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.

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. 🎉

Violence in Nairobi

After an extended season of relative quiet, Nairobi suffered a terrorist attack today. The dust is still settling, so the death toll remains uncertain.

As far as I know, our many friends there were not among the victims. Yet I know any such attack causes everyone a measure of trauma.

Violence. It is the ultimate fruit of sin when it has matured. Cain’s sin moved him to kill Abel. Violence was so prevalent at one time that God grieved he made us. He gave us another chance after the flood. When God later walked among us, the religious and political powers of the day turned on him in extreme violence. And yet, among Jesus’ final words were “Father, forgive them.”

Most of the refugees we serve are victims of unchecked violence in their homelands. They see no alternative but to flee to another country in hope of finding safety.

Around 1/2 million refugees have sought temporary refuge in Kenya. I have little doubt that today’s violence in Nairobi awakened old fears.

Maranatha. Lord Jesus, come.

Click here to read a related news report.

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.

Cattails

I’ve taken the days off between Christmas and New Years and have taken several walks along the wetlands and in the woods near our home. The cattails always catch my eye as they add gold to the whites and blacks of winter.

Celebrating 33 Years

Photo: Donna and I outside of the place where we first met in Gablitz (near Vienna in the Wienerwald). We were able to visit Austria this year. It was the first time we’ve been back together since we relocated to the US in 2003. We weren’t sure we would be able to find this house again – but we did!

Although it isn’t until tomorrow, we’re celebrating our 33rd anniversary today by going out for a nice meal together in downtown Minneapolis..

We first met back in the summer of 1982. I was working in a refugee camp in the tiny village of Bad Kreuzen, 100 miles upstream from Vienna on the Danube river.

Donna had come to Austria with the summer missions program of Slavic Gospel Association to smuggle Bibles into what was then known as the “East Bloc” – Communist countries that were under the strong influence of what was then the Soviet Union.

I drove down to Vienna to help the summer workers settle into the former Jaegerhaus in Gablitz.

I still remember when I saw her first – on the back steps of the Haus. Whether you believe in it or not, it was love at first sight.

It took a year or so before we began dating by airmail between Bad Kreuzen and Columbia, Missouri. For years, we feverishly wrote letters back and forth on the thinnest paper known to man.

I finally proposed in 1984 during a Colorado ski trip with my family (they encouraged me to invite Donna). We timed our wedding around plans for me to go to seminary in 1985. We would marry during Christmas break.

Although those seminary plans fell through, our wedding plans did not. We married in Kansas City, took our honeymoon in the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado, and then settled into our first home in the lush rolling hills of the province of Upper Austria, in early 1986.

The rest is history :

Isaiah 58

After assessing a pile of Christmas cards, I made this. I find myself imagining how different the world would be if these words marked our lives. From what the prophet wrote, it is in everybody’s best interest to look out for the needs of those who are most vulnerable.

An unexpected visit

Photo: Bruce and Janet McNicol with Donna and I today sitting on our “Wes and Judy Roberts Memorial Sofa”.

We got an unexpected text last night. Bruce and Janet McNicol were in town and wanted to see if we were free to connect. Indeed we were.

It was really good to reconnect with them in our home this afternoon.

We were first introduced to each other by our friend Wes Roberts sometime between 1995-1996. Bruce was working on some life-changing training with Bill Thrall and John Lynch. They had founded the Leadership Catalyst. Ascent of a Leader, TrueFaced and The Cure are a few of the books they’ve published over the years. The Heart of Man movie 🍿 is a penetrating expression of some of their work (although is wont be easy for you, you MUST see it! – it’s available on Netflix).

Bruce is one of the few men who have left a permanent mark on my life for good. I’m not the same person I was because our lives crossed back then. Thank God.

I hope God has graced your life with a Bruce too.

Friendship

Photo: Stephen and Tim heading into the sunrise to find breakfast this morning

I’m thankful for the chance to have had breakfast with Tim Barnes and Stephen Freed this morning. They are two of the finest people and leaders I’ve served with in my 38 years of ministry.

Friendship is essential to life.

Leaders

Leaders need encouragement and support.

I spent a good part of this week meeting with IAFR leaders for that purpose – and to discuss priorities for the coming year.

I am thankful for Paul who supports our ministry leaders in Europe, and Jake who supports our ministry leaders serving East Africa and Sarah who supports our ministry leaders in the USA. I am also grateful for Rachel, who is focused on developing our refugee ministry training that is an important engine in the movement of God in the world today.

They do not get paid more to take on leadership responsibility. The idea of working for money isn’t a concern they have. They lead and serve because of a deeply rooted burden that demands that they do so. They are pursuing a mission and a vision, not a paycheck or notoriety.

There are not many people like them.

It is a joy and privilege to serve and support them as we pursue our common calling.