Tough questions

What does refugee ministry look like in midst of the Covid-19 pandemic? What does it look like to help refugees stuck in distant camps? Or the asylum seekers in the US we are assisting with shelter? Or the asylum seekers in Athens who recently lost the support of international humanitarian agencies? Or the asylum seekers (minors) living in group shelters in northern France? Or the resettled refugees trying to rebuild their lives in US cities but who are facing the possibility of losing their entry level jobs to quarantine?

These are questions that our IAFR team is wrestling with in this time of uncertainty.

I’m proud of how our team is leaning into this, determined to find creative ways to support our forcibly displaced friends. I’ll be writing more about that soon.

In the meantime, I hope that you are healthy and safe. May God provide our daily bread.


Click here to see the email I sent out to our IAFR email list earlier today.

Disruption

Lockdown. It’s not been a word I’ve heard or used much over the years. Now it is a daily news staple as the world brought to a near standstill by the microscopic corona virus, Covid-19.

As I spent many hours in the Amsterdam airport and later in the petri dish of O’Hare a week ago today, I’ve put myself in voluntary-isolation for two weeks. Given the state is likely to put us all in lockdown in the near future, I don’t expect much will change for me next Sunday.

The number of US states in lockdown is increasing, slowly for now. But they include Illinois, where IAFR Vice President, Tim Barnes, lives. My home state of Minnesota is not yet in full lockdown, but I’m betting that it will be within a week or two. For now, we are free to roam, although restaurants, bars, stadiums, churches, etc. are all closed.

I moved my office into my home last week. I’ve cancelled trips to Seattle and Bangkok that we’re planned for this month. I’m fairly certain other travel for the first 1/2 of the year will also fail to materialize.

We’ve got missionaries in lockdown in Athens, France and Vienna. Our Director of Training had to cancel plans to bring training to Jakarta this month. Plans of a couple IAFR teammates to visit Dzaleka refugee camp (Malawi) in May are also up in the air.

Thanks to the Internet, I’m in regular contact with IAFR teammates and with our refugee partners in Kakuma. I appreciate how everyone is making the best of the situation and seeking ways to encourage and support the most vulnerable people in their orbit.

But like you, I’m concerned about those who are sick and unable to get tested or treated. I’m concerned about those without medical insurance and those with high deductibles. I’m concerned about the welfare of those at the front end of this crisis – from healthcare providers to UPS drivers. I’m concerned for those who’ve suddenly found themselves out of work – people in the hospitality business and those in the entertainment industry. I’m concerned for those who’s retirement savings have gone up in smoke as the stock market is in a tailspin. I’m concerned about refugees and asylum seekers who are often stuck in crowded camps, living in dependence on the global community for water, food, and even soap – at a time when the world seems happy to shut them out and ignore their suffering.

I’m concerned that the worst is yet to come.

Covid-19 fever

Above: Visiting refugee churches in Kalobeyei refugee settlement earlier in the week – part of the Kakuma refugee protection system in remote northwestern Kenya.

I guess I just got lucky. I’m sitting in a more empty than usual airport lounge in Amsterdam, slowly making my way home after a great visit to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (learn more).

Covid-19 fever has hit the world with gusto. The US government put a travel ban into effect at midnight. Only US citizens and residents can fly from Europe to the US now.

While I was en route to the Nairobi airport, Delta sent me a text. My flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was cancelled. Thankfully, Delta worked out an alternative flight plan for me after a few uncertain hours. I’m now flying home via Chicago.

I’ve been told that those of us transiting Europe are to self-quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival in the US.

My plans to meet with a group of churches in Seattle this month have been cancelled, as has my planned trip to Bangkok at the end of the month. I’m doubtful my plans to visit our ministries in France and Austria in early May will come to pass. I won’t be surprised if my plans to fly to Geneva in June for UNHCR NGO consultations will be halted as well.

My wife works at a senior living campus and said that we might also need to keep our distance from each other for 14 days after I return. The elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus. I’m seriously tempted to pitch a tent in the northwoods – except it’s still too cold to be much fun.

I can’t help but look around me and wonder how Covid-19 fever is impacting others.

Travel season

It’s been rather refreshing to have been in the US since mid-November. But the highway is calling again. I’m on the edge of travel season again.

I’ll visit Kenya, Thailand, Seattle, France and Austria in March, April and May. I look forward to making a long overdue visit to my son in NYC somewhere in the middle of the other trips.

I’m thankful for the privilege of seeking the welfare of forcibly displaced people internationally – and for the remarkable support of my wife, Donna, that makes it possible.

IAFR Regional Leader Call

Today was my monthly video conference meeting with IAFR Regional Leaders supporting our ministries in Africa, Europe and the USA – plus our Director of Training (photo).

It was encouraging to hear our Europe Regional Leader (Paul Sydnor) report on the annual Europe Round Table of the Refugee Highway Partnership, with which he serves as part of the core leadership team.

I asked why people go to the Round Table and he quickly said: “It’s for encouragement and networking with like minded Christians serving refugees. There is nothing else like these Round Tables that brought together over 250 people serving refugees in 26 different countries in Europe this year.

IAFR missionaries have played a key role in launching the Refugee Highway Partnership and in helping it gain momentum over the years. We feel this is an important part of our mission – to strengthen such networks. For we know our vision and mission is bigger than we can ever hope to accomplish on our own.

Our US Regional Leader (Sarah Miller) then debriefed her recent research trip along the US southern border. We are prayerfully discerning how God might use IAFR to help people there survive and recover from forced displacement.

Heat in Athens

Our ministry partner in Athens sent me this photo yesterday. They are so thankful for ministry partners that make it possible to help refugees survive the winter in tents by providing portable heaters.

IAFR has a family (Ilir and Kate Cami) serving full-time with our Greek partner agency, One Heart. One Heart was founded by Sahar K. many years ago. She came to Greece as an Iranian Refugee about two decades ago. While a refugee, Sarah embraced faith in Jesus. She has devoted her life to serving refugees in Greece ever since.

What a privilege to serve together with such strategic ministry partners!

Overwhelmed

I chatted (above) with an Iranian leader with whom we partner in Greece. Winter is setting in. Refugees in the camp are suffering from cold and lack of food. The team is doing what they can to help. A church in the Netherlands just shipped 7 tons of rice to the team. Last fall they shipped several tons of beans to the team.

Another IAFR teammate received a request for help in Mali, where there is a massive number of people internally displaced due to escalating violence. The needs are overwhelming. We have no presence there and no ability to help.

We do what we can, but it isn’t enough. This weighs heavily on us all.

Father in heaven – Father here with us, have mercy on these displaced friends. Hear their cries.

Gallery: Behind Bars

Above: It was over 100 F when I came upon these girls in a makeshift refugee camp in southeast Turkey in July 2015. They were among the Yezidi people of Iraq rescued from ISIS by Kurdish forces. Kurds were running the camp – formerly a public park on the outskirts of the big city. They asked me to try and convince the refugees to stay in Turkey and to learn how to govern and defend themselves. But the refugees had suffered many horrors at the hand of ISIS. Many of their women and children had been taken captive. They were determined to risk the dangerous journey over land and sea to the EU – although they knew that the EU was doing everything it could to tighten its borders to stop the inflow of refugees. Meanwhile, these girls were drawing princesses...

IAFR included a photo gallery of some of my photos at our 10 Year Celebration last night. It included 9 high quality acrylic framed prints from the places we have served over the years. You can scroll through them here. If you are interested in owning one, let me know. We would be happy to send you one for $89 plus shipping costs.

All images have been printed and framed using the professional gallery quality services of WhiteWall.com.

Just let me know if you’re interested in owning one (or more) and we will figure out how to pay and ship from there.