I’ll be visiting Kakuma refugee camp again later this month. As always, I consulted with my friend and IAFR colleague, Pastor Gatera, to offer perspective on my trip priorities.
Pastor Gatera spent 20 years of his life as a refugee there and now lives here in the Twin Cities. He is a man of great wisdom and faith. What a joy to partner together!
This visit to Kakuma will include several days of theological training with a group of 25 Christian leaders (men and women). Professor George Kalantzis from Wheaton College will be doing the training as he has for the past several years.
I’ll also be following up on active IAFR projects in Kakuma (refugee scholarship program, IDP water project, KISOM building project, Shelter for refugees, Refugee youth camp, 2020 refugee pastors’ conference and more).
Of course the best part of any visit is reconnecting with our friends there.
The association of refugee churches with whom we partner in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) has grown from 7 to over 160 churches since 2000. But they have not updated their organisational systems and structures to cope with the growth.
I spent most of today consulting with Pastor Gatera, former Chairman of the association of churches in Kakuma, to discuss some basic organisational structures/frameworks for them to consider.
It was time well spent as they now own land, a building and have a growing arsenal of ministry resources (including a solar projector).
While such discussion isn’t exactly exciting, it turns out that the long-term effectiveness of their work depends upon clear and strong organisational systems – no easy feat in a refugee camp environment.
My role is not to tell them what to do or how to do it. They are fully able to make such decisions. But they are cut off from the rest of the world and they value outside perspective and input as they think such things through.
I’ll be visiting them again next month and suspect that we will spend some concentrated time discussing these things in depth together.
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.
I’m at a retreat center 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities this week, meeting with the executive leadership of IAFR Canada 🇨🇦 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.
Photo: a woodland trail near our home that I frequent. Taken at a warmer time of year.
We may not know what awaits us in the New Year, but we have recently celebrated “God with Us”, and that is enough to keep moving forward with hearts full of anticipation and hope in both good and hard times.
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.
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.
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.
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.