Step 1: Soap

I was so happy to wake up this morning and find this photo on my WhatsApp feed! It is from our refugee friends and partners in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya (population just under 200,000 people).

IAFR wired funds to them this week to help them combat a potential outbreak of coronavirus in the camp. They wasted no time buying soap (photo).

They’re now waiting for the arrival of a shipment of 50 liter water tanks and nozzles. Once they arrive, our partners plan to turn the 162 churches in their network into badly needed soap distribution centers. The churches are already strategically embedded throughout the camp and host community.

How good to see the refugee church actively engaging their community on the front lines of the coronavirus response!

May God use his people and the soap to protect the extremely vulnerable people there!

Soap in the desert

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!

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.

Travel season

It’s been rather refreshing to have been in the US since mid-November. But the highway is calling again. I’m on the edge of travel season again.

I’ll visit Kenya, Thailand, Seattle, France and Austria in March, April and May. I look forward to making a long overdue visit to my son in NYC somewhere in the middle of the other trips.

I’m thankful for the privilege of seeking the welfare of forcibly displaced people internationally – and for the remarkable support of my wife, Donna, that makes it possible.

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.

“Glory to God!”

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

A request from 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

Heat in Athens

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!

Overwhelmed

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.