The best care-givers

I woke up to a WhatsApp text this morning. It was from a Somali refugee. She wanted to know if my family was okay. She knows the Covid-19 virus is loose in America. She said she is praying for us.

I also spoke with a Turkana pastor in Kakuma this morning. He too wanted me to know that he was concerned and praying for us.

Those who have suffered are often the best care givers. They know uncertainty and loss.

How beautiful to start my day with their kind words of encouragement.

Refugee prayers

I’m struck by how some of my refugee friends in Kenya are checking in with me (usually via WhatsApp) to be sure I get home safely.

A Muslim mother in Kakuma says she is praying for my safe arrival. A Congolese asylum seeker in Nairobi is doing the same. Both of these friends are up to their eyeballs in uncertainty and suffering. Still, they are quick to care for others – even me.

They’ve experienced life in such a way as to not take safe travels for granted.

May God’s blessing be upon them.

Covid-19 fever

Above: Visiting refugee churches in Kalobeyei refugee settlement earlier in the week – part of the Kakuma refugee protection system in remote northwestern Kenya.

I guess I just got lucky. I’m sitting in a more empty than usual airport lounge in Amsterdam, slowly making my way home after a great visit to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (learn more).

Covid-19 fever has hit the world with gusto. The US government put a travel ban into effect at midnight. Only US citizens and residents can fly from Europe to the US now.

While I was en route to the Nairobi airport, Delta sent me a text. My flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was cancelled. Thankfully, Delta worked out an alternative flight plan for me after a few uncertain hours. I’m now flying home via Chicago.

I’ve been told that those of us transiting Europe are to self-quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival in the US.

My plans to meet with a group of churches in Seattle this month have been cancelled, as has my planned trip to Bangkok at the end of the month. I’m doubtful my plans to visit our ministries in France and Austria in early May will come to pass. I won’t be surprised if my plans to fly to Geneva in June for UNHCR NGO consultations will be halted as well.

My wife works at a senior living campus and said that we might also need to keep our distance from each other for 14 days after I return. The elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus. I’m seriously tempted to pitch a tent in the northwoods – except it’s still too cold to be much fun.

I can’t help but look around me and wonder how Covid-19 fever is impacting others.

To 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.

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.

Stuck in limbo

This is a Facebook conversation I had today with a man who is running for his life and stuck in the limbo of an international airport for 25 days and counting. How he found IAFR on Facebook I may never know. I’ve censored references to places that might put him in danger. But I think you will still understand the basic situation.

This isn’t theoretical. He’s a real human being in fear with his back against the wall. Perhaps you can hear the trace of relief in his final words. It matters to feel seen and heard by someone who cares. Perhaps it matters most when there is no way out.

I’m thankful I can let him know that he and his suffering are not unknown today. And just maybe, God will answer our prayers for him and lead him to a safe place where he can clean up and rest his weary mind, body and soul.

Buffalo Bicycles

Above: A Buffalo Bicycle. Photo: World Relief.

It’s not easy to get around a refugee camp that covers 12 square miles with a population of over 160,000 – many of whom have been stuck there for decades. That’s the situation in Kakuma refugee camp, in remote northwestern Kenya.

So it is understandable that our friends there would ask if we could help them get bicycles for 15 of the key leaders of an association of 162 churches in the camp and surrounding host community. The request came by WhatsApp this morning.

We’ve worked together for a decade and I know the need is legit. I wrote up a project proposal for our board’s consideration at our meeting later this month.

15 bicycles @ $180/bike = $2,700

The bikes they want are called “Buffalo bicycles”, presumably because they’re tough. I’ve seen them in the camp where the roads are rough and unkempt. It’s pretty much an off-road bicycleland.

Each bike will be used to connect, encourage, equip and assist churches throughout the camp and in the host community (in which living conditions aren’t much better than in the camp).

I’m hoping and praying that we can come up with the funding quickly.

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.