By Emily Holladay
When Missy Ward-Angalla traveled to Uganda in 2010 to minister as a Student.Go intern alongside Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel Jade and Shelah Acker, she never guessed this is where she would build a full-time ministry for refugee women and children from the ground up.
Ward-Angalla, 28, then a seminary student at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, joined the Acker’s ministry at the Center of Hope, which provides education, vocational training and Bible studies for refugees in Kampala.
“When I first came to Uganda, Jade and Shelah shared with me and my teammates that they wanted to use the gifts that God had given us in order to minister to the refugee students,” Ward-Angalla said. “At the time, the center had only been open for six months and there were only 25 students, so there was a lot of room to grow.”
Since high school, Ward-Angalla felt called to mission work, but she came to Uganda still looking for the unique place God was asking her to serve. Coming to Uganda as an intern to fulfill a degree requirement for her program, Ward-Angalla found what she was looking for.
“I went through a lot of trauma when I was young,” Ward-Angalla said. “Having a community that loved and supported me helped me to heal from the trauma, and also understanding that I am loved by God and created by God.”
She believed God healed much of that.
“So when I felt called to missions and ministry when I was in high school, I really felt called to help those who were on the margins, because that is what I had experienced at a young age.”
During college, she became aware of the state of women’s rights around the world and particularly those of refugee women.
“I think what opened my eyes at that point was the knowledge that there are so many places where there is nothing for victims of sexual violence,” Ward-Angalla said.
Not long after Ward-Angalla arrived in Uganda for the first time, she met a young woman who was trying to escape from a violent situation. Ward-Angalla, along with the Ackers, tried to find a way to help the woman, but were left with more questions than answers. She needed more than they could give at the time.
“She needed more than a safe room for a few days or a few months,” Ward-Angalla explained. “She needed counseling and training. There wasn’t a place for her to receive holistic health, so I said, ‘I want to come and I want to start a place for these refugee women and girls.’ And so, that’s really where that great need met my heart’s calling.”
Five years later, Ward-Angalla is living in Uganda as one of CBF’s field personnel. In October 2013, she opened Amani Sasa, a shelter for refugee women and children who have experienced violence, abuse, trafficking or other traumatizing situations. Her hope is to provide a place where refugee women can experience healing and empowerment.
“A lot of people who have been through violence just survive, but never heal,” she said. “The trauma doesn’t just go away — there has to be intentional healing.”
‘A wonderful partnership’
Amani Sasa has developed into a women’s ministry divided into three parts: social work ministry, rehabilitation ministry and vocational training. Women between the ages of 15-25 live at the shelter for three months while they go through the program, becoming immersed in daily discipleship, education, vocational training and both individual and group counseling.
The refugee women living at the shelter go through the program together, and therefore find hope and support from one another, which was an unexpected benefit of this unique program.
“I don’t know of another shelter in Uganda that provides a place for refugee women and children to go who have been through profound violence and trauma,” Ward-Angalla said. “Not only do they find a support group in the staff who are there and love them, but they also find support from each other, which is one of the most beautiful things about the program.”
They in turn are empowered to help other people, she added.
In Uganda, Ward-Angalla helps to transform lives of women and children who otherwise might not have come to know the love and compassion of the God who created them. But, the ministry reaches farther than Kampala’s city limits. Her passion and contagious energy has caught the hearts of many CBF partner churches, so that they too have become empowered to help abused women and children in their own communities.
“It’s been a wonderful partnership because we get to hear the wonderful things that God is doing through Missy,” said Mike Pearce, minister of missions at First Baptist Church of Huntsville, Ala. “I can’t recall any time that we’ve worked with a missionary who’s directly working with women who have experienced trafficking and abusive homes.”
Ward-Angalla also felt called to partner with CBF as a field personnel in Uganda during her second year of seminary. She was able to develop relationships with churches in the United States over the course of two years before returning to Uganda.
One of these churches, First Baptist Church of Gainesville, Ga., sent some members to Uganda to partner with Ward-Angalla during the summer of 2012, when she was once again serving through Student.Go.
“On our trips to Uganda and through Missy’s visits to our church we were able to follow the story of a young Somali woman whose mother was murdered in front of her,” shared Ruth Walker Demby, minister of missions at First Baptist, Gainesville.
The woman had been kidnapped and forced to marry a rebel soldier. He threw her out when she became pregnant, and the baby died as a result. Through the efforts of her sister she was finally able to find safety in Uganda.
“We got to see this young woman go from silent and withdrawn to being part of the loving fellowship of the Center for Hope in Kampala,” Demby said. “Worshipping with this young woman in a group of believers from all over Africa, and knowing their incredibly difficult circumstances, made this one of the most meaningful times of worship we ever experienced.”
Answers to prayer
First Baptist, Gainesville, was inspired by the way Ward-Angalla’s ministry created empowerment, rather than dependency, and sought to find more ways that they could partner with her. Most recently, children from the church’s after-school program raised money for a mother at the shelter to send her two children to school, which is very expensive in Uganda.
Ward-Angalla’s ministry in Uganda has had a clear impact on the churches that have followed her story. Adults and children have been inspired by her willingness to follow God’s call, even where there is not another model for how to do what she does. Her ministry is truly an example of even the youngest members of the Fellowship forming together to serve the most marginalized people in our world.
Ward-Angalla also shared that the churches who partner with her are a constant reminder that she is not alone. Even on her worst days, she knows that there are people praying for her and encouraging her. She feels deeply that the only way she can explain much of her work is that it is God’s answer to the prayers of her partners.
Through these prayers, Ward-Angalla’s partners are also discovering ways that they can help impact her ministry, even remotely. At The Well at Springfield, a church started in Jacksonville, Fla., by CBF church starter Susan Rogers, members have offered some of their skills to help Ward-Angalla raise the money she needs to continue her vital work.
“It has been wonderful to hear people learn more about the needs of women in Uganda and to hear them begin offering their gifts and skills to make a difference,” Rogers said. “One woman has offered to use her experience in grant writing, another is wanting to explore the possibility of micro-loans. It also has helped us see even more clearly some of the challenges of women in our own community.”