Old Friends

Photo: A Persian feast in Athens

I arrived in Athens this afternoon. It is good to reconnect with old friends and colleagues here around a table filled with Persian specialties.

I am encouraged to hear how God is at work in the lives of refugees in this difficult place and look forward to seeing how we might encourage those serving them.

To Athens

I depart for Athens tomorrow to visit the ministry of One Heart, a Christian agency that is serving refugees and asylum seekers in Greece. The founder and director is a former refugee herself. Originally from Iran, she embraced Jesus while in Athens many years ago. We know each other from back when I served with International Teams.

She initially reached out to me a few months ago as her ministry was going through some major changes. As we talked it became apparent that our missions have a lot in common. I couldn’t help but think that if IAFR went to start a ministry in Greece, it would probably look a lot like what One Heart is doing.

We began to explore whether One Heart and IAFR might mutually benefit from a ministry partnership that included IAFR sending them missionaries and helping raise funds for select ministry projects in Greece.

And so my bags are packed and I will soon get a firsthand view of the ministry of One Heart together with our IAFR Europe Regional Leader (Paul Sydnor).

In the 20th Century it seems that missions assumed the way to develop was to establish themselves in as many countries as possible. I think the 21st Century is calling missions like IAFR to pursue a different paradigm – that of forming strategic partnerships with like-minded missions and agencies in other countries.

A call from Jakarta

A group of churches in Jakarta (Indonesia) asked IAFR to meet with them on a Zoom conference call this past week. They have all found themselves engaging in refugee ministry and feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. The purpose of the call was to bring them together for the first time around this issue – and to get some perspective from IAFR. Rachel Uthmann (IAFR Director of Training) and I had the privilege of meeting with them for a couple of hours.

I was encouraged to hear how these churches are doing what they can to help asylum-seekers survive while in Jakarta. As Indonesia is not a signer of the UN Convention on Refugees, the situation for asylum seekers and refugees is extremely tenuous. They are not legally allowed to work and they are technically not supposed to be in country. Yet there are an estimated 14,000 women, children and men seeking refuge there. Most are from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, but there are also refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea ,Somalia and other countries.

Churches are hosting refugee fellowships, teaching English, helping with food and housing, and sharing the gospel with them. They are struggling with identifying a clear goal for their ministries as there doesn’t seem to be an option for refugees to stay or for them to move on. There isn’t a pathway for them to legalize their status and rebuild their lives. They are stuck in survival mode.

What does it look like for local churches to minister to such people in the long term?

The convener of the call asked IAFR if we would consider coming to Jakarta to meet with churches there and offer some basic training. Indeed we are.

A global faith community

A young man in a Middle East war zone asked a friend of his living in Central America if he knew of any trustworthy friends in a country in North Africa. He plans to flee there soon.

The friend in Central America messaged me last night to ask if I know of any such brothers and sisters. I reached out to some friends in the North African country and am waiting to hear back.

The church is a remarkable global community.

I pray there is a brother that will be able to meet this young man when he arrives in search of refuge.

Missions Roundtable (TX)

Photo: Rob Hoskins talking about missions and social change at Celebration Church in Georgetown, TX.

It was a privilege to be part of a Missions Roundtable of mission leaders from mega churches in the US. They meet regularly to explore what missions looks like in the 21st Century.

I learned a lot as I listened to them share their vision and challenges related to promoting and engaging their members in missions effectively.

I’m thankful to Rob Hoskins of One Hope for inviting me to share and be sure refugee ministry was on their radar. Their response and affirmation was encouraging. We will see where God takes this from here.

I leave the green grass of Georgetown, Texas, for the snow of Minnesota on a red eye flight tomorrow. My 3:00 AM alarm is set so I’d best catch some sleep before it goes off…

Greece calling

A leader of a well established refugee ministry in Greece reached out to IAFR this past week to begin exploring the possibility of a close ministry partnership that would include IAFR sending missionaries and resources – basically relating to their organisation as we do our IAFR teams.

This seems to be a promising possibility, so I’m looking at my calendar to find time to pay them a visit this spring. It is important to see their work, understand their context and talk this over in more detail.

Would you please pray with us as we consider this together?

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.

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.

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.