Disruption

Lockdown. It’s not been a word I’ve heard or used much over the years. Now it is a daily news staple as the world brought to a near standstill by the microscopic corona virus, Covid-19.

As I spent many hours in the Amsterdam airport and later in the petri dish of O’Hare a week ago today, I’ve put myself in voluntary-isolation for two weeks. Given the state is likely to put us all in lockdown in the near future, I don’t expect much will change for me next Sunday.

The number of US states in lockdown is increasing, slowly for now. But they include Illinois, where IAFR Vice President, Tim Barnes, lives. My home state of Minnesota is not yet in full lockdown, but I’m betting that it will be within a week or two. For now, we are free to roam, although restaurants, bars, stadiums, churches, etc. are all closed.

I moved my office into my home last week. I’ve cancelled trips to Seattle and Bangkok that we’re planned for this month. I’m fairly certain other travel for the first 1/2 of the year will also fail to materialize.

We’ve got missionaries in lockdown in Athens, France and Vienna. Our Director of Training had to cancel plans to bring training to Jakarta this month. Plans of a couple IAFR teammates to visit Dzaleka refugee camp (Malawi) in May are also up in the air.

Thanks to the Internet, I’m in regular contact with IAFR teammates and with our refugee partners in Kakuma. I appreciate how everyone is making the best of the situation and seeking ways to encourage and support the most vulnerable people in their orbit.

But like you, I’m concerned about those who are sick and unable to get tested or treated. I’m concerned about those without medical insurance and those with high deductibles. I’m concerned about the welfare of those at the front end of this crisis – from healthcare providers to UPS drivers. I’m concerned for those who’ve suddenly found themselves out of work – people in the hospitality business and those in the entertainment industry. I’m concerned for those who’s retirement savings have gone up in smoke as the stock market is in a tailspin. I’m concerned about refugees and asylum seekers who are often stuck in crowded camps, living in dependence on the global community for water, food, and even soap – at a time when the world seems happy to shut them out and ignore their suffering.

I’m concerned that the worst is yet to come.

The IAFR Service Team

The IAFR “Service Team” came to the Minnesota office last week for our annual assessment and planning sessions. We are a decentralized team, with two in Peoria, IL, two more in Grand Rapids, MI, and four of us here in the Twin Cities. While we get a lot done working remotely and leveraging Zoom video conferencing, we occasionally need to meet face to face for more in-depth assessment and decision-making.

A highlight of our meetings last week was the shared conviction that the Service Team measures our success by the effectiveness of our missionaries in the field, who in turn, measure their effectiveness by their life-giving impact in the lives of refugees where they serve.

I thank God for the privilege of working alongside of these devoted colleagues!

The Service Team includes IAFR’s…

  • US Regional Leader – supporting our teams in Colorado, Georgia, and Minnesota
  • Director of Training – both internal missionary training and external training opportunities for other missions and churches
  • Our Director or Project Management – assisting with the development of new projects and tracking active projects
  • Assistant Director of Operations – assisting the Executive VP, primarily with mobilisation
  • Executive Team Assistant – assisting the President and Executive VP as needed
  • Executive Vice President – Overseeing Finance, HR, Service Team
  • President – Overseeing Regional Leader support, IAFR US – IAFR Canada collaboration, Board Development, Development, Publications, Website, engagement with World Evangelical Alliance
  • Director of Social Media – she’s presently in training and raising support. We hope to see her active by early 2020

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.

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.

Spiritual formation and prayer

Father, please fill us with the knowledge of your will,
giving us spiritual wisdom and understanding
so that the way we live always honors and pleases Jesus
and our good works bear good fruit
and our relationship with you grows deeper and deeper.

May we be strengthened by your glorious power
so that we persevere with endurance, patience and joy with thanksgiving
for you have enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints living in light.

Based on Colossians 1:9-12

While reading from Colossians 1 this morning, I was reminded how we can help shape each other’s spiritual formation through intercession. So I remixed Paul’s prayer a bit and put it on a digital sticky note. I have already found it helpful in moving me to pray more consistently for my IAFR teammates.

People sometimes ask how they can best pray for missionaries. I find this prayer a good place to start. I welcome your prayers for me along these lines!

IAFR Conference

Most of the IAFR team converged on Minnesota for a few days to retreat together this past week. It was a rich time of reconnecting, worship and learning. I am so grateful to be part of this amazing fellowship of the Highway.

IAFR Canada 🇨🇦

I spent the past few days in Toronto meeting with the executive leadership of IAFR Canada. We meet face to face twice annually in order to invest in our relationship, assess progress and challenges, listen to God and confirm our commitment to partnering internationally as we pursue our common mission.

We ended our time together last night gathered in the backyard of one of the board members for a tasty supper of Lebanese kebabs (photo).

It was encouraging to have met some of their new teammates as well as sit in on their board meeting. It is a joy and privilege to be serving together along the Refugee Highway.

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.