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.

Lunch with Gatera

Photo: Pastor Gatera in Kakuma refugee camp

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.

Click here to donate to his ministry today!

God’s heart on the highway

I serve with IAFR because it is focused on serving the world’s most vulnerable people – often in overlooked and remote places. IAFR does this in ways that I feel look like Jesus – in ways that are tender, thoughtful and gentle and also wild, progressive, creative and very challenging. I’m drawn to IAFR because of the way I see God’s heart playing out in what we do.

-Kelsey Briggs, preparing to serve in Ventimiglia, Italy

This is a paraphrase from an online video interview I made with Kelsey today. I plan to show to our board next month. Kelsey is in her 20s and eager to finally get to Italy to pioneer ministry in a context to which the media pays little attention, but in which there are thousands of vulnerable women, children and men desperately trying to find a way to survive.

I’m praying that God would send 1000+ young women and men of faith – people like Kelsey – to join IAFR and step out onto the refugee highway in places like Ventimiglia.

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Every one of our leaders is asking for more teammates. Would you join me in praying that God would call people to join with us?

I know God can do it. I was 22 when God called me into this ministry back in 1980. So as I pray, my faith is strong and my hopes are high.

Telling the story

I spent part of the day preparing to tell the IAFR story on Sunday evening as we begin the annual IAFR Missionary Conference.

It isn’t as easy as it sounds.

I decided I would highlight the defining moments in the story.

  • 1980 – The unmistakeable calling to serve refugees
  • 1997 – The vision of the Refugee Highway
  • 2001 – The global consultation on the Refugee Highway in Izmir, Turkey
  • 2009 – IAFR is conceived in Kenya
  • 2009 – IAFR is born
  • 2010 – Paul Sydnor joins IAFR as our second missionary
  • 2013 – Tom Albinson is appointed Ambassador for Refugees with World Evangelical Alliance
  • 2014 – The first draft of the Continuum of Response was drafted. It has become our core strategy for ministry and training.
  • 2017 – IAFR Canada is established

That’s the outline. Now to figure out a way to share it so that it makes sense and captures the interest of others…

Not a burden

We invited friends and financial partners to our home last night for “pie in the porch”. While the pies were good, the fellowship was sweeter.

Around 20 of our friends from the Twin Cities were able to join us. Several of them have been financial partners in our ministry since 1979 – almost 40 years! Many of them have known me all my life.

It is such a blessing to see how much it means to them to be part of this work. Several noted (including myself) how we had no idea where God would take this ministry back when I first moved to Bad Kreuzen, Austria.

Several eyes teared up as I shared some of the ways God is at work on the refugee highway today. This work is not a burden. It is a privilege.

I’m thankful that Michael Jurrens was with us so that our friends could meet him before he and his family relocate to northern France to join IAFR’s work there.

And thanks to Michael, I have a photo from last night too 🙂

Life changed

This is one of the earliest photos of me from 1980. It was taken shortly after I had touched down in Europe for a 6 month short-term mission stint right after graduating from college.

I thought I was going to spend those months visiting unregistered Christian youth camps and bringing Bibles to our brothers and sisters in what was then the East Bloc of the Soviet Union. And I did.

But that isn’t what changed my life forever.

The leadership of the mission sent me to see if there was opportunity to serve people in a refugee camp 100 miles from Vienna. I actually complained and asked them to send someone else as I wanted to spend my time in Eastern Europe. But they didn’t change their minds (for which I am forever grateful). I made several visits to the camp while in Austria that year. It wasn’t until I returned to the states in December 1980 that I experienced the surprising and unmistakable call of God to return to Austria and serve refugees full-time.

Life changed.

This photo was taken before all of that while in Germany en route to Austria. I had no idea what was around the bend. I probably still don’t.

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The cheapest way to fly to Europe back then was via Icelandic Airlines to Luxemburg. We then drove iconic VW vans to Austria with an overnight stopover in Germany. The boy’s name is Arnie.

Walking through memories

Photo: Vienna Rathaus

I last stood here 15 years ago – when I called Austria home. It was here that God called me to serve refugees in December 1980. I remember moving to Europe in June 1981 with a big red backpack (with aluminum frame) and a duffle bag. Though not forced, it was my personal uprooting.

I returned to Minnesota 23 years later with a wife, two children and a German speaking golden retriever.

I was walking through a web of memories today. Looking forward to tomorrow.

Beginnings

It was the summer of 1979. I had originally signed up to do a short-term missions stint in Alaska but was rerouted to serve in the Canary Islands. Alex Deikun (middle of photo) was serving there with Slavic Gospel Association. His mission was to find creative ways to get the Bible into the hands of sailors and fishermen from the Soviet Union and its East European satellite nations when their ships docked in the ports if Las Palmas.

We spent weekends with Dimitri, Nicholas and Jorge – refugees from Romania and Bulgaria that had somehow managed to escape their countries by sneaking aboard ships and hiding in lifeboats. When they were certain they had left Communist Europe, they swam to shore and found themselves in the Canary Islands. The Red Cross gave them shelter as Spain tried to figure out what to do with them.

They were the first refugees I remember meeting.

After 10 weeks in the Canaries, I returned to the US to finish my degree in Social Work. I didn’t have a clue that ministry among refugees would become my life’s calling.