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Hospitality of Refugees

In 2001 I was living in Europe, knee-deep in my first immersion into the reality of people who were so desperate to escape violence and oppression that they would risk life and limb, crossing mountains and seas in search of hope.

Working as an English teacher in a day center frequented mostly by young men from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, I had the privilege and incredible challenge of trying to facilitate language learning with a revolving-door of changing faces. Most of my refugee students slept in parks or abandoned buildings at night while looking for food to survive and trying to figure out how to register for residence permits with the government during daytime hours

In September 2001, the world changed in ways we didn’t see coming. As much as the memory of those days is fixed in my mind, another unforgettable moment occurred a few weeks later when the United States began air strikes on Afghanistan in response to the 9/11 attacks.

The day after the bombs started falling I nervously entered the overcrowded room of eager faces for my regularly scheduled English class. I am sure my nerves were visible to everyone in the room as I tried to carry on as normal, but there was nothing normal about a young American woman standing in a room full of predominantly Afghan men while bombs from her country fell upon theirs.

I honestly didn’t know whether I agreed or didn’t agree with the military action my country was taking, but I did know that there would be casualties and collateral damage, as there always are in war, and those who suffered would likely include the loved ones of at least some of my students. I grieved for my country and for those who died in the horrific attacks in the United States, and I grieved for my students – for the unimaginable losses they had already endured and for the suffering that was increasing in their country at that very moment.

With great trepidation I named the proverbial elephant in all of our minds. Asking some more advanced students to translate for me, I told them I was deeply concerned about any additional suffering that would be caused by this new layer of fighting in their homeland. After only a brief moment, one of the advanced English speakers stood to say, “Teacher, we know you are not your country any more than we are ours. We are people first, and we are so thankful you are here with us.” Others stood in agreement, offering kind words of reassurance that our friendships could go beyond and even be strengthened by our shared experience of grief.

I was deeply moved by the hospitality I received that day. I had moved overseas to serve those displaced by war, but I found myself being helped and welcomed by those whom many would have assumed to be my enemies. I will never forget the lesson I learned in that classroom, that our nationality and our very real conflicts and fears do not have to override our common desire to know and be known, to serve and learn, and to look for a way forward together.

Church Invests in Refugee School of Mission

 

*UPDATE: Northwood church called IAFR today (Monday) to say that they received another $3,000 from a matching gift fund today for the KISOM project! That changes the original post (below) to a donation of $27,218. On behalf of our brothers and sisters in Kakuma refugee camp, thank you Northwood!

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IAFR President, Tom Albinson, was presented a donation of $24,218 by Northwood Church (Minnesota) for the KISOM Buidling Project during Northwood's morning worship service earlier today.

IAFR has now received over $60,000 of the needed $69,000 to help our refugee partners in Kakuma refugee camp (Kenya) build the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission (KISOM).

Northwood is an encouraging example  of an Evangelical church deeply committed to loving and welcoming refugees. They have partnered with our friends at Arrive Ministries in resettling multiple refugee families over the years. They also send their youth pastor and another church member to participate in the annual Refugee Youth Camp in Kakuma camp - which they also help fund. Northwood pastor, Brian Doten, remarked today that the church has invested around $75,000 in recent years into projects that are helping refugees in Kakuma survive and recover from forced displacement.

Thank you to our friends at Northwood for your generosity and joy as you seek the welfare of refugees, both near and far!

Visit our Kenya Travel Blog to learn more about IAFR's ministry in Kakuma refugee camp.

WEA Call to Welcome Refugees

IAFR fully supports the Call to Welcome Refugees by World Evangelical Alliance (text follows).

WEA Issues Call to Welcome Refugees

New York, NY – January 29, 2017

In light of recent developments related to the ongoing global refugee crisis, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is issuing the following ‘Call to Welcome Refugees’:

We wholeheartedly affirm the clear teaching of the Holy Bible that the people of God are called by God to ‘love’ and ‘welcome’ the foreigner and stranger (Leviticus 19:33,34 and Matthew 25:34-36).

We therefore call upon the worldwide body of Christ to reflect the heart of God and to actively love and welcome refugees.

We call upon Christian leaders and pastors to deepen their biblical understanding of forced displacement and to intentionally minister in ways intended to create space in the hearts and minds of others for refugees.

We call upon Christians everywhere to pursue a biblically informed perspective of forced displacement and to actively seek the welfare of refugees.

Recognizing that the global refugee crisis is putting great pressure on governments, we call upon Christians to pray for wisdom for government leaders involved in refugee-related policy-making.

Affirming article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that states,

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution;”

affirming the preamble of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees in which it is written,

Considering that the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the United Nations has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation;”

and further affirming Article Three of the Convention in which it is stated,

The Contracting States shall apply the provisions of this Convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin;”

we call upon the governments of signing nations to clearly honour these international agreements as they respond to the challenges and pressures of the global refugee crisis.

Signed:
Bp Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the WEA; Comm. Christine MacMillan, Associate Secretary General for Public Engagement who heads up WEA’s Refugee Task Force; Tom Albinson, WEA Ambassador for Refugees, Displaced and Stateless People.

Who Cares?

Question: How long is the average refugee displaced - stuck in limbo - unable to return home or permanently reside in their host country or be resettled to another country offering them permanent refuge?

Answer: The average time of displacement is over 17 years. The majority of these people are in contexts that do not permit them to work and that keep them dependent upon the global community to keep them alive. Their meager food ration is often cut due to UN budget shortfalls. They have limited access to basic education. Their freedom of movement is often restricted. They live with a crippling uncertaininty, unable to influence their own future.

Perspective

  1. The United Nations counts 32 protracted refugee producing situation in the world today. The average duration of these conflicts is 26 years. 41% of the world's refugees find themselves in such a situation today. That is nearly 7 million men, women and children.
  2. 86% of the world's refugees are presently hosted by developing nations that surely cannot shoulder this burden for the long haul without signifcant help from developed nations. 
  3. The world top four countries hosting refugees include the predominately Muslim nations of Turkey, (2.5m), Pakistan (1.6m), Lebanon (1.1m), and Iran (979,400). These four nations host 29% of the world's refugees.

Sources:

  1. UNHCR Global Trends 2015, page 20.
  2. UNHCR Global Trends 2015, page 2.
  3. UNHCR Global Trends 2015, page 15.

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