This autumn marks 50 years since more than 28,000 South Asians arrived in the UK from Uganda after being forced to leave by its then military dictator Idi Amin. Coming as refugees with little to their name, it was a harrowing time for them – carrying just suitcases and memories across continents to a strange new world.

Fast forward to more recent times, and I now count some of the next generation of those refugees among my closest friends. In 2012, we had the immense privilege to visit Uganda to help build a nursery in partnership with Watoto, the organisation famous for its children’s choir. We had awesome memories from that experience, as I’m sure many of the South Asians who lived in Uganda did before their forced expulsion.

The sudden change in lifestyle for each one of these refugees brought many stories of chaos, bewilderment and desperation, but also embedded among them were stories of hope. Here, I share one such story, from Bernice Das, to remind us that God champions the cause of the refugee and as Psalms 68:6 says, God sets the lonely into families.

This brief account of Bernice’s fascinating story can also inspire each of us to be on the front foot for our local church to help today’s refugees:


My childhood years were spent growing up in Uganda, but at the age of 14 things changed virtually overnight! When we were told we had to leave the country within 90 days, there was initial disbelief before the truth set in. My parents had been in Uganda for 40 years; their whole life was there and we found ourselves surreally packing and preparing to leave. I remember them being so confused, fearful and nervous.

We worshipped at St Andrew’s church in Uganda and had made friends with a missionary pastor couple from England, Canon and Mrs Edward Arnold, who had previously served in our church. When they heard the news, they started communicating with my parents, although not often as our phones were apparently being tapped.

At midnight before we left for the UK, our assistant pastor came to pray with us despite it being forbidden at the time, him being African and us Asian. He prayed for us and then took my father’s hand and told him, As God met Jacob on the way when he fled from Esau, likewise God will meet you.’

The next day, our pastor Rev John Holden and two deacons took us to the meeting point for government buses that would take us to Entebbe airport. Tears were shed and blessings were given and we parted.

"He prayed for us and then took my father’s hand and told him, ​‘As God met Jacob on the way when he fled from Esau, likewise God will meet you.’"

Of course, our feelings were of deep sadness. We didn’t know where we were going and where we would be staying. But they had deep faith that God will not let them down.

At Stansted airport, we were ushered out of the planes and into the reception area and given thick woollen coats, hats and gloves. Hearing our family name on the tannoy system was an unnerving sound but we were then told someone had come to pick us up, turning out to be a member of our church in Uganda whilst he had been an expat there. He took us to a vicarage in London and after eight days the Arnolds brought us to their home in Sevenoaks.

We lived with them for a month and with the help of St Nicholas’ Church and London City Mission, they had prepared a home for us in Sevenoaks. The church had generously given us so much that the home even came completely furnished. My parents rented the property at a nominal charge and eventually, after I got married, I bought this very house and I still live in it today 50 years on.

I am now semi-retired, having run my own bridalwear shop in Sevenoaks for many years and will be having my own art exhibition next year. More than that, I just am overflowing with the joy of the Lord right now and deeply thankful for God’s protection, provision and faithfulness to me and my family. He has proved himself to be an awesome God to me.”

This story just shows the impact the church can have on a family’s lives, and are a poignant reminder that we have opportunities like this all the time to provide a rich hope and practical help in times of despair, through the prayers and generosity of the local church.

Maybe God wants you to emulate the pastor who took risks to come and pray with Bernice’s family, or the others who organised and provided clothing, transport or accommodation. I pray for our compassion levels to be heightened at this time of dire need for today’s refugees. After all, true compassion compels – as Bernice’s family found out 50 years ago and have known ever since.