Binding up the brokenhearted, comforting all who mourn, replacing despair with praise—for itinerant teacher Fred Otieno, the words of Isaiah 61 are more than prophetic poetry. They’re a daily assignment.
And with the help of the In Touch Messenger, Fred is making the promises of this famous passage a reality for the people of Nyarugusu, a refugee camp in Tanzania. Many of the Congolese and Burundians who live in the camp have fled homes decimated by violent militias, often arriving at Nyarugusu with nothing more than the clothes on their back and traumatizing memories of murder and mayhem. It’s those invisible wounds that Fred aims to address.
“These are very, very traumatized people. But there is no trauma service for them when they come here. Everyone just wants to assume that time is the master healer,” says Fred. But he knows that title can belong to none other than Jesus Christ.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus endorsed grief as the path to solace: “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” But that’s easier said than done. For many refugees, grieving means reliving the worst moments of their lives—torture, personal assault, and the murder of loved ones. Though this emotional journey through the Valley of the Shadow of Death is a harrowing one, there is hope for personal healing and transformation.
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” But that’s easier said than done.
And as individuals experience the consolation only the Comforter can bring, momentum builds for redemption on a larger scale. When asked about his vision for the future, Fred says, “I’m foreseeing a turning point where they’ll say, ‘Now I think we need to start another life.’ And that would be resettlement back home.’”
This voluntary repatriation—refugees returning to their homelands—may appear a pipe dream at best to the governments involved, but not to God. The Bible traces the stories of displaced people—most notably Jesus fleeing with His parents to Egypt to escape Herod (Mat. 2:13-14)—but the overarching theme has often been a return home, both geographically and spiritually.
With resettlement would come restoration just like Isaiah prophesied:
Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins,
They will raise up the former devastations;
And they will repair the ruined cities,
The desolations of many generations. (Isa. 61:4)
While the prophet was speaking of the Israelites’ return from exile, the promises of God found in those verses still ring true for us today—and even more poignantly so for the refugees of Nyarugusu. They—the formerly brokenhearted, despairing, and mourning—are the ones anointed by God to be the agents of restoration in the very places that traumatized them.
Fred’s work with refugees is a tangible, visceral depiction of how God heals the brokenness in all of us. Though our paths home may not lead us back to war-torn lands, the Good Shepherd nevertheless accompanies all who walk through dark valleys. After all, it’s His presence that restores us so that we might, in turn, restore.