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.
“Your country destroyed my country.”
I had struck up a conversation with a 50 year old man who was sitting outside of a motel that houses refugees. I asked if he spoke English to which he replied by asking if I was from England. That was his reply when I told him I was from the US.
Photo: the Refugee motel outside of which we met
He speaks English well. He has a BA in economics from a university in Iraq. But he is now “a nobody” seeking refuge in France. I could tell hope is running thin.
It’s never easy hearing someone claim that my homeland destroyed theirs. But I’ve learned to listen and try to understand their point of view. And so I listened this morning.
I heard a middle age man lamenting the loss of his mother, father, brothers and wife to the violence and chaos of post Sadaam Iraq. At some point, he felt compelled to flee even his homeland.
In his words:
“I have lost everything.”
And that is the point. I was talking to a man who has been stripped of everything in life. He is now trying to rebuild his life in Europe – but Europe wants him to go back to where he came from. He is presently sheltered in an unfinished motel, sharing a tiny room with 2-3 other people who have also fled their countries of origin.
The past is filled with loss. The future is uncertain. The present is painful.
This wasn’t a time for bandaids or closure. It was a time to listen closely. It was an opportunity to offer presence without judgment.
I came away with a heavy heart. We are so far from Eden.
I spent Labor Day weekend with my wife’s side of the family. It was nice to say goodbye to summer on the family farm in central Missouri. I took this photo of George McCollum, Donna’s dad, sitting on the front porch. I think the camera found him.
Photo: asylum seekers under a bridge in Ventimiglia, Italy
IAFR’s Kelsey Briggs recently spoke with a refugee who had spent time in Ventimiglia, Italy, about 10 years ago. This is what he shared:
In 2009 I spent two weeks in Ventimiglia. I was very sad and lonely. While I was there I ran out of the last bit of money I had for my journey. I had already tried to make it to France five times. I sat on the beach and prayed to God, asking what I should do. A few other people joined with me. While we were sitting together, a person came by and offered each of us a sandwich.
He went on to say that he will never forget Ventigmiglia because he experienced God’s faithfulness there – through the stranger who gave him a sandwich.
He is now a follower of Jesus and leader in his church.
Kelsey says that his story serves as a reminder that it is often in the midst of simple moments that God is telling his grander story.
Kelsey is raising support to pioneer IAFR ministry in Ventimiglia, Italy.
“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.
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.