The immigration Officer

Photo: friends serving refugees in Winnipeg

The Canadian immigration officer was looking at my passport.

Officer: You travel a lot. What do you do?

Me: “I serve refugees.

Officer: Where do you travel?

Me: A lot of places, but I visit Kenya most frequently.

Officer: Where do you work in Kenya?

Me (wondering where this is going): Kakuma refugee camp.

Officer: Do you work in other places in Kenya?

Me (a light went on): We’re you a Refugee in Kenya?

Officer: Yes.

Me: Were you perhaps in Dadaab refugee camp?

Officer: Yes. Did you ever visit Dadaab?

Me: I have not. But isn’t it amazing that we are here together now – and you are welcoming me to Canada?

Officer: Yes. It is amazing indeed. Welcome to Canada.

A good day

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.

Sunday School

Photo: Anthony telling his story

I do a fair bit of speaking at churches and other venues, but today’s gig was a bit more challenging than usual. I was asked to teach Sunday School at our church. Twice.

I wrestled this past week with figuring out how to talk about forced displacement in a way that connects with kids.

It was helpful to partner with Anthony, a young man who spent much of his life as a refugee before finally getting resettled to the US (the Twin Cities). We actually met a few years ago during a visit to Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi.

So I helped the kids get a basic understanding of forced displacement by first unpacking the story of Jesus’ childhood – including his flight to Egypt as a refugee. My hope is that this will help them understand that refugees are not bad or dangerous people, but rather people in need of safety – just like Jesus and his family.

We then talked about homesickness and how good it is to be able to return home after a vacation. My hope is that this helped them understand the pain and loss every refugee experiences.

Anthony then shared his story of fleeing war in DR Congo with his sister. They passed through many countries as refugees before he was finally resettled here. Most of the kids paid close attention.

We then showed them photos of refugee kids doing normal kid stuff. My hope is that they see these kids as kids just like themselves – just in very difficult circumstances.

Someone asked Anthony why so many refugee kids look happy in the photos. He said it’s true – many of the kids are actually happy. But he struggled to answer the question “Why?” He just said, “I don’t know. Somehow they just are.”

Against all odds, these kids who live in mud houses in forgotten refugee camps without electricity and running water, little food and used clothing – still play and laugh and smile and sing. It is truly amazing.

Click here to see for yourself (15 second video in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi).

I came away a bit unsure how much actually got through, but I trust God to somehow take what was shared and use it to create space in their hearts and minds for refugees.

I also came away with great appreciation for those committed to teaching Sunday School regularly!

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.


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.


It popped into my mind this sunny Saturday morning…

If hope was a soup, what ingredients would it include?

As a missionary working among people caught in humanitarian crisis, this is not a rhetorical question.

Like an nagging old friend, the question is with me every day. I search for answers in the pages Scripture, in lives of the refugees and in the ministries of teammates and like minded agencies.

I’ve been at it for 38 years now and believe key ingredients to include:

  • Supportive relationships & community
  • Life-giving faith
  • Emotional well-being
  • New capacities for a new context
  • Opportunities to make meaningful contributions to society
  • and a place one can call home

There is a lot packed into each ingredient. What do you think? Is something missing?