IAFR receives a steady flow of emails and social media messages from refugees that find themselves in difficult situations. Just this week alone I’ve been in dialog with a Christian in Pakistan with grave concerns about the dangers Pakistani refugees face in Thailand; a Nepalese woman in Poland who is asking for advice before seeking asylum somewhere in Europe; and a Syrian in Turkey who is losing hope and desperate to find a way out.
While it isn’t easy to hear of their suffering and loss of hope, I’m glad we can be here for them. Although we are often not able to offer hands on assistance, we are able to affirm their dignity and pray for them. I am often encouraged when they express how much that simple response means to them.
Here are excerpts from my emails with the Syrian refugee in Turkey today:
Part of my initial response to the Syrian’s initial inquiry: “I know that your situation feels like you are stripped of your dignity. Please take heart knowing that your difficult situation does not define you. You are a valuable and loved creation of God. Although your circumstances are difficult, God has not abandoned you. He is with you. We pray that you will know God’s good presence and that you know that he sees you and cares for you.”
The Syrian: “OMG! God bless u sir Tom, i couldn,t believe that u r answering me!! Very kind and gentle of u sir.Thanks for ur supporting words… U r soo gentle and big hearted man full of charity seeds … Swear God u make me optimistic ‘ u really insert hope into my life and there is still charity in this life , because u r there! Yes sir …..it is only reality. Take care of ur self ANGLE Tom, and keep on touch pls.”
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.
I’m going to spend most of my day tomorrow with Kelsey, a twenty-something who joined IAFR last year to serve in Ventimiglia, Italy – an unknown smallish Italian city on the border with France.
Kelsey was with the IAFR research team that stumbled upon Ventimiglia and discovered many asylum-seekers and refugees are living there in squalid conditions – men, women and children from distant countries, most of which are experiencing protracted war.
Kelsey and I are going to explore what to anticipate when pioneering a new IAFR ministry location.
In preparation, I came upon the following definitions of pioneering…
One of the first to settle in a territory
A plant or animal capable of establishing itself in a bare, barren, or open area and initiating an ecological cycle
A person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development
All three of these ideas apply to what Kelsey plans to do. The second bullet point conjures up a beautiful and hopeful image that I hope will prove true of her life in coming years.
Some might look down on her because of her age and think it unreasonable for someone like her to step into the complexities and unknowns of Ventimiglia. But I am partial to twenty-somethings. I was 22 years old when I set out to pioneer ministry in a remote Austrian village that wasn’t even found on maps…
Photo: This morning’s speaker (Dr. Sam George, Lausanne Movement) at the COMIBAM gathering
It’s been a rich couple of days here in Costa Rica. I’ve been so impressed with how God is moving in churches and missions in Latin America concerning refugees.
I’ve met with a guy who has networked with Christians from Panama to Canada to help the church show up in the lives of refugees and migrants on the move in Central America.
I’ve reconnected with a friend from Brazil who leads a ministry that serves refugees in the country, assists refugees with resettlement to Brazil and that is serving refugees in the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia.
I heard how a mission in Argentina has a vision “One Church, One Family” that is connecting churches with refugee families in ways that offer a welcome, extend community, and assistance with integration.
…and that is just a small sample of what these brothers and sisters are doing.
I had the privilege of speaking last night about the unique role of the church in helping refugees survive and recover from forced displacement. I’ve also been give 4x 1 hour small group sessions to introduce the work of IAFR, the Refugee Highway Partnership and World Evangelical Alliance to folks here as resources to support them as they seek the welfare of refugees.
I spent a good part of today trying to trim everything that I could say down to what I can say in 45 minutes (including translation).
I found pencil and notepad more helpful in the creative process than keyboard and monitor.
I know I still need to do some trimming before heading to San Jose on Wednesday morning. I speak Thursday evening. Prayers welcome 🙏🏻
A Tooth Story 🦷
I also went to the dentist to get my permanent crown set into place today. The procedure was a bit more challenging than anyone anticipated as the temporary crown did not want to leave my mouth. Once they got it extracted, the permanent crown didn’t want to go in. A lot of whirring and buzzing and sanding down a neighboring wisdom tooth was needed before it finally agreed to take up its place. My mouth is still recovering.
I took advantage of a chilly Sunday afternoon and prepared a few key slides for my Spanish-speaking audience later this week in Costa Rica.
I’m thankful for the help I got from Eldon Porter as he (or someone he knows) sent me the translation of the words we use on the IAFR Continuum of Response- a tool we created to help assess refugee contexts and develop ministry strategies to help people survive and recover from forced displacement.
I’m looking forward to the gathering of Latin American Missions (COMIBAM) this week. I hope my plenary talk and opportunities to consult with our brothers and sisters there will prove encouraging and helpful.
It’s that time again. I head out to visit my friends in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) this week.
One nice thing about the semi desert there is that it helps me pack light 🙂 Daily highs there are presently hovering around 100 F. Meanwhile back here I watched the snow falling out our window while packing today…
I had a long overdue lunch with my friend and IAFR colleague, Pastor Gatera. We first met when he was pastoring a refugee church in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya). He now lives less than a 15 minute drive from my office in Minneapolis.
We spoke of family, leadership, theology and ministry (both in the US and in Kakuma).
He shared how he has spent his life immersed in multicultural settings. His ministry has always been interdenominational in nature. His posture is always of a learner.
His calling is clear. He has a vision to help strengthen interdenominational associations of churches in refugee contexts. Refugee churches play a life-saving role in keeping hope alive in desperate places. But they get very little support and encouragement from the church-at-large – much less from a highly respected Christian leader who spent 20 years in a refugee camp himself.
He is in the early months of support raising. He needs help developing a network of financial partners.
Would you pray with me that God would raise up a circle of generous donors to release him into ministry? He needs about $5500/month.
One of today’s challenges was to get legal counsel concerning how we process applications for housing in the shelter ministry we operate for asylum seekers in the Twin Cities. Things are often not as simple as they first appear.
I’m thankful for the excellent leadership of Sarah Miller, our local Ministry Leader. I’m also thankful for the wisdom and perspective of Jenn Urban, our legal consultant at Legal for Good on such issues.