A cry for help

Translation: “I need help with a couple of things. First, I need counseling – our present situation is even affecting our kids as they are cooped up indoors for long periods of time with nothing to do.”

I got this message yesterday from a friend/pastor who was a refugee in Uganda until this summer when he and his family were forced to uproot again and flee to Kenya. That happened in the last few months.

They are not in a camp. They are among the millions of urban refugees in the world (60% of the worlds refugees are in urban centers).

They are relatively safe for the time being. But the trauma of another sudden displacement, the stress of daily life and the uncertainty of the future are weighing heavily on him and his family.

So he messaged me via WhatsApp. I’m getting in touch with some skilled trauma care people in Kenya to see if they might be able offer him some support. It’s really tricky because trust is low when one has been traumatized and uprooted and everyone is a stranger.

Please pray with me for him. Just call him Pastor P.

Gallery: The Tent

Above: I came across this boy in Kakuma refugee camp. He’s an orphan. He was watching his two sisters cook beans for supper outside of their tent. The tattered U.N. tent had served as their home for many months. While they should have been upgraded to a mud hut long ago, budget cuts have made it impossible for the humanitarian agencies to keep up with the needs. The budget cuts are directly related to the decisions of wealthy nations like the US to reduce their contributions to the UN’s humanitarian service. While no one in the US feels any repercussions of the new policies, this boy and his sisters do. Even their daily allowance of beans has been cut back.

It’s never easy in the camp – but the volume has been turned up when it comes to daily challenges here.

IAFR included a photo gallery of some of my photos at our 10 Year Celebration this year. It included 9 high quality acrylic framed prints from the places we have served over the years. This photo was among them. If you are interested in owning one, let me know. We would be happy to send you a gallery quality 14″ x 8″ acrylic print for $89 plus shipping costs.

All images are printed and framed using the professional gallery quality services of WhiteWall.com.

Just let me know if you’re interested in owning one (or more) and we will figure out how to pay and ship from there.

Roots and Causes

People have often asked me about the root causes of forced displacement. They often suggest that it would be wiser for us to focus on finding solutions to those rather than focusing on serving refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people.

It is important to identify root causes. But it is also critical for some of us to also focus our attention, energy and resources on helping those bearing the brunt of systemic violence and hatred in the world. We need to engage the issue of forced displacement on multiple levels at the same time – just as we need ambulances, ERs, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and PT professionals while other industries seek out cures to disease and other life-threatening conditions.

While IAFR is committed to helping the church show up in humanitarian space in life-giving ways, we can’t help but often think about the causes behind the flight of the people we love and serve.

Many think that the root causes of forced displacement include war, persecution, failed states and gross violations of human rights. And while it is true that these are the immediate causes that force people to flee their homes and countries, these are not the root causes.

We have to peel another layer off the onion and ask, what are the forces that ignite wars? What empowers governments to single out specific people and/or groups of people to deny them basic human rights and even persecute them? Why do governments fail, losing the ability to protect and serve their own people? I believe that these questions will help us venture further down the path when it comes to identifying and understanding root causes behind forced displacement.

As we reflect on these questions, we will also begin to see the warning signs within our own societies. Signs that we may be embracing, normalizing and strengthening the very things that fuel the hatred and violence behind forced displacement.

The word “root” is very helpful as roots are underground and out of sight. We will only identify root causes of forced displacement if we dig below the surface.

Consider the buckthorn tree

It’s a fast growing and spreading tree that plagues many of us here in USA. It was brought from Europe to the US in the 1800s and used as an ornamental shrub and helpful windbreak. But what was was initially perceived to be pretty and useful has become a plague. The Minnesota DNR identifies the many ways buckthorn is a threat to our habitat:

  • It out-competes native plants for nutrients, light and moisture
  • It degrades wildlife habitat
  • It threatens the future of forests, wetlands, prairies
  • It contributes to erosion by shading out other plants that grow on the forest floor
  • It serves as a host to other pests
  • It forms an impenetrable layer of vegetation
  • It lacks natural controls like insects or disease that would curb its growth

There are many websites devoted to “buckthorn removal”. There is no quick and easy say to defeat buckthorn. It turns out that my multi year battle with buckthorn is the norm and complete victory isn’t possible. I’ll be fighting it for as long as I have a yard.

Because it is difficult to uproot, I initially just cut it off at ground level and did my best to damage the stump thinking it wouldn’t survive. It proved me wrong. My attempt to kill it amounted to pruning it and making it stronger. It’s roots went deeper and it began to shoot up new sprouts everywhere.

I was losing the battle. So, I rolled up my sleeves, grabbed a shovel and dug them out, one by one. It became quickly apparent that my earlier attempts at killing the trees simply made their root system stronger and more difficult to uproot. It turns out that it is far easier to uproot a young buckthorn tree than it is an older one.

I am impressed with the way buckthorn sinks and establishes its roots. Not only do they go deep, they also shoot off major root systems horizontally – often somewhere around 6-12″ under the soil. And those off shoots make the trees really tough to uproot. It is often impossible to do without a shovel.

Back to root causes

I mention all of this simply to underline that dealing with root issues may not prove to be a quick and simple solution to the escalating numbers of people being forced to flee their homes and countries. The root issues are not making the news headlines. They lurk under the surface. If we focus on the immediate causes of forced displacement alone, we may later discover we have been unintentionally strengthening the root causes.

I am going to ponder the seeds that give life to the forces of hatred and violence that uproot people. I hope you will too. I welcome your comments and thoughts.

I expect that we will find the roots of much of today’s displacement are centuries old and that they have entangled themselves deep within our own hearts over the generations.

Gallery: Behind Bars

Above: It was over 100 F when I came upon these girls in a makeshift refugee camp in southeast Turkey in July 2015. They were among the Yezidi people of Iraq rescued from ISIS by Kurdish forces. Kurds were running the camp – formerly a public park on the outskirts of the big city. They asked me to try and convince the refugees to stay in Turkey and to learn how to govern and defend themselves. But the refugees had suffered many horrors at the hand of ISIS. Many of their women and children had been taken captive. They were determined to risk the dangerous journey over land and sea to the EU – although they knew that the EU was doing everything it could to tighten its borders to stop the inflow of refugees. Meanwhile, these girls were drawing princesses...

IAFR included a photo gallery of some of my photos at our 10 Year Celebration last night. It included 9 high quality acrylic framed prints from the places we have served over the years. You can scroll through them here. If you are interested in owning one, let me know. We would be happy to send you one for $89 plus shipping costs.

All images have been printed and framed using the professional gallery quality services of WhiteWall.com.

Just let me know if you’re interested in owning one (or more) and we will figure out how to pay and ship from there.

Friends and Partners

This picture tells a thousand stories. I met Insaf (bottom left) in 1998 when researching refugee ministry opportunities in Istanbul (her husband, Shawki, is far right). They were refugees from Iraq. They turned my understanding of refugee ministry on its head. They had planted a refugee church in Istanbul by accident. Before finally getting resettled to Canada 🇨🇦 in 2001, they were also running a school for refugee children (that included a daily meal) out of the church. Insaf continues to serve refugees in the Middle East today with IAFR Canada.

Innocent is the African in the photo. He has a Burundian passport, even though he spent all but 3 months of his first 27 years outside of Burundi as a refugee. We met in Malawi back in 2007 (I think) and a have been partnering in ministry together in Dzaleka refugee camp ever since.

Then there’s Jake (middle). I met him in Malawi too. He was serving with Innocents organisation (There Is Hope). Jake joined IAFR when he and his wife returned to the states a few years ago. He presently serves as our Regional Leader for East Africa.

And Rachel is in the photo too. We first met when she was serving refugees in Athens. She and her husband, Tim, went on to pioneer ministry in Rome and later in London. They now serve with IAFR. She’s our Director of Training and Tim (not pictured) is our Assistant Director of Operations.

We all met at the North American Round Table of the Refugee Highway Partnership in Toronto last week.

I count myself blessed to be counted among their friends.

Kakuma refugee camp visit

Above: Kids hanging out together after school in Kakuma refugee camp
Above: Taking a break during a day-seminar with refugee pastors at KISOM
Above: Refugee women’s ministry conference (2 days) at KISOM
Above: A refugee church in Kalobeyei refugee settlement. IAFR has provided 10 churches here with metal roofing materials this year (including this one).
Above: This is our 4th attempt at a borehole intended to bring clean water to the IDP camp outside of Kakuma town. An estimate 4,500 men, women and children are in desperate need of water. Our first attempt failed to strike water. The second attempt found water, but the borehole quickly collapsed and became unusable. The third attempt hit an impenetrable rock shield about 30m down and was abandoned. This borehole was drilled by the county government a few years ago. It was then capped and abandoned as they had no funds to pipe the water. We are now testing the water to be sure it is fit for human consumption. If it is, we are negotiating with the county to pipe this water to the IDP. If all goes well, they could have water by next March.
Above: Brothers stand outside of what served as their “house” for the past 10 years. IAFR provided their family with a metal shelter (behind them) as their new home earlier this year. One of the boys commented: “The rains this week did not fall on us in our new home like they did in our old home.” May God bless them and their new shelter!

Partner – Dr. George Kalantzis

It was a joy and blessing to have Dr. George Kalantzis from Wheaton College (IL) lead our morning sessions exploring the nature and meaning of the gospel during our annual IAFR missionary conference this year.

George has played a key role in our partnership with Wheaton College and its Humanitarian Disaster Institute in the past 4+ years in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya). He plans to travel to Kakuma with me again in March 2020 to continue investing in the refugee church leaders with whom we partner. Dr. Margaret Diddams, Provost of Wheaton College, also plans to join us on that visit.

We thank God for partners like George who not only teach theology but also make themselves fully available to reflect deeply on the Gospel.