Above: a life-saving soap distribution center
Refugee camps have been identified as among the most vulnerable places to a Covid-19 outbreak.
I reached out to our refugee partner agency (URHC) in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) to see if we can do anything to help deter such an outbreak. We identified that one of the most urgent and needed things in the camp was soap.
Most of us living in countries of influence and power take soap for granted. It plays an often taken for granted role in our lives – keeping us healthy.
But our forcibly displaced friends live in harsh circumstances without access to stuff as simple and essential as soap.
As we talked together, we realized that the 162 refugee churches with whom we partner could all be transformed into local soap distribution centers! All they need is a 50 liter tank, a tap, liquid soap and water.
We did the math. It would take just under $40 to set up one church with everything – including 1 month’s supply of soap. Thereafter it would cost $7 per church to resupply them with another month’s worth of soap. It sounded doable.
After working out the plan and budget, I spoke with a friend and mentioned my excitement to have found a way to help the churches in Kakuma serve and protect their communities. That friend got excited too – and within a couple of days made a donation to cover the setup and 4 months’ worth of soap for all 162 churches!
It took my breath away. God is clearly determined to provide this protection for the vulnerable people in Kakuma!
So IAFR wired the first round of funds earlier this week. The refugee churches are preparing to set up their soap distribution systems.
I’m hoping and praying that the soap begins to flow before the weekend in Kakuma!
I start the journey back to our friends in Kakuma refugee camp today. I’ll finally get there on Wednesday after meeting with our NGO partner offices in Nairobi on Tuesday.
I’ll post updates from Kenya to the IAFR Kakuma blog. I’ll be traveling with Dr. George Kalantzis, Professor of Theology at Wheaton College and Senior Fellow of Theological Development with IAFR. Dr. Margaret Diddams, Provost of Wheaton College, and her husband Stan will also serve with us kn this visit. We plan to continue offering theological training for refugee pastors as well as consult with them concerning curriculum development for their School of Mission. There is much more to this trip – so be sure to check out the blog!
Traveling at this early juncture of the covid-19 virus pandemic has a lot of unknowns. I welcome your prayers for a fruitful trip and an uneventful return to Minnesota that does not include getting quarantined anywhere along the way.
Above: a refugee church worships together in the little shade they can find. They will soon have a metal roof under which they can gather, thanks to our IAFR financial partners contributions to the Refugee Church Building fund.
Above: another refugee church getting a roof in Kalobeyei refugee settlement near Kakuma, Kenya.
These communities of faith play an indispensable role in helping people survive in Kakuma.
One of our partners sent his thanks via WhatsApp:
“Amen!! Glory to God, and so much blessings to the donors and to those who put in enormous energy and dedication to channel these funds to these points of need.”
*Photos sent to me via WhatsApp from our refugee partner in 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
Our ministry partner in Athens sent me this photo yesterday. They are so thankful for ministry partners that make it possible to help refugees survive the winter in tents by providing portable heaters.
IAFR has a family (Ilir and Kate Cami) serving full-time with our Greek partner agency, One Heart. One Heart was founded by Sahar K. many years ago. She came to Greece as an Iranian Refugee about two decades ago. While a refugee, Sarah embraced faith in Jesus. She has devoted her life to serving refugees in Greece ever since.
What a privilege to serve together with such strategic ministry partners!
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.
Photo: A refugee church building funded by IAFR
I am so thankful for our growing team of partners that generously invest in the welfare of refugees through the work of IAFR.
Because of them, I had the joy of initiating an international transfer of funds to our refugee church partners in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) yesterday. The funds will soon be transformed into 14 new refugee church buildings!
The buildings are desperately needed as the climate is harsh and our brothers and sisters need a shaded and protected space in which to gather and worship together. These communities of faith play a critical role in keeping hope alive and affirming the dignity of people who have been stripped of everything.
IAFR partners have put a roof over the head of 28 refugee churches this year! That’s a record!
What a great Christmas gift! Not only does it meet a critical need, it also is a tangible expression that they are not forgotten by the church at large!
But there’s even more good news! Our financial partners empowered us to set another international transfer to Kakuma. This one covers the 2020 high school fees for 5 girls that we are sponsoring! This investment has the potential to radically change the future prospects of these girls – and their families!
Can you tell I’m excited? And so thankful? None of this happens unless we partner together.
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!
The Refugee Highway Partnership gathering of leaders in Bangkok this week discussing how to fuel the global movement of Christians engaging refugees in life giving ways.