IAFR Athens

Ilir and Kate Cami with their children

Ilir and Kate Cami joined the IAFR team this month. They are no strangers as we served together many years ago. They’ve been serving refugees in Athens for more than 2 decades. Their joining IAFR will enable them to continue serving with a Greek nonprofit called One Heart – the Founder/Director of which I have also known for decades.

Ilir came to Greece as a refugee from Albania back in the 90s. He became a Christian there and later received a calling from God to serve refugees. Kate is originally from the US and met Ilir while serving refugees in Athens. Ilir is among the most passionate people I know when it comes to introducing people to Jesus. Kate brings organisation and stability to both their ministry and family.

I have also known Sahar, the founder/director of One Heart, for many years. Originally from Iran, she also came to Athens as a refugee and became a follower of Jesus there. She began serving refugees as a missionary shortly afterwards. Today, she not only provides leadership to One Heart. She and her husband (from the Netherlands) lead a Persian church in Athens that brings together about 100 people from Iran and Afghanistan for worship and mutual encouragement. Of course, Ilir and Kate are also supporting this fellowship.

IAFR is partnering with One Heart by sharing both missionaries and resources because we are pursuing the same vision with similar values and a common faith in Jesus.

Click here to learn more about this new IAFR ministry location!

Countdown on hold

It was a tough beginning to this past week. An IAFR missionary family that has been preparing to join our work in Lille, France, was deep into the final countdown before taking the physical leap across the Atlantic.

Earlier this year, they sold and moved out of their home and into a temporary space. The husband put in his final day at work last week. It was a good job with Mayo Clinic. Taking those kinds of steps with a family is no small deal. So you can imagine what it felt like when after he clocked out for the last time, they received notification from the French embassy: Their visa application was refused.

In response, we set our IAFR service team into full swing.

I had lunch with the husband on Monday, primarily to offer support and to try and understand what might be behind the refusal. Tim Barnes, IAFR Executive VP, took the lead from there to coordinate communication with the family, the service team and the our Ministry Leader in France. We sought out and received helpful counsel from Greater Europe Mission as they have several expat missionaries serving in France.

The result was that the family was ready to schedule a re-application appointment for this coming Tuesday in Chicago.

I’m thankful for the IAFR service team as well as the missionary family as we were able to navigate this efficiently and effectively together. And I know we are all praying that this re-application will find favor with the authorities so that the family can hop their plane to France as planned in early April.

Our prayers are not in vain. For we know that God sees, God hears and God cares.

From a place we’ve never been

Photo: Pastor Gatera

Pastor Gatera’s parents were forced to flee Burundi back in 1972 when war broke out in the region. They were refugees in Rwanda when he was born. Although everyone identifies him as a Burundian even today, he’s never lived there.

I guess it is possible to be from a place we’ve never been.

The 1994 genocide forced him to take flight again. He was separated from his parents in the midst of the violence and chaos. He found refuge in eastern Congo. But war and violence followed him there too…

He was in the middle of his sophomore year of high school when he fled to Tanzania. He tried to resume his studies in the refugee camp there. But the political winds in Tanzania changed and refugees were no longer tolerated. They were to return back to their countries of origin. As strange as it may sound, for him it would mean returning to a place he’d never been.

He knew that was not safe, so he took to the bush and walked over 300 miles (off road so that he would not be caught and arrested) to neighboring Kenya. He was in need of safe shelter and didn’t know where to turn. So he went to a police station and asked to spend the night in the jail. You can imagine their surprise. Thankfully, they came up with a better option.

His first request for refuge was denied in Kenya. The authorities thought he should “return” to Burundi – a place they said he was from, although he had never been there.

He decided to make his way to Kakuma refugee camp in the remote northwest corner of Kenya. Because he was not recognized as a refugee, he was not legally supposed to be in the camp. But he saw no other option.

A refugee church took him in. They cared for him for the next three years. They helped him find shelter and shared their food rations with him. It was during this time in his life that he embraced Jesus as his Savior and Lord.

He says that Jesus completely changed his outlook on his life – past, present and future.

He ultimately received formal refugee status in Kenya and was able to live legally in the camp. It was there that he met his wife (from Rwanda) and raised their three children. He also served as a refugee pastor and gained widespread respect throughout the refugee, NGO and local community.

He was instrumental in the flourishing of an association of churches from within the refugee and surrounding host community. It continues to serve as a powerful force for good today. It is with this Association (United Refugee and Host Churches) that IAFR partners in Kakuma today. They are over 160 churches strong.

After 20 years in the camp, he and his family were resettled to the USA in the fall of 2016. Today he is a missionary with IAFR.

If you ask him,”Where are you from?“, he is likely to say he is from Burundi. A place to which he’s never been.

Is it really possible? -to be from a place we’ve never been?

If I read my Bible correctly, those of us who follow Jesus are citizens of the kingdom of God. It is a citizenship that transcends all other identities we might carry. It is a kingdom more real than any other. It is a kingdom coming. I guess I too am from a place I have not yet been.

Would you like to become a financial partner with Pastor Gatera and his remarkable ministry with IAFR? If so, it’s easy! Just click here and make an online donation today.

Pioneering

I’m going to spend most of my day tomorrow with Kelsey, a twenty-something who joined IAFR last year to serve in Ventimiglia, Italy – an unknown smallish Italian city on the border with France.

Kelsey was with the IAFR research team that stumbled upon Ventimiglia and discovered many asylum-seekers and refugees are living there in squalid conditions – men, women and children from distant countries, most of which are experiencing protracted war.

Kelsey and I are going to explore what to anticipate when pioneering a new IAFR ministry location.

In preparation, I came upon the following definitions of pioneering…

  • One of the first to settle in a territory
  • A plant or animal capable of establishing itself in a bare, barren, or open area and initiating an ecological cycle
  • A person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development

All three of these ideas apply to what Kelsey plans to do. The second bullet point conjures up a beautiful and hopeful image that I hope will prove true of her life in coming years.

Some might look down on her because of her age and think it unreasonable for someone like her to step into the complexities and unknowns of Ventimiglia. But I am partial to twenty-somethings. I was 22 years old when I set out to pioneer ministry in a remote Austrian village that wasn’t even found on maps…

The Refugee Church

I just created this 1.5 minute video to use when speaking to an Adult Sunday School Class tomorrow

I’ll be speaking at Hope Presbyterian Church in Richfield, MN, tomorrow morning. I’m taking Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera with me as the church asked me to share about the refugee church and Pastor Gatera spent 20 years of his life in Kakuma refugee camp – and many of those years as a refugee pastor. I can think of no better way to introduce them to the refugee church than to give them the privilege of listening to Pastor Gatera.

Canada’s coming!

Among the highlights of 2018 was the registration of IAFR Canada, an autonomous mission agency that shares the vision, mission and values of IAFR and with whom we partner closely.

In order to strengthen our partnership, my Executive VP (Tim Barnes) and I meet monthly with our peers at IAFR Canada via video conference and twice a year face-to-face. Our first such meeting will be this week, at Mt. Olivet Conference and Retreat Center, about 30 minutes south of Minneapolis.

We’ve got a robust agenda as we anticipate a year that is likely to include new IAFR ministry sites in Iraq, Lebanon, Uganda, Italy (Ventimiglia) and Canada (Winnipeg). As IAFR CA just got it’s charity number in August, we will be discussing how we can continue to set up expectations, systems and agreements that help us partner well together as we seek to enable the church to help people survive and recover from forced displacement in the world.

Anyone who’s engaged in close international partnerships knows that they are more complicated than they first appear. I’m thankful for the highly experienced people that God has brought to the IAFR table. But we still need your prayers for wisdom and discernment as we meet.

Making new friends

Photo: IAFR’s Pastor Gatera speaking to a diverse group of pastors and people engaged in ministry among refugees in St. Cloud, MN

IAFR Board member, Pastor Brian Doten, set up a meeting with Calvary Community Church Outreach Pastor, Steve Eckert, in St. Cloud with a group of people there that are engaged in ministry among resettled refugees.

They invited Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera and I to introduce him and the work of IAFR to the group.

It was an encouraging Saturday afternoon together. There appears to be a good possibility for some ministry partnerships to grow out of the time together.

We are praying that meetings like this will help form the support team needed to partner with Pastor Gatera in his ministry. He is a remarkable leader – both gifted and experienced. I can’t wait to see him more fully released into the vision God has given him.

Leaders

Leaders need encouragement and support.

I spent a good part of this week meeting with IAFR leaders for that purpose – and to discuss priorities for the coming year.

I am thankful for Paul who supports our ministry leaders in Europe, and Jake who supports our ministry leaders serving East Africa and Sarah who supports our ministry leaders in the USA. I am also grateful for Rachel, who is focused on developing our refugee ministry training that is an important engine in the movement of God in the world today.

They do not get paid more to take on leadership responsibility. The idea of working for money isn’t a concern they have. They lead and serve because of a deeply rooted burden that demands that they do so. They are pursuing a mission and a vision, not a paycheck or notoriety.

There are not many people like them.

It is a joy and privilege to serve and support them as we pursue our common calling.

Winnipeg

I’m flying up to Winnipeg (Canada) this morning. I’ll spend a couple of days visiting an IAFR teammate who relocated there from the US earlier this year. Once she gets her work permit, she plans to join IAFR Canada and pioneer IAFR’s work in Winnipeg.

My aim is simple. I hope to offer encouragement, gain a better understanding of the refugee context, and meet with our existing friends and network there.