A request from Kakuma

You might be surprised by some of the requests we get from our refugee friends. This request came via WhatsApp this morning – it’s for a Bible Dictionary. It’s a demonstration of the critical role faith plays in the lives of displaced people. Sometimes a Bible Dictionary is more valuable than food.

Nicholas Gagai sent the message. He is a strategic full-time worker living and serving with our refugee partners in Kakuma refugee camp. He’s Kenyan and ended up in Kakuma after fleeing post election violence in the country back in 2008.

He serves as the director of KISOM (the refugee established School of Mission) as well as the director of their interdenominational Refugee Youth Ministry.

You can financially partner with Nicholas in his strategic ministry by clicking here.

Photo: Nicholas Gagai in Kakuma

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.

Place

Falingi (above with flag in hand) became an American today along with 731 other people from 81 different countries of origin.

This is a big deal, because Falingi has been a refugee for most of his life. Unchecked violence made his homeland uninhabitable. As he was without parents, his uncle took him into his family. I met them over 10 years ago in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi – among the world’s poorest nations.

Dzaleka was a political prison before it was turned into a refugee camp in 1994 (in response to a wave of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda). Life is hard in Dzaleka.

Above: Dzaleka refugee camp. There are 40,000 Falingis in Dzaleka today.

This is why refugee resettlement to countries like the USA is so important. It offers people like Falingi a chance to regain place in the world and rebuild his life.

It is a travesty that the US has slashed refugee resettlement numbers from an average of 75,000/year to just 18,000 this year.

I spoke with several of the new US citizens today. They were so happy and so proud. Like Falingi, they want to work hard and be a net contributor to society.

In there eyes I saw an America that gave me hope and inspiration.

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.

YMCA

I met Henry Crosby today. He’s the Sr. Director of Social Responsibility at the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities this morning. We met at the Y’s Equity and Innovation Center in downtown Minneapolis. A friend from a past church brought us together. I’m glad she did.

I was so impressed with Henry and the Y’s Equity Center. God knows our city needs the kind of services they offer with the aim of bringing people together. I really appreciate the heart, passion and humility of the Y’s staff.

The Y’s New Americans program is an initiative that is helping refugees and asylum seekers and other migrants find their feet and their place in our society. I’m hoping our local Jonathan House residents will one day benefit from some of their programs!

I discovered that Henry lives near my childhood home in Golden Valley! We’re around the same age so we took a brief detour down memory lane talking about a place in which we share history. Once again Inexperienced how shared place is a powerful connecting force between people.

Sone unlikely threads came together today – a friend from a former church, Golden Valley and a concern for the welfare of displaced people. That was special. And it just might lead to mutual blessing down the road.

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.

Gallery: The Tent

Above: I came across this boy in Kakuma refugee camp. He’s an orphan. He was watching his two sisters cook beans for supper outside of their tent. The tattered U.N. tent had served as their home for many months. While they should have been upgraded to a mud hut long ago, budget cuts have made it impossible for the humanitarian agencies to keep up with the needs. The budget cuts are directly related to the decisions of wealthy nations like the US to reduce their contributions to the UN’s humanitarian service. While no one in the US feels any repercussions of the new policies, this boy and his sisters do. Even their daily allowance of beans has been cut back.

It’s never easy in the camp – but the volume has been turned up when it comes to daily challenges here.

IAFR included a photo gallery of some of my photos at our 10 Year Celebration this year. It included 9 high quality acrylic framed prints from the places we have served over the years. This photo was among them. If you are interested in owning one, let me know. We would be happy to send you a gallery quality 14″ x 8″ acrylic print for $89 plus shipping costs.

All images are 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.

Roots and Causes

People have often asked me about the root causes of forced displacement. They often suggest that it would be wiser for us to focus on finding solutions to those rather than focusing on serving refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people.

It is important to identify root causes. But it is also critical for some of us to also focus our attention, energy and resources on helping those bearing the brunt of systemic violence and hatred in the world. We need to engage the issue of forced displacement on multiple levels at the same time – just as we need ambulances, ERs, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and PT professionals while other industries seek out cures to disease and other life-threatening conditions.

While IAFR is committed to helping the church show up in humanitarian space in life-giving ways, we can’t help but often think about the causes behind the flight of the people we love and serve.

Many think that the root causes of forced displacement include war, persecution, failed states and gross violations of human rights. And while it is true that these are the immediate causes that force people to flee their homes and countries, these are not the root causes.

We have to peel another layer off the onion and ask, what are the forces that ignite wars? What empowers governments to single out specific people and/or groups of people to deny them basic human rights and even persecute them? Why do governments fail, losing the ability to protect and serve their own people? I believe that these questions will help us venture further down the path when it comes to identifying and understanding root causes behind forced displacement.

As we reflect on these questions, we will also begin to see the warning signs within our own societies. Signs that we may be embracing, normalizing and strengthening the very things that fuel the hatred and violence behind forced displacement.

The word “root” is very helpful as roots are underground and out of sight. We will only identify root causes of forced displacement if we dig below the surface.

Consider the buckthorn tree

It’s a fast growing and spreading tree that plagues many of us here in USA. It was brought from Europe to the US in the 1800s and used as an ornamental shrub and helpful windbreak. But what was was initially perceived to be pretty and useful has become a plague. The Minnesota DNR identifies the many ways buckthorn is a threat to our habitat:

  • It out-competes native plants for nutrients, light and moisture
  • It degrades wildlife habitat
  • It threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies
  • It contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor
  • It serves as a host to other pests
  • It forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation
  • It lacks natural controls like insects or disease that would curb its growth

There are many websites devoted to “buckthorn removal”. There is no quick and easy say to defeat buckthorn. It turns out that my multi year battle with buckthorn is the norm and complete victory isn’t possible. I’ll be fighting it for as long as I have a yard.

Because it is difficult to uproot, I initially just cut it off at ground level and did my best to damage the stump thinking it wouldn’t survive. It proved me wrong. My attempt to kill it amounted to pruning it and making it stronger. It’s roots went deeper and it began to shoot up new sprouts everywhere.

I was losing the battle. So, I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed a shovel and dug them out, one by one. It became quickly apparent that my earlier attempts at killing the trees simply made their root system stronger and more difficult to uproot. It turns out that it is far easier to uproot a young buckthorn tree than it is an older one.

I am impressed with the way buckthorn sinks and establishes its roots. Not only do they go deep, they also shoot off major root systems horizontally – often somewhere around 6-12″ under the soil. And those off shoots make the trees really tough to uproot. It is often impossible to do without a shovel.

Back to root causes

I mention all of this simply to underline that dealing with root issues may not prove to be a quick and simple solution to the escalating numbers of people being forced to flee their homes and countries. The root issues are not making the news headlines. They lurk under the surface. If we focus on the immediate causes of forced displacement alone, we may later discover we have been unintentionally strengthening the root causes.

I am going to ponder the seeds that give life to the forces of hatred and violence that uproot people. I hope you will too. I welcome your comments and thoughts.

I expect that we will find the roots of much of today’s displacement are centuries old and that they have entangled themselves deep within our own hearts over the generations.