Photo: A Persian feast in Athens
I arrived in Athens this afternoon. It is good to reconnect with old friends and colleagues here around a table filled with Persian specialties.
I am encouraged to hear how God is at work in the lives of refugees in this difficult place and look forward to seeing how we might encourage those serving them.
I depart for Athens tomorrow to visit the ministry of One Heart, a Christian agency that is serving refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. The founder and director is a former refugee herself. Originally from Iran, she embraced Jesus while in Athens many years ago. We know each other from back when I served with International Teams.
She initially reached out to me a few months ago as her ministry was going through some major changes. As we talked it became apparent that our missions have a lot in common. I couldn’t help but think that if IAFR went to start a ministry in Greece, it would probably look a lot like what One Heart is doing.
We began to explore whether One Heart and IAFR might mutually benefit from a ministry partnership that included IAFR sending them missionaries and helping raise funds for select ministry projects in Greece.
And so my bags are packed and I will soon get a firsthand view of the ministry of One Heart together with our IAFR Europe Regional Leader (Paul Sydnor).
In the 20th Century it seems that missions assumed the way to develop was to establish themselves in as many countries as possible. I think the 21st Century is calling missions like IAFR to pursue a different paradigm – that of forming strategic partnerships with like-minded missions and agencies in other countries.
He was originally from Somalia, but when things fell apart there, he was forced to flee to Kenya. He spent something like 25 years in Kakuma refugee camp. No wonder he calls it home. And that’s where we got to know each other. I always looked forward to visiting him when I was in Kakuma.
A few years ago he was resettled to the US and now lives about 25 minutes from my home in Minneapolis. I think we both thought that we would see a lot more of each other here. But it turns out we are both pretty busy with life. It was nice yesterday when we finally managed to meet for a long overdue cup of tea followed by lunch at his favorite local Somali restaruant.
Our conversation went all over the place as we caught up together. But there was a recurring theme: “We’ve got to do something to bring our people together here.”
He’s right. I know people from “my world” that are afraid of Somali people. He knows people in “his world” that feel rejected and even hated by people here. We agreed that if this continues, it will not lead to anything good.
It is challenging to try and bring our different worlds together. But when we think less in terms of the masses and more in terms of our friends it becomes doable. Still, even bringing our friends together is likely to prove difficult – mostly because people are so busy and spread apart. We will still give it a try.
I’m going to start by connecting with the growing group of friends here who have traveled with me to Kakuma.
If we can spread a table and bring our worlds together a few lives at a time, the false assumptions, fears and distance between us might just begin to fall away. And that just might help usher in a day when our worlds become one.
A young man in a Middle East war zone asked a friend of his living in Central America if he knew of any trustworthy friends in a country in North Africa. He plans to flee there soon.
The friend in Central America messaged me last night to ask if I know of any such brothers and sisters. I reached out to some friends in the North African country and am waiting to hear back.
The church is a remarkable global community.
I pray there is a brother that will be able to meet this young man when he arrives in search of refuge.
The association of refugee churches with whom we partner in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) has grown from 7 to over 160 churches since 2000. But they have not updated their organisational systems and structures to cope with the growth.
I spent most of today consulting with Pastor Gatera, former Chairman of the association of churches in Kakuma, to discuss some basic organisational structures/frameworks for them to consider.
It was time well spent as they now own land, a building and have a growing arsenal of ministry resources (including a solar projector).
While such discussion isn’t exactly exciting, it turns out that the long-term effectiveness of their work depends upon clear and strong organisational systems – no easy feat in a refugee camp environment.
My role is not to tell them what to do or how to do it. They are fully able to make such decisions. But they are cut off from the rest of the world and they value outside perspective and input as they think such things through.
I’ll be visiting them again next month and suspect that we will spend some concentrated time discussing these things in depth together.
A leader of a well established refugee ministry in Greece reached out to IAFR this past week to begin exploring the possibility of a close ministry partnership that would include IAFR sending missionaries and resources – basically relating to their organisation as we do our IAFR teams.
This seems to be a promising possibility, so I’m looking at my calendar to find time to pay them a visit this spring. It is important to see their work, understand their context and talk this over in more detail.
Would you please pray with us as we consider this together?
Photo: Executive Leadership of IAFR US (Myself and Tim Barnes) and Canada (Laura Dobrowolski and Rob Perry)
I end this day with a heart filled with gratitude for our generous IAFR partners – individuals, churches, businesses and foundations – that make this ministry possible.
IAFR is a vehicle helping people survive and recover from forced displacement. And our partners are the ones putting fuel in the tank so we can show up along the Refugee Highway in life-giving ways.
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.