“I hope I didn’t ruin your day.”
That’s what the driver of the street sweeper said today. He had parked the sweeper in front of our house with the sweeper sweeping and the blower blowing. It was raising up quite a dust storm. I had just finished washing all of our windows.
I admit it. I was pretty frustrated when I walked out to ask him to please move the sweeper. But I hope it didn’t ruin my day. It should take a lot more than that to ruin a day.
I walked back to my door thinking about my friends who have been forced to flee their homes and countries, often leaving everything behind. They’ve suffered the loss of loved ones. Some have endured torture and all kinds of abuse. Many of them have been stuck in forgotten refugee camps for decades. Their future remains completely uncertain. Yet when we meet, there are always smiles. When we gather together in their mud brick church buildings, there is always heartfelt worship.
Refugees have given me perspective.
My clean windows may have received a fresh coating of dust. The lawyer with whom I had an appointment may have cancelled due to illness. Our home router may have broken down.
But all in all, it has been a good day.
I spent a good part of today assisting a friend that is in the process of fleeing her country. For obvious reasons, I can’t share any details. While I count it a privilege to offer prayer and encouragement as she steps out on her dangerous journey, it is weighing heavily on me that anyone has to make such a decision and take such risks.
I am encouraged to see how fellow Christians from diverse churches are standing in solidarity with her. The church is right where she should be.
May God lead you on a straight way to a city where you can settle. (from Psalm 107)
When they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. -Exodus 4:31 (NLT)
This truth is at the heart of the gospel – the life-giving good news from God. This truth transformed an oppressed and enslaved people thousands of years ago. I lean on this truth every day as I serve people on the refugee highway. God sees, God hears and God cares.
A few years ago a young lawyer was serving as director of social media with IAFR. Although he does not identify himself as a Christian, he was eager to help us and our mission.
We were having lunch together one day when he asked why I am not completely burned out. I told him it is because God is alive and well – active and engaged in the lives of forcibly displaced people.
I’ll never forget his reply. “Believing that would change everything.”
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…
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 🙂
I’m writing an article on How God is at work among forcibly displaced people for the New Urban World Journal of the Urban Shalom Society. I’m connected with them and their work through my Ambassador role with World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
While I find writing hard work, I also find it to be a helpful discipline as it forces me to put words on issues and convictions.
My hope is that this article might be used to create new space in the hearts and minds of people for refugees. I believe that this is among the most important challenges of this decade, during which many societies have begun to perceive refugees as a threat to their well-being rather than vulnerable people in need of safety.
I suspect that writing will become an increasingly important part of my ministry in coming years.
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.
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.
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.
You are invited! On August 2 (a Thursday) Donna and I are hosting an open house featuring a personal ministry update from yours truly. You are welcome to come at 7:00 PM. We will serve light refreshments.
It would be helpful to know if you plan to join us to be sure we have enough refreshments to go around. Just send me an email to RSVP.
Feel free to bring a friend or three as well! We love meeting new people and letting them know about our ministry among refugees.
We hope to see you then!
What word would you guess is the opposite of “hospitality”? A look into a couple of other languages might help us…
Philoxenia = hospitality. Transliteration: love of strangers
Xenophobia = fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign. Transliteration: fear of strangers
Gastfreundschaft = hospitality. Transliteration: friend of guests
Auslanderfeindlichkeit = xenophobia. Transliteration: enemy of foreigner
It seems pretty straightforward that Jesus’ famous words below are calling us away from xenophobia and into philoxenia:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies…” Matt. 5:43
In an age of growing xenophobia, those who identify themselves as followers of Jesus will do well to remember and practice our divine mandate to practice the love of strangers. Hospitality.
Looking for a good book on the subject?
Rachel Uthmann, IAFR Director of Church Training, recently told me about the book “Making Room” by Christine Pohl. Published in 1999, it remains as relevant as ever – perhaps even more so today than when it was first released.