Death on the highway

My heart is heavy. I received tragic news this week from a pastor/friend in Kakuma, Kenya. A soccer game in the refugee camp went wrong. Ethnic fighting broke out leaving six refugees dead.

Kakuma is around 60 miles from the border of Kenya and South Sudan. Years of ethnic violence plagues South Sudan. It is no surprise that such outbursts would happen in the camp that is host to tribes that are at war with each other just over the border.

Hopelessness doesn’t help. Many of our friends in Kakuma have been there for decades with no hope of ever leaving. Yet as refugee camps are temporary by definition, neither can they stay forever. The resulting emotional stress is impossible for people like you and I to comprehend – unless you’ve experienced it firsthand yourself.

Add to the stress of having no place in the world, insufficient food rations, restrictions on movement, rationed water, hostile climate, overcrowded schools, etc. and it is a wonder that more such violence doesn’t occur.

May God use the refugee church in Kakuma to help bring reconciliation and restore peace and safety to the camp. Amen.

A cry for help

Translation: “I need help with a couple of things. First, I need counseling – our present situation is even affecting our kids as they are cooped up indoors for long periods of time with nothing to do.”

I got this message yesterday from a friend/pastor who was a refugee in Uganda until this summer when he and his family were forced to uproot again and flee to Kenya. That happened in the last few months.

They are not in a camp. They are among the millions of urban refugees in the world (60% of the worlds refugees are in urban centers).

They are relatively safe for the time being. But the trauma of another sudden displacement, the stress of daily life and the uncertainty of the future are weighing heavily on him and his family.

So he messaged me via WhatsApp. I’m getting in touch with some skilled trauma care people in Kenya to see if they might be able offer him some support. It’s really tricky because trust is low when one has been traumatized and uprooted and everyone is a stranger.

Please pray with me for him. Just call him Pastor P.

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.

Not forgotten

The church is complaining a lot about your absence in Makawi for a very long time!!

This came via WhatsApp today from a refugee pastor and friend named Olivier. He and his family have been in Dzaleka refugee camp for a long long time.

We often keep in touch via WhatsApp – often just a “hello” or an accusatory “did you forget me?” starts a brief interaction.

No one likes being forgotten – especially during a prolonged period of uncertainty and suffering.

He sent me a bunch of photos of his church worshipping in the camp. It is good to see them – and to seem them making due with their roofless church building for now. We hope to help them solve that challenge soon.

Thankfully, two of my IAFR colleagues visit Pastor Olivier in Dzaleka at least twice each year. So he knows he isn’t forgotten by us.

As I already travel to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya an average of 3 times per year, I just don’t have the bandwidth to add a visit to Malawi. Although I am hoping to somehow find a way to get there in 2020.

The undertow

I had a lunch with Pastor Gatera – a former refugee now part of the IAFR team.

It is the 25th anniversary of the infamous Rwandan genocide. Both them are survivors of that darkness. I wanted to give him opportunity to talk about it if he wanted. I asked how he and his wife were doing. His eyes briefly welled up with tears. He managed to hold them back.

He passionately spoke of the need for people to learn from the past and then move on toward a better future. He feels many survivors are stuck in the past. The wounds fester. They still need healing. The ethnic tensions that fueled it may be well hidden but they are alive and well. Sadly, it seems that the powers that be are working to stop healing and learning from taking place.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether the fear and hatred being stirred up toward different people groups in our own culture doesn’t carry with it the potential for similar violence. We too need to learn, heal and choose to move toward a better future or we might find ourselves suddenly caught in a similar undertow.

Struggle and pain

A message from a young Christian man in Kakuma refugee camp today (including a few slight edits for readability)…

i’ve realised that my headache is the result of many sicknesses including the climate, the refugee process, thinking about my future and my lost/missing relatives and basic needs etc. it’s too much. sometimes i don’t want to talk about my life bcause the more i talk the more it hurts me especially at night i can’t sleep again. nightmares

Never underestimate the suffering and pain of being a refugee.