It was “open mic Sunday” at our church today. So I braced myself for the worst before heading inside.
Pastor Jenna invited people to share a way that God showed up in their lives this past year. A beautiful series of stories surfaced as brave souls raised their hands.
A sister in our church shared how hard it has been to re-enter life in the US after several years of ministry in South Africa. She then said God showed up this year when we met during our annual church retreat.
She recounted telling Donna and I about her struggle. Apparently we responded by saying that “it can be tough when everyone here is sure that it is great to be back“. That was it – the words she needed to hear at that time. She felt seen and understood.
That was a significant God moment for her this year. And neither Donna or I had a clue just how much that simple encounter meant to her until today.
I have to confess, it feels good to be used of God in someone’s life.
I wonder how often God uses you and me like that – without our ever knowing? I hope and pray it is often.
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.
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.
We had a great time last night celebrating the first 10 years of IAFR ministry with around 90 friends, partners, refugees and asylum seekers. We remembered our beginnings and highlight some of the different ways we are all partnering together to help people survive and recover from forced displacement.
The evening included a photo gallery of high quality framed prints from some of the photos I’ve taken over the years (above).
We were so happy to celebrate how God has given us the privilege of participating with him as he answers the prayers of our uprooted friends.
While most of those who came were from the Twin Cities, we were thrilled to have people fly in from Washington DC (from National Presbyterian Church) and Seattle (our Board Chair and a friend from her churches’ mission board) and even LA (my daughter, Sarah, surprised me by flying into MN for the weekend).
Kudos to my colleague and IAFR Executive VP, Tim Barnes, for planning the program (above).
I came away with a thankful heart for everyone who makes IAFR possible!
“You guys are all about restoring dignity and hope to people.”
That’s what a professional consultant and marketer told me after spending six hours together with him and a handful of friends last weekend. They had come to hear about the ministry of IAFR. After a 30-45 minute overview, they pummeled us with questions about refugee realities and what the work looks like on the ground. It was so encouraging.
It was clear the consultant/marketing guy was running all we said through his filters as he tried to identify IAFR’s unique contribution to the world of refugee response. And I think he nailed it.
Human dignity and hope are no small thing, just ask someone who has lost them.
He also offered to help us sharpen our communication about the mission and impact of IAFR. I look forward to taking him up on it.
I am often asked this question. Here is my best shot at a brief answer…
Our Mission Field
Our mission field is the Refugee Highway – the well-worn routes people travel in search of safety. This is where we find our fellow human beings, made in the image of God, spilling out of the deepest and darkest wounds in the world today.
We are helping people survive and recover from forced displacement together with the church.
What We Do
We demonstrate the love of God for those who have been forcibly displaced by hatred and violence. We pray for the privilege of participating with God in his answers to their prayers.
We introduce forcibly displaced people to Jesus – He is the ultimate revelation of God and his love for us.
We partner with the refugee church, breaking her isolation and investing in her capacity in ways that strengthen hope and fuel resilience in refugee contexts.
We train and consult with churches, missions, agencies and individuals serving forcibly displaced people.
We advocate on behalf of forcibly displaced people, seeking to create space in the hearts and minds of people (especially Christians) for refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people
The IAFR Continuum of Response (below) shows the ministry strategy we contextualize to suite the diverse locations we serve. There is a lot packed into it. Let me know if you would like to know more.
Why We Refuse to Lose Heart
I have often been asked why I haven’t burned out after nearly 40 years of working among people in crisis. Of course, the biggest reason is God’s grace. The needs we face are relentless and the burden is often heavy. But there are three realities that help keep hope alive and my heart and mind resilient.
God has been at work in and through the lives of forcibly displaced people ever since Adam and Eve were uprooted from the Garden. God met them on the other side. God is meeting refugees in remarkable ways today too.
Refugees are more than people in need. They are an important part of the solution to the challenges they endure. They are a huge source of inspiration in my life.
The church can be found all along the Refugee Highway. When at her best, she plays a unique and essential role in helping people survive and recover from forced displacement – a role that humanitarian agencies are not able to fill. The kinds of ministries listed on the green line called “Recovery Work” in the Continuum of Response (above) are well-suited to the ministry of a healthy church.