Writing

I took the day off at home. It was snowing hard outside, blanketing the house in the cozy silence of winter. It was a perfect day to spend several hours channeling my memory through a keyboard and saving it in the cloud.

I am slowly writing down some of the stories from my life – to help me remember – and to pass them along to my children without gloss or embellishment. I am first seeking to capture key defining moments in my life.

Today I wrote down the rather strange story of how faith took root in my life – and how I learned that evil must yield to the authority of Jesus. The story goes something like this…

A life derailed – broken bones – a vision of sorts – a thirst awakened – revelation by dandelion – spiritual awakening – a witch – a rescue – a traffic violation – a life transformed.

If someone told me such a story, I would question its veracity. But I know it to be true. And this was just the beginning.

Feeling used

It was “open mic Sunday” at our church today. So I braced myself for the worst before heading inside.

Pastor Jenna invited people to share a way that God showed up in their lives this past year. A beautiful series of stories surfaced as brave souls raised their hands.

A sister in our church shared how hard it has been to re-enter life in the US after several years of ministry in South Africa. She then said God showed up this year when we met during our annual church retreat.

She recounted telling Donna and I about her struggle. Apparently we responded by saying that “it can be tough when everyone here is sure that it is great to be back“. That was it – the words she needed to hear at that time. She felt seen and understood.

That was a significant God moment for her this year. And neither Donna or I had a clue just how much that simple encounter meant to her until today.

I have to confess, it feels good to be used of God in someone’s life.

I wonder how often God uses you and me like that – without our ever knowing? I hope and pray it is often.

Place

Falingi (above with flag in hand) became an American today along with 731 other people from 81 different countries of origin.

This is a big deal, because Falingi has been a refugee for most of his life. Unchecked violence made his homeland uninhabitable. As he was without parents, his uncle took him into his family. I met them over 10 years ago in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi – among the world’s poorest nations.

Dzaleka was a political prison before it was turned into a refugee camp in 1994 (in response to a wave of refugees fleeing genocide in Rwanda). Life is hard in Dzaleka.

Above: Dzaleka refugee camp. There are 40,000 Falingis in Dzaleka today.

This is why refugee resettlement to countries like the USA is so important. It offers people like Falingi a chance to regain place in the world and rebuild his life.

It is a travesty that the US has slashed refugee resettlement numbers from an average of 75,000/year to just 18,000 this year.

I spoke with several of the new US citizens today. They were so happy and so proud. Like Falingi, they want to work hard and be a net contributor to society.

In there eyes I saw an America that gave me hope and inspiration.

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.

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.

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.

Needing shelter in the Cities

The text came during supper tonight. A man in the Twin Cities needs shelter…

He fled Somali and while uprooted has come to be a follower of Jesus. And while the US government acknowledges that he would likely be killed for his faith if deported back to Somalia, it still refused to give him asylum – permanent refuge and a pathway to citizenship. So the US will not deport him – but they will also not grant him place – or even a work permit at this time.

How is someone supposed to live in the US without a work permit?

It’s a cruel joke as it feeds the misinformed stereotype that refugees and migrants are lazy. This man desperately wants to work and earn his keep. But the US won’t let him.

He’s spent the past 18 months in a Salvation Army shelter. Their policy is to limit people to 12 months in a shelter – but they understand this brother has nowhere to go.

A friend of mine who once worked in Somalia asked if IAFR might have a space for this brother in one of our Jonathan Houses – homes in which we offer shelter to asylum seekers during the 6-18 months that they are not able to legally work in the US while their case is examined. They don’t even get access to social services during this time.

It’s like we are trying to set vulnerable people up to fail.

I messaged our local IAFR Ministry Leader about this need. She quickly replied that there is a space open in the Jonathan House for men. Within a couple of hours I was able to connect my friend with our team in Minnesota.

This is when the church shines.

Strangers connect through the amazing network of the Church in order to help a vulnerable stranger in our community.

Even if we are able to meet this Somali brother’s need for shelter, he still faces life challenges the size of Goliath. He needs our prayers. He needs a supportive community of faith. He needs healing after living in a state of toxic stress for so many years. He needs place.

For these we pray. So be it.