Appoline in Atlanta

Something wonderful happened in February while I was in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. It happened in Atlanta, GA…

A young lady named Appoline who came to the US as a refugee embraced Jesus as the Christ – her Savior and Lord.

This didn’t happen by chance. Many years ago, God moves a Filipina named Sharon to Atlanta to serve as a missionary among refugees. And Sharon connected with Appoline. And she proceeded to connect Appoline with a church there. And God set all this in motion so that Appoline would discover that she is loved by the Creator and Redeemer of all things.

Sharon serves in Atlanta with IAFR. She has a highly relational ministry that includes helping refugee youth discover the love of God.

What a privilege it is to support missionaries like Sharon with a calling to help refugees survive and recover from forced displacement! How encouraging to see God at work through her faithful ministry.

Lives are being transformed along the Refugee Highway.

From a place we’ve never been

Photo: Pastor Gatera

Pastor Gatera’s parents were forced to flee Burundi back in 1972 when war broke out in the region. They were refugees in Rwanda when he was born. Although everyone identifies him as a Burundian even today, he’s never lived there.

I guess it is possible to be from a place we’ve never been.

The 1994 genocide forced him to take flight again. He was separated from his parents in the midst of the violence and chaos. He found refuge in eastern Congo. But war and violence followed him there too…

He was in the middle of his sophomore year of high school when he fled to Tanzania. He tried to resume his studies in the refugee camp there. But the political winds in Tanzania changed and refugees were no longer tolerated. They were to return back to their countries of origin. As strange as it may sound, for him it would mean returning to a place he’d never been.

He knew that was not safe, so he took to the bush and walked over 300 miles (off road so that he would not be caught and arrested) to neighboring Kenya. He was in need of safe shelter and didn’t know where to turn. So he went to a police station and asked to spend the night in the jail. You can imagine their surprise. Thankfully, they came up with a better option.

His first request for refuge was denied in Kenya. The authorities thought he should “return” to Burundi – a place they said he was from, although he had never been there.

He decided to make his way to Kakuma refugee camp in the remote northwest corner of Kenya. Because he was not recognized as a refugee, he was not legally supposed to be in the camp. But he saw no other option.

A refugee church took him in. They cared for him for the next three years. They helped him find shelter and shared their food rations with him. It was during this time in his life that he embraced Jesus as his Savior and Lord.

He says that Jesus completely changed his outlook on his life – past, present and future.

He ultimately received formal refugee status in Kenya and was able to live legally in the camp. It was there that he met his wife (from Rwanda) and raised their three children. He also served as a refugee pastor and gained widespread respect throughout the refugee, NGO and local community.

He was instrumental in the flourishing of an association of churches from within the refugee and surrounding host community. It continues to serve as a powerful force for good today. It is with this Association (United Refugee and Host Churches) that IAFR partners in Kakuma today. They are over 160 churches strong.

After 20 years in the camp, he and his family were resettled to the USA in the fall of 2016. Today he is a missionary with IAFR.

If you ask him,”Where are you from?“, he is likely to say he is from Burundi. A place to which he’s never been.

Is it really possible? -to be from a place we’ve never been?

If I read my Bible correctly, those of us who follow Jesus are citizens of the kingdom of God. It is a citizenship that transcends all other identities we might carry. It is a kingdom more real than any other. It is a kingdom coming. I guess I too am from a place I have not yet been.

Would you like to become a financial partner with Pastor Gatera and his remarkable ministry with IAFR? If so, it’s easy! Just click here and make an online donation today.

Life-changing projects

I picked up website design skills over the years and serve as IAFR’s webmaster. I had the joy of adding 3 IAFR projects to the website yesterday – all part of our work in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi.

All three projects make a significant contribution to a person’s ability to recover from forced displacement.

The Vocational Training Project helps people develop practical skills and abilities that are likely to lead toward meaningful employment.

The Refugee Scholarship Project is helping disadvantaged people qualify for meaningful employment and increases their potential to become social influencers for good.

The Small Business Venture Project is helping people start businesses that will help them survive and make ends meet. These businesses can change the future trajectory of a family.

We’ve already seen how these projects make a tremendous life-giving difference in people’s lives.

We are now opening up the possibility for more people to share in the joy of making such a meaningful difference in the lives of the people in Dzaleka.

Learn more at www.IAFR.org/projects

A milestone

I am humbled and filled with thanksgiving for God’s faithful provision for IAFR ministry in 2018. It is the first year IAFR has received over $1 million in donations. I thank God for every person, church, foundation and business that has partnered with us in this way.

While donations are not an end in themselves, they are an important means toward our being able to accomplish our mission in the world – to help people survive and recover from forced displacement.

Our global reach and impact are directly related to our financial base. Therefore I celebrate this encouraging milestone. πŸŽ‰

The Refugee Church

I just created this 1.5 minute video to use when speaking to an Adult Sunday School Class tomorrow

I’ll be speaking at Hope Presbyterian Church in Richfield, MN, tomorrow morning. I’m taking Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera with me as the church asked me to share about the refugee church and Pastor Gatera spent 20 years of his life in Kakuma refugee camp – and many of those years as a refugee pastor. I can think of no better way to introduce them to the refugee church than to give them the privilege of listening to Pastor Gatera.

IRT

Photo: Sunrise in Minnesota today

I’m at a retreat center 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities this week, meeting with the executive leadership of IAFR Canada πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦ We call the meetings of IAFR executive leadership from the US and Canada our International Round Table (IRT).

They are in the final stages of establishing their organizational systems and will soon be ready to fully engage in ministry among refugees internationally.

While IAFR Canada is an autonomous mission agency, we share a common mission and operations values – so we work closely together toward that end.

While there is a lot of confusion and debate going on in the world concerning refugees, it is good to be together this week working on ways that bring hope and solutions to our uprooted friends.

We are up close and personal with refugees and asylum seekers in many parts of the world and we can testify that there is no need to fear them. There is good reason to partner with them in finding solutions to their displacement. That is where we are putting our time and energy.

Look out world 🌎

Fuel ⛽️

I end this day with a heart filled with gratitude for our generous IAFR partners – individuals, churches, businesses and foundations – that make this ministry possible.

IAFR is a vehicle helping people survive and recover from forced displacement. And our partners are the ones putting fuel in the tank so we can show up along the Refugee Highway in life-giving ways.

Canada’s coming!

Among the highlights of 2018 was the registration of IAFR Canada, an autonomous mission agency that shares the vision, mission and values of IAFR and with whom we partner closely.

In order to strengthen our partnership, my Executive VP (Tim Barnes) and I meet monthly with our peers at IAFR Canada via video conference and twice a year face-to-face. Our first such meeting will be this week, at Mt. Olivet Conference and Retreat Center, about 30 minutes south of Minneapolis.

We’ve got a robust agenda as we anticipate a year that is likely to include new IAFR ministry sites in Iraq, Lebanon, Uganda, Italy (Ventimiglia) and Canada (Winnipeg). As IAFR CA just got it’s charity number in August, we will be discussing how we can continue to set up expectations, systems and agreements that help us partner well together as we seek to enable the church to help people survive and recover from forced displacement in the world.

Anyone who’s engaged in close international partnerships knows that they are more complicated than they first appear. I’m thankful for the highly experienced people that God has brought to the IAFR table. But we still need your prayers for wisdom and discernment as we meet.

Making new friends

Photo: IAFR’s Pastor Gatera speaking to a diverse group of pastors and people engaged in ministry among refugees in St. Cloud, MN

IAFR Board member, Pastor Brian Doten, set up a meeting with Calvary Community Church Outreach Pastor, Steve Eckert, in St. Cloud with a group of people there that are engaged in ministry among resettled refugees.

They invited Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera and I to introduce him and the work of IAFR to the group.

It was an encouraging Saturday afternoon together. There appears to be a good possibility for some ministry partnerships to grow out of the time together.

We are praying that meetings like this will help form the support team needed to partner with Pastor Gatera in his ministry. He is a remarkable leader – both gifted and experienced. I can’t wait to see him more fully released into the vision God has given him.