By Steven Norris
Safety. Wholeness. Empowerment. These are the three legs upon which Amani Sasa, a ministry to refugees in Kampala, Uganda, stands. Amani Sasa began as part of a larger ministry working with refugees in Uganda, but became its own entity in 2019. Their clients come from all over East Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Tanzania, Somalia, Sudan, and Kenya. Many of them are fleeing war, persecution, and other deep trauma.
Amani Sasa provides a place of safety and healing for the men and women there, providing 360-degree support in all areas of need — shelter, food, counseling services, therapy, vocational training, life skills, job internships, and most importantly community. While I have experienced many similar ministries around the world, it was the “empowerment” piece of their work that stood out to me the most. Approximately half of the staff of Amani Sasa were former clients and graduates of the newly-formed program.
At first, I wasn’t really sure what was going on during our visit. The two leaders of the ministry felt aloof at times and too busy to be directly involved in the day-to-day activities. They were often the last ones to show up for the morning devotional time and often excused themselves from meetings and gatherings to take care of other needs.
When our team participated in an experience of buying food at a local market, the directors got us started and then handed us off to members of the staff. When we went out for a special night of dinner and cultural dancing, the directors did not join us. When we were learning to make baskets, neither of them stayed with our team for long.
It wasn’t until later in the week that it finally dawned on me what was going on. Sitting down with the two directors, I asked them about my observations. They explained that Uganda was an honor/shame culture. As the directors of the organization, they were held in high honor by the people that benefitted from their work. As such, every time that they are physically present in the room, most of the staff will defer to their leadership and their opinions and effectively withdraw.
Therefore, truly “empowering” their staff meant that they had to take a step back. The Angallas had to regularly “hand over the keys” to others if they wanted to see growth and maturity in their staff’s understanding of calling and giftedness. They followed the example of Jesus, who sent out the disciples in pairs (see Luke 10) and equipped them for ministry after his departure (see Acts 1).
If our mission work makes us more and more necessary, we need to stop and reflect. It may be that we are following the lead of our own egos instead of using our resources to truly empower others as fellow ministers of the Gospel. Instead, may we restore dignity and worth by consistently looking for ways to “hand over the keys” and empower others to use their God-given talents to improve themselves and serve others.