Maximum flexibility

My March travel plans include Kenya (assessed as the 6th highest risk city in Africa for a Covid-19 outbreak), Seattle (where Covid-19 claimed its first US casualty) and Bangkok, the highest risk city outside of China for an outbreak.

My plans to go to Kenya (Kakuma refugee camp) are still on. I’m still planning on Seattle too. Bangkok is likely going to be cancelled – Delta has already cancelled flights from Minneapolis to Seoul (through which I would need to fly to get to Bangkok).

Those who know me know one of my creeds is, “maximum flexibility!” It’s taking on a whole new meeting in March.

Answering Why?

I spent some time last week trying to honestly and concisely answer the question, “Why do we do what we do?” My initial answer is below. I’m in the process of running this by board members, colleagues and a theologian for further input. So far, it seems to deeply resonate with our team. It’s both beautiful and powerful to put words on deeply held convictions.

Why do we what do what we do?

Our mission flows out of the heart of our good and loving Creator and our relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Bible reveals that God hears, sees and cares for all humankind – with Jesus being the ultimate revelation as his incarnation, life, sacrifice and death demonstrate just how far God’s love will go to rescue us from evil, restore us to Himself and bring about the renewal of all things.

The Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts, compelling us to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Fueled by God’s love and empowered by his Holy Spirit, we are compelled to help people survive and recover from forced displacement.

We serve with hope even in the midst of sorrow and suffering. For by Jesus’ resurrection and promised return, we know that love and life get the final word rather than evil and death. We have this hope not only in this life, but in the life to come. Jesus has risen and so will we.

As we serve, we pray and long for the time when all things will be made new and life and peace will fill the earth – and there will be no more refugees.

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.

Asia calling

In the past couple of weeks, we have received serious invitations to help refugee related ministries in Asia – including a group of pastors in Myanmar, a network of churches in Jakarta, and a mission serving refugees in Bangkok.

We sense God is somehow in this and are praying that he will show us our part in what he is doing in the region.

I’m praying that God leads us to people and financial partners that will make it possible to extend our work into this region.

Stay tuned.

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.

The IAFR Service Team

The IAFR “Service Team” came to the Minnesota office last week for our annual assessment and planning sessions. We are a decentralized team, with two in Peoria, IL, two more in Grand Rapids, MI, and four of us here in the Twin Cities. While we get a lot done working remotely and leveraging Zoom video conferencing, we occasionally need to meet face to face for more in-depth assessment and decision-making.

A highlight of our meetings last week was the shared conviction that the Service Team measures our success by the effectiveness of our missionaries in the field, who in turn, measure their effectiveness by their life-giving impact in the lives of refugees where they serve.

I thank God for the privilege of working alongside of these devoted colleagues!

The Service Team includes IAFR’s…

  • US Regional Leader – supporting our teams in Colorado, Georgia, and Minnesota
  • Director of Training – both internal missionary training and external training opportunities for other missions and churches
  • Our Director or Project Management – assisting with the development of new projects and tracking active projects
  • Assistant Director of Operations – assisting the Executive VP, primarily with mobilisation
  • Executive Team Assistant – assisting the President and Executive VP as needed
  • Executive Vice President – Overseeing Finance, HR, Service Team
  • President – Overseeing Regional Leader support, IAFR US – IAFR Canada collaboration, Board Development, Development, Publications, Website, engagement with World Evangelical Alliance
  • Director of Social Media – she’s presently in training and raising support. We hope to see her active by early 2020

Back to Kakuma…

I begin another trip to Kakuma refugee camp in remote northwestern Kenya today. I am looking forward to seeing how our friends there are doing. I’m taking three people with me, including Jenna (a pastor from my church), Wendy (on staff with a local refugee resettlement agency) and Paul (IAFR’s Europe Regional Leader).

We’ve got a full schedule that includes…

  • A day seminar on Christian Stewardship with leaders from churches in Kakuma camp and surrounding host community. This is at their request.;
  • Sunday worship with churches in the camp and surrounding host community;
  • A 2 day women’s ministry conference with women from the camp and host community;
  • A day gathering of a diverse slice of people living in the camp to learn from them about daily life in Kakuma;
  • A day gathering with church leaders in nearby Kalobeyei refugee settlement to deepen our relationships as so much of our previous time has focused on projects;
  • A visit with our friends and partners in the nearby camp for internally displaced people (i.e. Kenyans) with whom we have been building shelter and working on providing a local supply of clean water;
  • Visits with friends in the refugee camps, the IDP camp, and the host community;
  • Documenting progress on the many projects we are pursuing in the Kakuma context (i.e. IDP Water Project, IDP Shelter Project, KISOM School Building Project, Refugee Youth Camp Project, Refugee/IDP High School Scholarship Project, Refugee Church Building Project)

It’s important to note that we never do more than 50% of the teaching/speaking at conferences/seminars with our refugee brothers and sisters as we have at least as much to learn from them as they do from us.

We need and welcome your prayers for safe travels, good health, and fruitful ministry while in Kenya!

I plan to post a few updates from Kakuma to the IAFR Kenya blog – so be sure to check it out. You can also see posts from previous visits.

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.

10

I can’t let this day pass without thanking people like you that have encouraged, prayed for and supported IAFR during our first 10 years of ministry!

We registered as a nonprofit in Minnesota on 30 June 2009. At the time, I was filled with questions concerning where God would take us. All I knew was a clear sense of calling that it was time to establish an international mission designed for ministry in humanitarian space.

I look back today and see God’s fingerprints all over the journey.

How thankful I am to have the privilege of serving refugees since 1980!