What insights into ideology, relationality and hierarchy can we gain by examining the role of faith in displacement, and in the acts of hosting and being hosted? In this post, Karen Lauterbach (University of Copenhagen) discusses hybrid forms of faith-based hosting and draws on her research with Congolese refugee churches in Kampala, Uganda. Lauterbach examines what kind of faith-based hosting these churches represent and what these hybrid forms of hosting can tell us about the categories of ‘host’ and ‘guest’, a theme we have been exploring in Refugee Hosts, here, here and here. Lauterbach highlights that patterns of hosting function in ‘changeable, informal, and volatile’ ways and describes the various motivations influencing these patterns, which, for Congolese refugee pastors, include compassion and sacrifice, and for Congolese refugees, respect for the position of authority that the pastor occupies. In this process, Lauterbach argues, ‘the categories and roles as host and guest get confused and turned upside down.’

This blog was posted on 23rd July 2019

If you find this piece of interest please visit our Faith and Displacement Series or the recommended readings at the end of this post.

‘A Refugee Pastor in a Refugee Church’ – Hybrid Forms of Faith-Based Hosting in Kampala, Uganda

by Karen Lauterbach, Associate Professor, Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Recent debates on the role of faith in displacement have highlighted the roles that faith-based organisations play in accommodating and hosting displaced people. Most often, we hear about established religious organizations that are part of a wider humanitarian context and that represent local faith-based forms of humanitarian intervention and assistance. However, as Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh among others has pointed out here and here, faith-based hosting comes in many forms. In this piece, I discuss hybrid forms of faith-based hosting in Kampala, Uganda.

Most Congolese refugees and asylum seekers who come to Kampala rely on their ability to access social networks to receive assistance. Although Uganda has been widely celebrated for its refugee policy, refugees and asylum seekers who live in urban areas are not entitled to receive humanitarian assistance. Many newcomers ask for and are directed to one of the numerous Congolese churches that exist in Kampala. Many of these churches are commonly known as ‘refugee churches’ and have been created by Congolese who have been displaced due to the ongoing and protracted crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These churches play a crucial role in accommodating and hosting newly arrived refugees. But what kind of faith-based hosting do these churches represent? And what do these hybrid forms of hosting tell us about the categories ‘host’ and ‘guest’, for example, when the hosts are refugees themselves?

Hybrid forms of faith-based hosting can be illustrated through Pastor Justin’s story. He and his family arrived from DRC to Kampala and asked for a Congolese church upon arrival. They were directed to a church, where they were welcomed by a pastor and were invited to stay in the church. Later on, the same pastor helped them to find a small two-room house and they managed to pay the rent by selling documents used for Bible teaching. After a while, another family arrived from DRC and a thick curtain was put up in one of the rooms, so that it could accommodate two families. This pastor’s story is one among many in which refugees host refugees, including refugee pastors hosting and accommodating refugees and refugee pastors being hosted by other refugees.

In my work with Congolese refugee churches in Kampala, I observed different ways in which faith-based refugee-refugee hosting takes place. Common for all these patterns of hosting is that they function in a changeable, informal, and volatile way, and depend on access to religious institutions as well as social networks and positions in social hierarchies.

One pattern consists of refugee churches hosting refugees, which constitute the classical pattern where religious institutions act as host and the arriving refugee as guest. However, as the refugee churches were themselves newly established institutions with a changing membership and changing physical locations and few resources were available, this form of hosting happened in an ad hoc and non-systematic way. It was however, widely known in the city that some Congolese churches were hosting refugees and these were perceived as being more willing to host refugees than Ugandan churches for instance.

At the same time, accommodating refugees in churches also influences refugees’ attachment to pastors and churches. As churches seek to provide both material and spiritual forms of assistance and in this way cross the religious and humanitarian scenes, refugees have expectations to what they will receive. This poses a dilemma to the Congolese churches: on the one hand, they wish to assist and see this as their Christian obligation, but on the other hand they recognise that it is difficult to build up a church if church members have very limited resources. This dilemma and disparity is expressed in the observation made by refugee pastors which they expressed as ‘being a refugee pastor in a refugee church.’ By this, they refer to their acts as being undertaken out of compassion and at the same time as a being sacrifice, because they are refugees and are suffering themselves.

Refugee pastors hosted by church members constitute a different pattern of refugee-refugee hosting. This form of hosting depends on the work and status of the pastor. If church members welcome a refugee pastor in their church they would be inclined to assist with accommodation and other forms of assistance both out of compassion, and also out of respect for the position of authority that a pastor occupies. In this way, the categories and roles as host and guest are confused and turned upside down. The role of guest would normally include being viewed as a ‘receiver,’ but in the case of refugee pastors, they are seen and treated both as guests (due to them being in a displacement situation) as well as some sort of spiritual host or as mediators of the word and power of God. This double position means that they are seen as being in a higher position in the social hierarchy, as compared to ordinary refugees, and this is strongly related to their spiritual and religious performance and status as pastors.

These examples of hybrid forms of faith-based hosting show some of the multiple ways in which faith matters in displacement contexts. Whereas we normally think about faith-based assistance as institutions that provide help, the above examples show that faith-based hosting also takes places outside of formalised and well-established institutional spaces. Gaining insight into these informal spaces can shed light on the ideological, relational and hierarchical aspect of the role of faith in displacement.


If you found this piece of interest please listen to or read the recommended posts below:

Listen to:

Refugee Hosts’ Co. I, Dr. Anna Rowlands, on BBC Radio 4, Immigration & Religion: A Sunday Programme Special

Or read:

Carpi, E.  (2018) Does faith-based aid provision always localise aid?

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Local Communities and Contextualising the Localisation of Aid Agenda

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2016) Refugee-Refugee Relationality: Hospitality and ‘Being With’ Refugees

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) Gender, Religion and Humanitarian Responses to Refugees

Jayawickrama, J. and Rehman, B. (2018) Before defining what is local, let’s build the capacities of humanitarian agencies”

Kidwai, S. and Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2017) Seeking Evidence to Provide Protection: How Can Local Faith Communities Support Refugees?

Reyes, D. (2018) In God We Trust: Faith communities as an asset to refugee youth in the United States

Rowlands, A. (2018) Faith and Displacement Series. Introducing the Series.

Rowlands, A.  (2018) Turkey – Crossroads for the Displaced

Rowlands, A. (2017) Hannah Arendt: On Displacement and Political Judgement

Wagner, A-C. (2018) “There are no missionaries here!” – How a local church took the lead in the refugee response in northern Jordan

Zbeidy, D. (2017)  Widowhood, Displacement and Friendships in Jordan

Featured image:  A church in Kampala.  Source: Wikimedia Commons.


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