Pioneering

I’m going to spend most of my day tomorrow with Kelsey, a twenty-something who joined IAFR last year to serve in Ventimiglia, Italy – an unknown smallish Italian city on the border with France.

Kelsey was with the IAFR research team that stumbled upon Ventimiglia and discovered many asylum-seekers and refugees are living there in squalid conditions – men, women and children from distant countries, most of which are experiencing protracted war.

Kelsey and I are going to explore what to anticipate when pioneering a new IAFR ministry location.

In preparation, I came upon the following definitions of pioneering…

  • One of the first to settle in a territory
  • A plant or animal capable of establishing itself in a bare, barren, or open area and initiating an ecological cycle
  • A person or group that originates or helps open up a new line of thought or activity or a new method or technical development

All three of these ideas apply to what Kelsey plans to do. The second bullet point conjures up a beautiful and hopeful image that I hope will prove true of her life in coming years.

Some might look down on her because of her age and think it unreasonable for someone like her to step into the complexities and unknowns of Ventimiglia. But I am partial to twenty-somethings. I was 22 years old when I set out to pioneer ministry in a remote Austrian village that wasn’t even found on maps…

Canadian Museum of Human Rights

Photo: The long and winding ramps of the Canadian Museum of Human Right take you on an uphill journey through a history of human oppression and crimes against humanity with frequent calls to learn from the past and to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Photo: The museum includes Jesus as a proponent of love and respect for our fellow man.

Walking through the museum felt very up close and personal. I was with a pastor of a local church that is 90% former refugees and a Somali Christian who fled persecution and is hoping to find refuge in Canada. Our Somali friend bought our entry tickets.

It is a walk through darkness and light. It remembers mankind at our worst while calling us to be our best. It is a testimony to our brokenness and exposes our twisted hearts. It awakens hope that we can somehow overcome our bent toward evil.

There are reminders in the daily news that we can still call down darkness and partner with the enemy who is determined to convince us that we no longer bear the image of our Creator.

But we do.

I left with fresh conviction to do what I can to call people into the life-giving kingdom of God within which hearts change and from which darkness flees.

So much to do

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.

Seeking refuge in France

Photo: Paul Sydnor (IAFR) talking with a refugee in the abandoned warehouse

This is one of many rooms in an abandoned warehouse that has become a makeshift refuge for 200-300 refugees and asylum seekers here in northern France. Conditions are terrible. Overcrowding and lack of sanitation make this a place in which sickness is inevitable. It is temporary home to mostly men, but some women as well. Nights are said to be somewhat frightening. But these people have nowhere else to go.

During our brief 1-2 hour visit, we met people from Gambia, Cameroon, Mali, Albania and Afghanistan. I have no idea what other nationalities are represented in the space.

A group of Afghan men invited us to sit with them beside their tents in the building. One was disappeared when we accepted their invitation. He returned moments later with a bowl filled with fresh fruit to share with us.

Photo: with two of the Afghan refugees by their tents

They spoke openly of their difficult journeys from Central Asia to Europe. One of the men shared with me has he has been denied asylum repeatedly by different countries – and how he is into his 4th appeal here in France. He’s been searching for refuge for 24 years now – including 10 years in Iran.

When I told them that I would pray for them – that God would lead them to a place that they could call home. Their eyes brightened. “That is What we need! Thank you!”

Amen.

—–

Please pray with us that God would call people to join with our team in Lille, France, full-time to help these friends survive and recover from forced displacement together with the church.

Displaced in Thailand

She was born into a Christian family in Pakistan. She was kidnapped by a relative and sold as a 16 year old bride to an older Muslim man. After too many years she finally found a way to escape. She is now a refugee in Thailand.

Can you help her?”

That was why the person called my office this morning. She knows the young woman and wants to find a way to help her to safety and a place in which she can begin to rebuild her broken life.

Although the United Nations recognizes her as a refugee, Thailand does not. Her life there is tenuous and as a single mother, she is among the most vulnerable refugees.

I reached out to two Christian leaders that I know who have trusted connections in Thailand. Perhaps they can help this sister survive while there. I also reached out to a Christian leader in Brazil, as his country is among those to which refugees can be resettled. Many churches in Brazil are exemplary in their active concern for refugees.

And I connected with the IAFR Canadian office to see if they knew of a church or network that might be willing to sponsor this sister to Canada. There are few countries that offer a private refugee sponsorship option as does Canada.

We prayed together before hanging up. We know that God alone can help this sister and single mother find refuge. So be it.

…..

The caller met me way back in the early 2000’s. We had completely lost touch. An old copy of The Map of the Refugee Highway brought my name to mind as she was searching for a Christian agency that might be able to help with this situation. I glad she found us. I hope and pray that God gives us the privilege of participating with him in answering our sister’s cry for help.

A difficult request

Can you send me the names of 5 mission agencies that might be able to help place missionaries from Latin America into ministries among refugees internationally?”

This question was put to me today.

It sounds like an easy question to answer. I wish it was. But the reason I founded IAFR in back in 2009 was because I could not find an international Christian mission agency with a clear commitment to serve refugees and other forcibly displaced people.

I do know of many outstanding local ministries serving refugees. I know of a few refugee ministries with a national scope. But it’s tough to find international missions engaging refugees. YWAM and OM are exceptions.

Of course, there are big Christian humanitarian agencies out there like World Vision and World Relief, but they are not missions in the sense of being missionary sending agencies. They do tremendous work in helping people survive disasters. World Relief does a wonderful job of helping refugees find their feet in the US. But where are other international missions helping the church-at-large engage with refugees in life-giving ways?

My ignorance isn’t for lack of exposure. Through my involvement with the Refugee Highway Partnership (a global network of people, churches and missions serving refugees) and from my role as Ambassador for Refugees with World Evangelical Alliance, I have a pretty good idea of what is out there. And I am hard pressed to come up with 5 names to pass along to my friend.

I’ve heard rumors of a few large missions starting their own refugee ministries. I guess it’s time to take a closer look at this and see if I can come up with 5 to pass along.

Perhaps you know of such a mission? Please let me know as soon as possible! Just leave their name and website in a comment to this blog post.

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.

—–

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.