I am presently with a group of 17 other Christian leaders for four days of meetings here in Bangkok.
We are all connected through the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP), a global network of Christians serving refugees that I helped launch back in 2001.
The RHP has grown significantly over the years and it is high time that we updated some of the structure and systems that keep us all connected.
With networks well established in Europe, North America, Brazil and Turkey – and emerging networks in East Africa, Oceana, South Asia and Central America, the RHP plays an important role in raising awareness of refugee realities and the unique role the church can play in helping people survive and recover from forced displacement.
This shrine (photo) is across the street from the Christian Guest House that is hosting us.
This picture tells a thousand stories. I met Insaf (bottom left) in 1998 when researching refugee ministry opportunities in Istanbul (her husband, Shawki, is far right). They were refugees from Iraq. They turned my understanding of refugee ministry on its head. They had planted a refugee church in Istanbul by accident. Before finally getting resettled to Canada 🇨🇦 in 2001, they were also running a school for refugee children (that included a daily meal) out of the church. Insaf continues to serve refugees in the Middle East today with IAFR Canada.
Innocent is the African in the photo. He has a Burundian passport, even though he spent all but 3 months of his first 27 years outside of Burundi as a refugee. We met in Malawi back in 2007 (I think) and a have been partnering in ministry together in Dzaleka refugee camp ever since.
Then there’s Jake (middle). I met him in Malawi too. He was serving with Innocents organisation (There Is Hope). Jake joined IAFR when he and his wife returned to the states a few years ago. He presently serves as our Regional Leader for East Africa.
And Rachel is in the photo too. We first met when she was serving refugees in Athens. She and her husband, Tim, went on to pioneer ministry in Rome and later in London. They now serve with IAFR. She’s our Director of Training and Tim (not pictured) is our Assistant Director of Operations.
We all met at the North American Round Table of the Refugee Highway Partnership in Toronto last week.
I count myself blessed to be counted among their friends.
I spent the past few days in Toronto meeting with the executive leadership of IAFR Canada. We meet face to face twice annually in order to invest in our relationship, assess progress and challenges, listen to God and confirm our commitment to partnering internationally as we pursue our common mission.
We ended our time together last night gathered in the backyard of one of the board members for a tasty supper of Lebanese kebabs (photo).
It was encouraging to have met some of their new teammates as well as sit in on their board meeting. It is a joy and privilege to be serving together along the Refugee Highway.
Photo: Executive Leadership of IAFR US (Myself and Tim Barnes) and Canada (Laura Dobrowolski and Rob Perry)
Photo: Sunrise in Minnesota today
I’m at a retreat center 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities this week, meeting with the executive leadership of IAFR Canada 🇨🇦 We call the meetings of IAFR executive leadership from the US and Canada our International Round Table (IRT).
They are in the final stages of establishing their organizational systems and will soon be ready to fully engage in ministry among refugees internationally.
While IAFR Canada is an autonomous mission agency, we share a common mission and operations values – so we work closely together toward that end.
While there is a lot of confusion and debate going on in the world concerning refugees, it is good to be together this week working on ways that bring hope and solutions to our uprooted friends.
We are up close and personal with refugees and asylum seekers in many parts of the world and we can testify that there is no need to fear them. There is good reason to partner with them in finding solutions to their displacement. That is where we are putting our time and energy.
Look out world 🌎
Among the highlights of 2018 was the registration of IAFR Canada, an autonomous mission agency that shares the vision, mission and values of IAFR and with whom we partner closely.
In order to strengthen our partnership, my Executive VP (Tim Barnes) and I meet monthly with our peers at IAFR Canada via video conference and twice a year face-to-face. Our first such meeting will be this week, at Mt. Olivet Conference and Retreat Center, about 30 minutes south of Minneapolis.
We’ve got a robust agenda as we anticipate a year that is likely to include new IAFR ministry sites in Iraq, Lebanon, Uganda, Italy (Ventimiglia) and Canada (Winnipeg). As IAFR CA just got it’s charity number in August, we will be discussing how we can continue to set up expectations, systems and agreements that help us partner well together as we seek to enable the church to help people survive and recover from forced displacement in the world.
Anyone who’s engaged in close international partnerships knows that they are more complicated than they first appear. I’m thankful for the highly experienced people that God has brought to the IAFR table. But we still need your prayers for wisdom and discernment as we meet.
Photo: The long and winding ramps of the Canadian Museum of Human Right take you on an uphill journey through a history of human oppression and crimes against humanity with frequent calls to learn from the past and to treat each other with dignity and respect.
Photo: The museum includes Jesus as a proponent of love and respect for our fellow man.
Walking through the museum felt very up close and personal. I was with a pastor of a local church that is 90% former refugees and a Somali Christian who fled persecution and is hoping to find refuge in Canada. Our Somali friend bought our entry tickets.
It is a walk through darkness and light. It remembers mankind at our worst while calling us to be our best. It is a testimony to our brokenness and exposes our twisted hearts. It awakens hope that we can somehow overcome our bent toward evil.
There are reminders in the daily news that we can still call down darkness and partner with the enemy who is determined to convince us that we no longer bear the image of our Creator.
But we do.
I left with fresh conviction to do what I can to call people into the life-giving kingdom of God within which hearts change and from which darkness flees.
Photo: friends serving refugees in Winnipeg
The Canadian immigration officer was looking at my passport.
Officer: You travel a lot. What do you do?
Me: “I serve refugees.
Officer: Where do you travel?
Me: A lot of places, but I visit Kenya most frequently.
Officer: Where do you work in Kenya?
Me (wondering where this is going): Kakuma refugee camp.
Officer: Do you work in other places in Kenya?
Me (a light went on): We’re you a Refugee in Kenya?
Me: Were you perhaps in Dadaab refugee camp?
Officer: Yes. Did you ever visit Dadaab?
Me: I have not. But isn’t it amazing that we are here together now – and you are welcoming me to Canada?
Officer: Yes. It is amazing indeed. Welcome to Canada.
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.