Step 1: Soap

I was so happy to wake up this morning and find this photo on my WhatsApp feed! It is from our refugee friends and partners in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya (population just under 200,000 people).

IAFR wired funds to them this week to help them combat a potential outbreak of coronavirus in the camp. They wasted no time buying soap (photo).

They’re now waiting for the arrival of a shipment of 50 liter water tanks and nozzles. Once they arrive, our partners plan to turn the 162 churches in their network into badly needed soap distribution centers. The churches are already strategically embedded throughout the camp and host community.

How good to see the refugee church actively engaging their community on the front lines of the coronavirus response!

May God use his people and the soap to protect the extremely vulnerable people there!

The best care-givers

I woke up to a WhatsApp text this morning. It was from a Somali refugee. She wanted to know if my family was okay. She knows the Covid-19 virus is loose in America. She said she is praying for us.

I also spoke with a Turkana pastor in Kakuma this morning. He too wanted me to know that he was concerned and praying for us.

Those who have suffered are often the best care givers. They know uncertainty and loss.

How beautiful to start my day with their kind words of encouragement.

Soap in the desert

Above: a life-saving soap distribution center

Refugee camps have been identified as among the most vulnerable places to a Covid-19 outbreak.

I reached out to our refugee partner agency (URHC) in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) to see if we can do anything to help deter such an outbreak. We identified that one of the most urgent and needed things in the camp was soap.

Most of us living in countries of influence and power take soap for granted. It plays an often taken for granted role in our lives – keeping us healthy.

But our forcibly displaced friends live in harsh circumstances without access to stuff as simple and essential as soap.

As we talked together, we realized that the 162 refugee churches with whom we partner could all be transformed into local soap distribution centers! All they need is a 50 liter tank, a tap, liquid soap and water.

We did the math. It would take just under $40 to set up one church with everything – including 1 month’s supply of soap. Thereafter it would cost $7 per church to resupply them with another month’s worth of soap. It sounded doable.

After working out the plan and budget, I spoke with a friend and mentioned my excitement to have found a way to help the churches in Kakuma serve and protect their communities. That friend got excited too – and within a couple of days made a donation to cover the setup and 4 months’ worth of soap for all 162 churches!

It took my breath away. God is clearly determined to provide this protection for the vulnerable people in Kakuma!

So IAFR wired the first round of funds earlier this week. The refugee churches are preparing to set up their soap distribution systems.

I’m hoping and praying that the soap begins to flow before the weekend in Kakuma!

Buffalo Bicycles

Above: A Buffalo Bicycle. Photo: World Relief.

It’s not easy to get around a refugee camp that covers 12 square miles with a population of over 160,000 – many of whom have been stuck there for decades. That’s the situation in Kakuma refugee camp, in remote northwestern Kenya.

So it is understandable that our friends there would ask if we could help them get bicycles for 15 of the key leaders of an association of 162 churches in the camp and surrounding host community. The request came by WhatsApp this morning.

We’ve worked together for a decade and I know the need is legit. I wrote up a project proposal for our board’s consideration at our meeting later this month.

15 bicycles @ $180/bike = $2,700

The bikes they want are called “Buffalo bicycles”, presumably because they’re tough. I’ve seen them in the camp where the roads are rough and unkempt. It’s pretty much an off-road bicycleland.

Each bike will be used to connect, encourage, equip and assist churches throughout the camp and in the host community (in which living conditions aren’t much better than in the camp).

I’m hoping and praying that we can come up with the funding quickly.

“Glory to God!”

Above: a refugee church worships together in the little shade they can find. They will soon have a metal roof under which they can gather, thanks to our IAFR financial partners contributions to the Refugee Church Building fund.

Above: another refugee church getting a roof in Kalobeyei refugee settlement near Kakuma, Kenya.

These communities of faith play an indispensable role in helping people survive in Kakuma.

One of our partners sent his thanks via WhatsApp:

“Amen!! Glory to God, and so much blessings to the donors and to those who put in enormous energy and dedication to channel these funds to these points of need.”

*Photos sent to me via WhatsApp from our refugee partner in Kakuma

Feeling used

It was “open mic Sunday” at our church today. So I braced myself for the worst before heading inside.

Pastor Jenna invited people to share a way that God showed up in their lives this past year. A beautiful series of stories surfaced as brave souls raised their hands.

A sister in our church shared how hard it has been to re-enter life in the US after several years of ministry in South Africa. She then said God showed up this year when we met during our annual church retreat.

She recounted telling Donna and I about her struggle. Apparently we responded by saying that “it can be tough when everyone here is sure that it is great to be back“. That was it – the words she needed to hear at that time. She felt seen and understood.

That was a significant God moment for her this year. And neither Donna or I had a clue just how much that simple encounter meant to her until today.

I have to confess, it feels good to be used of God in someone’s life.

I wonder how often God uses you and me like that – without our ever knowing? I hope and pray it is often.

Needing shelter in the Cities

The text came during supper tonight. A man in the Twin Cities needs shelter…

He fled Somali and while uprooted has come to be a follower of Jesus. And while the US government acknowledges that he would likely be killed for his faith if deported back to Somalia, it still refused to give him asylum – permanent refuge and a pathway to citizenship. So the US will not deport him – but they will also not grant him place – or even a work permit at this time.

How is someone supposed to live in the US without a work permit?

It’s a cruel joke as it feeds the misinformed stereotype that refugees and migrants are lazy. This man desperately wants to work and earn his keep. But the US won’t let him.

He’s spent the past 18 months in a Salvation Army shelter. Their policy is to limit people to 12 months in a shelter – but they understand this brother has nowhere to go.

A friend of mine who once worked in Somalia asked if IAFR might have a space for this brother in one of our Jonathan Houses – homes in which we offer shelter to asylum seekers during the 6-18 months that they are not able to legally work in the US while their case is examined. They don’t even get access to social services during this time.

It’s like we are trying to set vulnerable people up to fail.

I messaged our local IAFR Ministry Leader about this need. She quickly replied that there is a space open in the Jonathan House for men. Within a couple of hours I was able to connect my friend with our team in Minnesota.

This is when the church shines.

Strangers connect through the amazing network of the Church in order to help a vulnerable stranger in our community.

Even if we are able to meet this Somali brother’s need for shelter, he still faces life challenges the size of Goliath. He needs our prayers. He needs a supportive community of faith. He needs healing after living in a state of toxic stress for so many years. He needs place.

For these we pray. So be it.