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.
The changing demographic of refugee resettlement in the US is impacting local churches.
I had an encouraging phone call today with a pastor serving with Elmbrook Church in Milwaukee, WI. He told me about a ministry center that they set up several years ago to serve refugees within their community and how the church is involved and connecting with resettled refugees. It has been a blessing for all.
But now refugee resettlement numbers to the US have been drastically reduced, US resettlement agencies are closing down. Precious few people are given the opportunity to begin rebuilding their shattered lives here in the US. Elmbrook’s ministry is among those affected. They fear that this opportunity for ministry is disappearing. They are evaluating whether or not to keep the ministry center open.
Thankfully, they are not thinking of giving up. Our conversation affirmed that they might be able to tweak the present center into something that reaches out to more than the newest arrivals to the community from abroad. We imagined what it might be like to transform it into a culture center that welcomes and serves the broader community of refugees, asylum-seekers and immigrants.
Elmbrook is still evaluating how to best proceed, but I came away from our call deeply encouraged to hear of a local church with a big heart for refugees and migrants in its community. May God raise up 100,000 churches around the world that share such a heart and commitment.
The world changes for the better whenever a local church loves its neighbors.
FACT: Less than 1% of the world’s 25.4 million refugees are resettled in a given year (i.e. a Syrian refugee in Jordan resettled to the US or a Sudanese refugee in Kenya resettled to Canada).
But contrary to what many people assume, not all refugees want to be resettled to another country (including the US). Most hope to one day be able to return home.
The UN Refugee Agency has identified 1.2 million of the 25.4 million refugees in serious need of resettlement – that’s just 6% of the total refugee population.
ANOTHER FACT: Opportunities for resettlement dropped a massive 54% between 2016 and 2017. Over 163,000 refugees were resettled in 2016. Just over 75,000 were resettled in 2017.
These are people who will never be able to return home or integrate into their country of temporary refuge and who are understood to be among the most vulnerable refugees. They are the most vulnerable people in the world.
But as the number of forcibly displaced people continues to grow, peaceful nations are offering less help. The burden to care for these people falls on the world’s developing nations.
I last saw him about 3 years ago while visiting Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. So you can imagine how surprised I was to bump into Anthony at church this morning. I had not heard that he and his family were resettled to the US – much less to St. Paul, Minnesota, a couple of months ago.
Anthony is originally from DR Congo’s volatile eastern provinces. Last I knew, over 2 million people had been forced to flee the country. They have been scattered all over Africa and the world.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for Anthony to move from a forgotten refugee camp’s mud houses without running water and electricity to downtown St. Paul – in winter.
But refugees are defined by being people on the run – people on the move. So Anthony seems to have taken his latest move in stride, as if transcontinental moves were normal.
Now he’s looking for a job that will pay their bills. Fortunately, Anthony worked hard to learn English and can speak it well. That will help. But the transition will still not be quick or easy.
A family from our church had already invited him to their home for lunch. Wow. That is the church at its best. And it is an important offer of new friendship and community for Anthony, without which it is nearly impossible to recover from forced displacement.