This February, the world is preparing for the 2022 Winter Olympics, when citizens will unite around their home counties. As we cheer for the teams representing us in Beijing during the XXIV Olympics, we’re reminded of a team from last year’s Tokyo Olympic Games that didn’t fit the mold. A global audience witnessed resilience in action as a group of athletes competed on behalf of the global refugee community.
Representing Refugees on the World Stage
When the Refugee Olympic Team walked out during the opening ceremonies, they didn’t represent a country. They were in Tokyo competing on behalf of the 84 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. According to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, people are often displaced because of persecution, violence, natural disasters, and human rights violations.
“This will be a symbol of hope for all refugees in the world and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis,” stated International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach when he announced the first Refugee Olympic Team in 2015.
The team made its debut at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. That year, only 10 athletes qualified. This past summer, the size of the team nearly tripled, with 29 refugee athletes participating in 12 different sports.
While we may not know the individual stories of each athlete, we can assume that, as refugees, many have endured trauma in their lifetime. With the number of displaced people increasing as the years pass, it is important people understand the crisis unfolding before them.
Water Mission has provided safe water solutions while sharing God’s love in refugee camps for years. Our teams actively serve refugees in east Africa with access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) solutions.
Serving in Uganda Refugee Settlements
Rhino Camp and Bidibidi are two refugee settlements in Uganda that have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing South Sudan.
“Before coming [to Bidibidi], I lost my child and my husband,” said Mary Yangi, a South Sudanese refugee living in Bidibidi. “After my husband died, I asked myself, ‘From here, what do I do?’ I had to be strong in my faith so I could manage.”
When Rhino Camp and Bidibidi struggled to provide reliable access to safe water for those fleeing South Sudan and other nations, Water Mission stepped in to provide WASH solutions.
“When we joined the settlement, there were a lot of challenges,” Mary said. “There was no water, but Water Mission has done great things. They have supplied the community with enough water, hygiene, and trauma healing.”
Out of the 29 athletes on the Refugee Olympic Team, four also fled war-torn South Sudan, just like Mary. The opportunity to witness their strength and resilience as they competed on the world stage offered a glimmer of hope, all while raising awareness about the ongoing refugee crisis.
Biblical Trauma Healing and Overcoming Adversity
When we build safe water solutions as a water charity, we also open doors to sharing the Living Water message of Jesus Christ. Bible-based trauma healing is one way we do this, helping people forgive, reconciling conflicts, and providing support and compassion to trauma victims.
“We’re able to share the Living Water message with people that have seen loved ones killed and are struggling with day-to-day life,” said Doug Lawson, Water Mission’s regional director of Kenya and Uganda programs.
This program is just one of the incredible ways Water Mission shares the gospel with the communities they serve.
There is a deep connection between those on the Refugee Olympic Team and the tens of millions still displaced from their homes. The athletes’ participation at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games offered the world a glimpse into what overcoming adversity looks like while putting the global refugee crisis on the map.
While you celebrate your home team during the XXIV Winter Olympic Games, we hope you’ll also pray for the refugees we serve. You might also consider how you might empower these communities with access to safe and Living Water.