“You guys are all about restoring dignity and hope to people.”
That’s what a professional consultant and marketer told me after spending six hours together with him and a handful of friends last weekend. They had come to hear about the ministry of IAFR. After a 30-45 minute overview, they pummeled us with questions about refugee realities and what the work looks like on the ground. It was so encouraging.
It was clear the consultant/marketing guy was running all we said through his filters as he tried to identify IAFR’s unique contribution to the world of refugee response. And I think he nailed it.
Human dignity and hope are no small thing, just ask someone who has lost them.
He also offered to help us sharpen our communication about the mission and impact of IAFR. I look forward to taking him up on it.
I am often asked this question. Here is my best shot at a brief answer…
Our Mission Field
Our mission field is the Refugee Highway – the well-worn routes people travel in search of safety. This is where we find our fellow human beings, made in the image of God, spilling out of the deepest and darkest wounds in the world today.
We are helping people survive and recover from forced displacement together with the church.
What We Do
We demonstrate the love of God for those who have been forcibly displaced by hatred and violence. We pray for the privilege of participating with God in his answers to their prayers.
We introduce forcibly displaced people to Jesus – He is the ultimate revelation of God and his love for us.
We partner with the refugee church, breaking her isolation and investing in her capacity in ways that strengthen hope and fuel resilience in refugee contexts.
We train and consult with churches, missions, agencies and individuals serving forcibly displaced people.
We advocate on behalf of forcibly displaced people, seeking to create space in the hearts and minds of people (especially Christians) for refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people
The IAFR Continuum of Response (below) shows the ministry strategy we contextualize to suite the diverse locations we serve. There is a lot packed into it. Let me know if you would like to know more.
Why We Refuse to Lose Heart
I have often been asked why I haven’t burned out after nearly 40 years of working among people in crisis. Of course, the biggest reason is God’s grace. The needs we face are relentless and the burden is often heavy. But there are three realities that help keep hope alive and my heart and mind resilient.
God has been at work in and through the lives of forcibly displaced people ever since Adam and Eve were uprooted from the Garden. God met them on the other side. God is meeting refugees in remarkable ways today too.
Refugees are more than people in need. They are an important part of the solution to the challenges they endure. They are a huge source of inspiration in my life.
The church can be found all along the Refugee Highway. When at her best, she plays a unique and essential role in helping people survive and recover from forced displacement – a role that humanitarian agencies are not able to fill. The kinds of ministries listed on the green line called “Recovery Work” in the Continuum of Response (above) are well-suited to the ministry of a healthy church.
It was 10 years ago at this time of year when it became clear to me that it was time to move on from the mission with which I had served for 17 years, the last 15 of which I had served as Director of Refugee Ministries.
A US refugee resettlement agency was hiring a new Executive Director, so I applied for the job. To be honest, the idea of serving refugees without needing to raise personal support was quite appealing. While on a telephone interview with the board, an unmistakable sense of conviction washed over me. This was not the job to which God was calling me. I protested. “Why not?” But I knew that voice. It was to be trusted – and obeyed. I told the board that I was no longer a candidate. The call ended soon afterwards.
But what then?
I felt that God was calling me to work internationally with refugees. But I couldn’t find any mission agencies that had a focus on ministry among refugees internationally.
I asked a group of respected friends to help me navigate this stretch of my journey. I needed their prayers, counsel and advice. I remain most grateful to Wes, Bruce, Stephen, Allan, Dan and Jim for walking through this with me.
An unthinkable thought surfaced. “If it doesn’t exist perhaps you should start such a mission.” It was both persistent and disturbing. I tried my best to ignore it.
It was April of 2009 that the next milestone was reached. Friends serving refugees in Kenya invited Donna and I on a safari in Kenya (see photo) – a safari during which we imagined what a mission agency specifically designed for refugee ministry might look like.
While following rhinos, elephants, giraffe, lions and countless gazelles in the shadow of Africa’s second highest mountain, a vision was emerging. It seemed both far fetched and compelling.
The seed from which IAFR would soon grow had been planted.
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.
I’m at a retreat center 30 minutes south of the Twin Cities this week, meeting with the executive leadership of IAFR Canada 🇨🇦 We call the meetings of IAFR executive leadership from the US and Canada our International Round Table (IRT).
They are in the final stages of establishing their organizational systems and will soon be ready to fully engage in ministry among refugees internationally.
While IAFR Canada is an autonomous mission agency, we share a common mission and operations values – so we work closely together toward that end.
While there is a lot of confusion and debate going on in the world concerning refugees, it is good to be together this week working on ways that bring hope and solutions to our uprooted friends.
We are up close and personal with refugees and asylum seekers in many parts of the world and we can testify that there is no need to fear them. There is good reason to partner with them in finding solutions to their displacement. That is where we are putting our time and energy.
A message from Europe asking if we can help a refugee ministry in Cyprus…
A call with a person with significant profile and influence in the world of refugees exploring the possibilities of gaining some frontline ministry experience…
An email from Switzerland connecting me with a person at the UN Refugee Agency to whom I sent a report about how churches in Lille, France, are working together to provide shelter and education to minors seeking asylum in the country.
Some initial planning for my next visit to Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp in early 2019…
These are some of the things that I’ve been working on in the past couple of days.
There is so much that needs to be done – and that can be done – to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. The main challenge we face is finding financial partners who will support those ready and willing to serve with us along the Refugee Highway.
Pray with me that God would raise up the missionaries we need AND the financial partners needed to pursue our pressing mission.
I had a long overdue lunch with my friend and IAFR colleague, Pastor Gatera. We first met when he was pastoring a refugee church in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya). He now lives less than a 15 minute drive from my office in Minneapolis.
We spoke of family, leadership, theology and ministry (both in the US and in Kakuma).
He shared how he has spent his life immersed in multicultural settings. His ministry has always been interdenominational in nature. His posture is always of a learner.
His calling is clear. He has a vision to help strengthen interdenominational associations of churches in refugee contexts. Refugee churches play a life-saving role in keeping hope alive in desperate places. But they get very little support and encouragement from the church-at-large – much less from a highly respected Christian leader who spent 20 years in a refugee camp himself.
He is in the early months of support raising. He needs help developing a network of financial partners.
Would you pray with me that God would raise up a circle of generous donors to release him into ministry? He needs about $5500/month.