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, 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, Uganda.
“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 reflected. “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 shared. “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. I believe God healed me from so much of that baggage. …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.
“When I was in college, I just became aware of the state of women’s rights in our 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.”
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.”
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 emphasized. “What we’ve found is, 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. Afterward, we’ve found that they’re empowered to help other people.”
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.
“We had a focus on trafficking last year, so our Women on Mission group learned a lot. We discovered more about Atlanta and the I-20 corridor and how much it’s impacting us at home. Through our partnership with Missy, we now have much more awareness and know tangible ways to help.”
Missy Ward-Angalla’s story is unique in that she 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 a few 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. “She was kidnapped and forced to marry a rebel soldier. When she became pregnant, her husband threw her out and her baby died. 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. 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. We will always remember Missy’s bright face, the sound of her husband, Francis, playing the guitar, and the lovely refugees singing God’s praises and praying as if their lives truly depended on God.”
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 alike 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.
“This past December, the children of First Baptist Morrow were led to adopt Missy and her ministry as a Christmas project,” said Carol Hawkins, missions chairperson at First Baptist Church of Morrow, Ga. “They don’t understand everything about the women and girls with whom she works, but they do care deeply about the fact that they have been seriously mistreated and often placed in the path of danger. The children collected coins and brought their offerings for several weeks, finally giving more than $400. They were so proud. I thanked many of the children for that gift, and one night after supper at the church, a little girl said, ‘Missy is my favorite missionary. She loves with her smile, and I sure do wish my hair would curl like hers!’”
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 noted. “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.”
At 28-years-old, Ward-Angalla has impacted the lives of thousands across the globe who have benefitted from her ministry. By responding to the profound calling on her life, her ministry has not only transformed lives, but her presence and encouragement have saved lives.
In December 2014, at the graduation ceremony for shelter residents, Ward-Angalla learned about one such life.
“Before the festivities started, Anna, one of the shelter residents, shared with me that five months before, she was about to commit suicide,” Ward-Angalla reflected. “She was walking on the road, on her way to do it when we met. She told me I greeted and hugged her. God used this encounter to stop her plans.
“Anna’s story does not end with this tragedy. This event will no longer define her as it had for so long. God has healed and transformed Anna’s life in profound ways. She has found an inner strength and confidence that no one can take away. Her heart is now full of God’s hope and joy.”
Ward-Angalla’s journey and ministry is an example of the Fellowship forming together from her first days as a Student.Go intern to her current partnership with CBF churches, individuals and partners. Her life and ministry is celebrated across the Fellowship because of the ways she has trusted God to lead her and the people whom she serves.
“Missy is a most passionate advocate for women refugees, and she is a believer — a true believer, that God is indeed at work in our world, and that the power of God’s love can bring healing and change,” shared Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. “Missy is what a minister looks like — every day, all day long, she gives her best to God’s world, and Baptist Women in Ministry celebrates and supports who she is and what she is doing in Uganda.”
To learn more about Missy Ward-Angalla’s ministry, visit the CBF website. Find Ward-Angalla’s ministry blog at www.missyinuganda.com, and follow her on Facebook to learn more ways you can connect with the refugee women’s ministry. You can give toward Ward-Angalla’s ministry here.