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.

Refugee prayers

I’m struck by how some of my refugee friends in Kenya are checking in with me (usually via WhatsApp) to be sure I get home safely.

A Muslim mother in Kakuma says she is praying for my safe arrival. A Congolese asylum seeker in Nairobi is doing the same. Both of these friends are up to their eyeballs in uncertainty and suffering. Still, they are quick to care for others – even me.

They’ve experienced life in such a way as to not take safe travels for granted.

May God’s blessing be upon them.

Covid-19 fever

Above: Visiting refugee churches in Kalobeyei refugee settlement earlier in the week – part of the Kakuma refugee protection system in remote northwestern Kenya.

I guess I just got lucky. I’m sitting in a more empty than usual airport lounge in Amsterdam, slowly making my way home after a great visit to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (learn more).

Covid-19 fever has hit the world with gusto. The US government put a travel ban into effect at midnight. Only US citizens and residents can fly from Europe to the US now.

While I was en route to the Nairobi airport, Delta sent me a text. My flight from Amsterdam to Minneapolis was cancelled. Thankfully, Delta worked out an alternative flight plan for me after a few uncertain hours. I’m now flying home via Chicago.

I’ve been told that those of us transiting Europe are to self-quarantine for 2 weeks upon arrival in the US.

My plans to meet with a group of churches in Seattle this month have been cancelled, as has my planned trip to Bangkok at the end of the month. I’m doubtful my plans to visit our ministries in France and Austria in early May will come to pass. I won’t be surprised if my plans to fly to Geneva in June for UNHCR NGO consultations will be halted as well.

My wife works at a senior living campus and said that we might also need to keep our distance from each other for 14 days after I return. The elderly are especially vulnerable to the virus. I’m seriously tempted to pitch a tent in the northwoods – except it’s still too cold to be much fun.

I can’t help but look around me and wonder how Covid-19 fever is impacting others.

Maximum flexibility

My March travel plans include Kenya (assessed as the 6th highest risk city in Africa for a Covid-19 outbreak), Seattle (where Covid-19 claimed its first US casualty) and Bangkok, the highest risk city outside of China for an outbreak.

My plans to go to Kenya (Kakuma refugee camp) are still on. I’m still planning on Seattle too. Bangkok is likely going to be cancelled – Delta has already cancelled flights from Minneapolis to Seoul (through which I would need to fly to get to Bangkok).

Those who know me know one of my creeds is, “maximum flexibility!” It’s taking on a whole new meeting in March.

Travel season

It’s been rather refreshing to have been in the US since mid-November. But the highway is calling again. I’m on the edge of travel season again.

I’ll visit Kenya, Thailand, Seattle, France and Austria in March, April and May. I look forward to making a long overdue visit to my son in NYC somewhere in the middle of the other trips.

I’m thankful for the privilege of seeking the welfare of forcibly displaced people internationally – and for the remarkable support of my wife, Donna, that makes it possible.

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.

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.