have never received even a single day's training. eVitabu, which means 'books in Swahili, is a pioneering tool designed specifically to support the African church.
The eVitabu app includes studies on personal, spiritual and pastoral growth; audio Bibles in local languages; theology courses from internationally renowned centres; video lectures by top Christian leaders; community development toolkits and guides on family healthcare, leadership, advocacy, peace-building, and sustainable agriculture.
To support the work of APF, to learn more or to pray for its mission in Africa visit: www.africanpastors.org