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!

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.

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.

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.

“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

A really good day

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.

Death on the highway

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.