Skyping Kakuma

Today was punctuated by an email conversation with people in Washington D.C. and Kakuma, Kenya. I’m coordinating a Skype conference call for Sunday morning (at 3 PM in Kenya, 8 AM in D.C. and 7 AM here in Minneapolis).

I am looking forward to seeing our ministry partners in Kakuma and talking with the 5 girls that the D.C. church is sponsoring through high school (in partnership with IAFR). The girls are from South Sudan, Burundi, DR Congo and the IDP camp sheltering over 2000 Kenyans.

The sponsoring church is eager to meet the girls via Skype. I am encouraged that they want to do what they can to personalize the sponsorship.

We’re tentatively planning on having someone from the church join me on my April 2019 visit to Kakuma so they can meet the girls in person – as well as get a first hand look at some of the other IAFR projects that the church is sponsoring.

Assuming everything works according to plan, the girls should start their freshman year in January 2019.

A good Friday

Finally. We set something life-giving in motion – three international transfers of funding made possible by the sacrificial generosity of many people, most of whom will never meet – people who pooled their resources together to joyfully partner with God as he answers the prayers of our displaced brothers and sisters on the other side of the world.

Finally. IAFR sent the funding to our partner agency in Kenya (National Council of Churches Kenya – NCCK) so that…

The KISOM building project can now enter phase one!

The IDP Water Project can get under way!

We also wired the first monthly contribution to our partner refugee agency (URHC) so that they can begin offering ministry support to the Kenyan missionary – Nicholas Gagai – leading their Interdenominational School of Mission and their refugee youth ministry.

Many refugee lives will soon change.

Pastors, evangelists, missionaries and church leaders will have a dedicated safe space in which they can gather for training and equipping for their calling.

Thousands of women, children and men – an entire village of internally displaced people – will have a local supply of clean water! This will greatly improve their health. It will also improve their security as the present 6-7 mile round trip through semi desert bush to fetch dirty water entails many risks. It will also increase their capacity to hope, as God demonstrates that he hears their cries and provides for their needs.

And our faithful brother, Nicholas, serving full-time with our refugee partner organisation, will finally have some regular support to enable him to more fully invest himself in equipping refugee church leaders for ministry and in mentoring refugee youth, encouraging them to live faithful lives serving Jesus. He has been serving for nearly 10 years without any source of regular income. This has taken a toll on his health over the years.

All this was set in motion yesterday. It was a good Friday.

IAFR Ministry Locations

World map showing movement of forcibly displaced people

I put this image together today in preparation for the annual IAFR missionary conference in August. I will also pull it out this Thursday evening during our Open House (you are invited!) – and again during our annual board meeting in September.

The background is taken from the Map of the Refugee Highway, that I design and produce every year. The major refugee-producing nations are shaded red while major refugee-hosting countries are shaded yellow.

A time to build.

KISOM = The Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission

KISOM was established by churches in Kakuma refugee camp back in 1997. It’s 2 and 3 year programs prepare pastors, missionaries and evangelists for ministry. It has graduated over 1,000 students, many of whom are now pastoring churches in the camp and surrounding host community – and even in other countries, both in Africa and beyond. The stated mission of the school is “To reach the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Kakuma.”

Our refugee brothers and sisters have been praying for more than 2 decades that God would give them a proper school building for this important ministry. IAFR helped them purchase land for the building in 2016 (photo).

Perhaps you can imagine my joy this week when I told IAFR Finance to transfer the funds that we have raised to build the school!

Our NGO partner in Kakuma (National Council of Churches Kenya – NCCK) will work closely with our refugee partner (United Refugee and Host Churches – URHC) in both planning and constructing the school. NCCK has needed expertise and capacity that our refugee partners lack.

Many thanks to the generous IAFR financial partners who contributed a total of $70,000 for this project!

What a joy to be able to partner with God in his answer to the prayers of the refugee churches in Kakuma!

Click here to learn more about KISOM (lots of beautiful photos included).


“Behind the event’s messages of hope…lies a daily life of curfews, police brutality, and ever-dwindling food rations. As much as the refugees in Kakuma deserve to be given a global platform…no amount of individual positive thinking is enough to escape these realities.”

-Ethnographer Hanno Brankamp, who has spent years studying life at Kakuma. Click here to see the source article in IRIN News.

As someone who spends 3+ weeks every year in Kakuma refugee camp, I can appreciate Hanno’s perspective on the recent TEDx Talks Held there. The talk of refugee strength, resilience and innovation is all true – but so is the inverse. People there struggle intensely to keep hope alive with every new sunrise.

It may sound like a contradiction or a paradox. But it is the reality for our friends in Kakuma today.

Supporting Nicholas

Photo: Nicholas Gagai

It was with a big smile that I notified United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC), our refugee partner organisation in Kakuma refugee camp, that IAFR is able to begin assisting them with support for their full-time worker, Nicholas Gagai!

Nicholas has been serving URHC for the past 10 years with no support. His ministry responsibilities include Director of the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission (KISOM) and Director of Refugee Youth Ministries – both core ministries of URHC and both ministries with which IAFR closely partners with URHC.

Nicholas is originally from a city far from Kakuma. He fled to Kakuma during post election violence in Kenya back in early 2008. He quickly found his calling to serve alongside of refugee churches in Kakuma.

I’ve known Nicholas since IAFR began its work in Kakuma back in 2011. Over the years we’ve become good friends and ministry partners. It is a joy for us to partner with God in his answer to Nicholas’s prayer for a more predictable provision for his ministry.

Click here to learn more about Nicholas and his ministry in Kakuma refugee camp.

You can partner with Nicholas in his remarkable ministry! Click here to donate toward his support today!

TEDx Talk – Kakuma refugee camp

Wow. This is so cool! I watched a bunch of talks this rainy morning here in Minnesota. I visit Kakuma 3 times a year which makes it even more amazing. I hope you will listen to at least a few of today’s remarkable TEDx Talks from Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. They will renew your hope and awaken fresh compassion.

Divine appointment

I received an email today from a Burundian refugee woman in Kakuma refugee camp. God brought me across her path while there in April. I’ll call her Josie…

I was taking a US pastor and his wife for a quick tour of the refugee camp. Courtesy of our partner NGO, National Council of Churches Kenya (NCCK), Elizabeth was our driver for the day. She is a strong Turkana woman who often drives the UN Toyota Land Cruiser like a NASCAR driver with an ever present smile on her face (while wearing a full-length dress).

We were pretty deep in the camp when Elizabeth asked if I wanted to stop and talk to people. I smiled because she’s driven me around many times over the years and knows that I am always asking to stop to meet with people. She pulled over and we got out. It didn’t take long before we were surrounded by a group of refugee women, children and men. They were eager to talk.

Josie worked her way through the crowd and asked if she could talk.

We walked over to her mud brick shelter. She introduced me to her 3 year old son. Her English was broken, but she was desperate to tell me her story. It was apparent that she was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

She had been a refugee in Rwanda prior to fleeing to Kenya earlier this year. After being assaulted and gang raped in Rwanda, she fled to Kenya with her son. Now she is pregnant. She is alone. She is vulnerable. She doesn’t know what to do. She begged me to find someone who speaks Swahili to come visit her, listen to her story and help her. Above all, she wanted to be moved to a safer place in the camp.

I hate feeling powerless. But I often do. I’ve learned over the years that I need to push through my own sense of helplessness and bring such friends into the presence of Jesus through prayer. I asked her if I could pray with her. She was so thankful. Praying together didn’t solve the problem, but we named Jesus together and remembered God is with her and that he is good.

It was getting late. Elizabeth called us back to the vehicle. We continued our tour of the camp. When we returned to the NGO compound, I told leaders serving with NCCK and Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) about Josie and her need for psychological support. They said they would reach out to her.

Josie has since kept in touch with me through email. She writes that she received only one visit from a NGO worker and that was nearly 2 months ago. He listened to her story, but there has been no follow up. I emailed a friend serving with an NGO and asked if he could have someone follow up with her. But the NGO workers already carry an impossible burden as they work on shoe-string budget to keep 186,000 refugees alive each day. I know they will do what they can in the midst of the many other responsibilities they carry.

I heard from Josie again yesterday morning. I can’t make out exactly what she is trying to communicate, but it sounds like someone in the camp has threatened her if she refuses to abandon her mud brick shelter and turn it over to him. I get the impression that camp security is not protecting her.

Once again, all I can do is listen and pray.

But thank God, Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera joined IAFR last year! A Burundian by nationality, he lived in Kakuma for 20 years. He not only pastored a refugee church but was also well-known and esteemed as a leader of pastors within the camp and surrounding host community. He knows just about everyone there. He was also among the refugee pastors that IAFR is training in trauma care together with Wheaton College (IL). So I asked Pastor Gatera if he would email Josie and invite her to communicate with us in her mother tongue. He wasted no time. Within minutes, I was copied on his email reaching out to Josie.

I don’t know where things will go from here. But I sense God is at work, caring for Josie in the midst of her fears, suffering and struggle. I believe God hears our cries and sees our struggles – and that he cares. And I suspect he is giving me the privilege of being one of the people in Josie’s life through whom he is answering her prayers.

While it seemed quite random at the time, I think I know what moved Elizabeth to ask me if I wanted to stop and talk to people in the camp that day in April. Divine appointment.


Photo: A shelter built by IAFR in Kakuma, Kenya

I spent much of the day reviewing IAFR projects with Jake Tornga, our Director of Project Management. Jake works hard to help us record how money is invested in IAFR projects – which isn’t as easy as it sounds. He also helps us keep track of progress for each project.

It’s proven very helpful to have Jake focused on keeping track of funding refugee scholarships, building refugee shelters, providing Bibles for refugees or investing in income generation projects (among other IAFR projects and programs).

I can sleep soundly because I know he’s making sure the numbers add up and the projects are moving forward.

Click here to see a full list of IAFR projects.


Photo: Esperance (source: UNHCR)

How cool.  A friend of ours in Kakuma refugee camp is featured in a UN news report. She and her family (2 kids) are refugees from DR Congo. I see her on nearly every visit to Kakuma as she often translates for me when I visit a Somali friend, Mama Fartun.

When I told her about the report via Facebook, she replied: “I like what I’m seeing right now! I can’t believe this!” I’m sure it was nice to get some good news today 🙂

Click here to read the UN report about her and how innovative and hard working many refugees are when it comes to starting businesses in refugee camps like Kakuma.