Friendships or Relationships?

I came across this chart while preparing for a training session I’ll be giving this weekend to a group of Christians serving resettled refugees in San Diego. It shows how the use of the word “friendship” has been in decline over the past 200+ years, starting at 1800 and ending at 2008. It resonates as true and struck a deep chord of sorrow in my heart.

As I reflect on this I realize how often I speak in terms of the need to build relationships rather than friendships. Perhaps because the word “relationships” feels less demanding?

While friendships grow out of relationships, all too often I settle for less than the pursuit of friendship with others. And yet it is friendship for which I long. I bet that is true for most of us – including those who have been forced to flee their homes and homelands.

Among the things I want to emphasize in the training session is the need for us to not only help refugees in “practical” ways and through various programs – but by building authentic friendships with them.

We cared so deeply that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own lives as well. That is how beloved you have become to us.”
The Apostle Paul | 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Paul, A Biography

I stumbled upon NT Wright several years ago as I was looking for writers/historians/theologians who could help me better understand the historical context of the Gospels and books of the New Testament. I forget which of his books I read first, but I remember feeling like yelling “eureka!” at the time (I may well have). I found what I was looking for.

I’m presently reading his book, “Paul, A Biography“. I’m pretty sure it’s going to rank among the best books I’ll read in 2019. It is filled with helpful historical context while also humanizing Paul and clarifying how remarkable he and his work were within their context.

Unlike some of NT’s writings, this book is not a heavy read. But it is an important read. I highly recommend it.

From a place we’ve never been

Photo: Pastor Gatera

Pastor Gatera’s parents were forced to flee Burundi back in 1972 when war broke out in the region. They were refugees in Rwanda when he was born. Although everyone identifies him as a Burundian even today, he’s never lived there.

I guess it is possible to be from a place we’ve never been.

The 1994 genocide forced him to take flight again. He was separated from his parents in the midst of the violence and chaos. He found refuge in eastern Congo. But war and violence followed him there too…

He was in the middle of his sophomore year of high school when he fled to Tanzania. He tried to resume his studies in the refugee camp there. But the political winds in Tanzania changed and refugees were no longer tolerated. They were to return back to their countries of origin. As strange as it may sound, for him it would mean returning to a place he’d never been.

He knew that was not safe, so he took to the bush and walked over 300 miles (off road so that he would not be caught and arrested) to neighboring Kenya. He was in need of safe shelter and didn’t know where to turn. So he went to a police station and asked to spend the night in the jail. You can imagine their surprise. Thankfully, they came up with a better option.

His first request for refuge was denied in Kenya. The authorities thought he should “return” to Burundi – a place they said he was from, although he had never been there.

He decided to make his way to Kakuma refugee camp in the remote northwest corner of Kenya. Because he was not recognized as a refugee, he was not legally supposed to be in the camp. But he saw no other option.

A refugee church took him in. They cared for him for the next three years. They helped him find shelter and shared their food rations with him. It was during this time in his life that he embraced Jesus as his Savior and Lord.

He says that Jesus completely changed his outlook on his life – past, present and future.

He ultimately received formal refugee status in Kenya and was able to live legally in the camp. It was there that he met his wife (from Rwanda) and raised their three children. He also served as a refugee pastor and gained widespread respect throughout the refugee, NGO and local community.

He was instrumental in the flourishing of an association of churches from within the refugee and surrounding host community. It continues to serve as a powerful force for good today. It is with this Association (United Refugee and Host Churches) that IAFR partners in Kakuma today. They are over 160 churches strong.

After 20 years in the camp, he and his family were resettled to the USA in the fall of 2016. Today he is a missionary with IAFR.

If you ask him,”Where are you from?“, he is likely to say he is from Burundi. A place to which he’s never been.

Is it really possible? -to be from a place we’ve never been?

If I read my Bible correctly, those of us who follow Jesus are citizens of the kingdom of God. It is a citizenship that transcends all other identities we might carry. It is a kingdom more real than any other. It is a kingdom coming. I guess I too am from a place I have not yet been.

Would you like to become a financial partner with Pastor Gatera and his remarkable ministry with IAFR? If so, it’s easy! Just click here and make an online donation today.

Violence in Nairobi

After an extended season of relative quiet, Nairobi suffered a terrorist attack today. The dust is still settling, so the death toll remains uncertain.

As far as I know, our many friends there were not among the victims. Yet I know any such attack causes everyone a measure of trauma.

Violence. It is the ultimate fruit of sin when it has matured. Cain’s sin moved him to kill Abel. Violence was so prevalent at one time that God grieved he made us. He gave us another chance after the flood. When God later walked among us, the religious and political powers of the day turned on him in extreme violence. And yet, among Jesus’ final words were “Father, forgive them.”

Most of the refugees we serve are victims of unchecked violence in their homelands. They see no alternative but to flee to another country in hope of finding safety.

Around 1/2 million refugees have sought temporary refuge in Kenya. I have little doubt that today’s violence in Nairobi awakened old fears.

Maranatha. Lord Jesus, come.

Click here to read a related news report.

Isaiah 58

After assessing a pile of Christmas cards, I made this. I find myself imagining how different the world would be if these words marked our lives. From what the prophet wrote, it is in everybody’s best interest to look out for the needs of those who are most vulnerable.

Winnipeg

I’m flying up to Winnipeg (Canada) this morning. I’ll spend a couple of days visiting an IAFR teammate who relocated there from the US earlier this year. Once she gets her work permit, she plans to join IAFR Canada and pioneer IAFR’s work in Winnipeg.

My aim is simple. I hope to offer encouragement, gain a better understanding of the refugee context, and meet with our existing friends and network there.