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A Gift from a Friend

2018 12 11shoes from a Syrian friend

Refugees are more than people in need.

This is one of the phrases we at IAFR repeat the most when speaking to churches or groups about caring for refugees and other displaced people. While many displaced people live in a state of great vulnerability and have very real needs, they are not just refugees. They are people made in the image of God, with gifts and blessings to offer and so much to teach us about faithfulness, hope, and loving our neighbors.

For those of us who because of economics or cultural dominance are used to being in the position of 'helper', it can take a lot of work to reorient our posture from rescuer and 'meeter-of-needs' to someone who is also a learner, friend, and a person looking to come alongside and behind the dreams and solutions of refugees themselves.

One step in this direction in daily life is to allow the displaced people we long to help to see and meet our needs. Engaging in this kind of reciprocal relationship can be very uncomfortable for people who are used to seeing themselves as the helpers and refugees as the hopefully grateful recipients of their charity.

On a recent trip I heard a beautiful story of an American working with refugees who is living out this kind of authentic, reciprocal relationship. He has a Syrian friend who survives by rifling through dumpsters in Istanbul looking for usable goods or things that could be sold. One day while digging through others’ trash, the Syrian man found a small pair of shoes and realized the size looked just about right for his American friend’s young son. So he cleaned them up and brought them, these shoes from a dumpster, to the young boy.

Thankfully, the boy received the shoes with gratitude, regularly wearing them for months to come – this precious gift from their Syrian friend. And thankfully his parents weren’t too proud to receive the hospitality of the Syrian man expressed in this unusual gift. Instead they gave their heartfelt thanks and allowed this person -- who the much of the world sees as a burden or something to be cast away, like so many of the items in the dumpsters -- to be a source of blessing to them.

 -by Rachel Uthmann

Finding Hope on the Highway

I watched as the pastor laid on the floor, soaked in tears, audibly crying out for God’s mercy and help. Others crouched near him, praying on his behalf and joining with his heart cry for the Father to intervene. This pastor was carrying the weight, fears, and pain of his small congregation – all refugees in a foreign land and all now suffering for their faith in Jesus. They face daily challenges of isolation from general society, threats from neighbors and their former countrymen, watching their children struggle through insults, exclusion from jobs, wondering where to find food for their next meal… the list goes on.

These hurting brothers and sisters are among the people Jesus referenced in Matthew 5:11 when He said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Jesus calls them blessed, though from every human angle the only word that seems to fit would be ‘cursed’. Their reality is more than oceans away from the lived experience of most people I know who call themselves Christians. But even though we have the ability and the choice to turn our attention away from the high price paid by these refugee brothers and sisters, it doesn’t make their daily struggle any less vividly, tangibly real.

For many of us whose vocation is tied to the world’s forcibly displaced people, the last few years have brought a lot of heartache. We watch as the world’s refugees and asylum seekers – people we personally know and love -- are verbally stripped down to something less than human. Like tools in the hands of the people with stronger voices, the worlds’ refugees have become battering rams thrown about to dent the walls of “the other side” of our ideological divides. Misinformation, lies, and fear are propagated in the name of truth and security. And sadly, some well-intentioned Christians join the fray, slinging mud made of memes or sinking, overwhelmed, into a pit of fear that distorts their vision and hinders their ability to act in love.

This last wound has been the greatest for me. Jesus’ teaching and example clearly call His followers to love at great risk, at great inconvenience, and at great cost to themselves. When we recoil in fear instead of living this kind of radical love, we undermine our voice and witness in this world.
Despite the weight of concern over this trajectory, I return from my travels overwhelmingly grateful. My hope is buoyed by the living epistle of faithfulness I witness in my refugee brothers and sisters (1 Peter 3:14-16). Yes, the pastor was weeping on the floor for the burdens he and others carry, but he believes that this world is about so much more than we can see. Even through the tears, his smile betrays his belief that it is worth it to walk in faithfulness to Jesus in the best way he can, relying on Jesus’ promise to never leave His children.

The next day I saw this pastor again – joy on his face, sustained by the hope that this world regards as foolishness. The faithfulness of this brother, and the many others I have been privileged to meet around the world challenges me and gives me hope. Their strength and grace under trial and their commitment to live what they speak is a testimony to God’s ongoing work in this world. He is growing a people who live under His rule and reign – one not driven by fear but marked by costly love.

I’m so glad that reality is not limited to what I can see around me or even the expression of Church in any one culture. God is still on the move, and the story is not done yet.

-by Rachel Uthmann

SJ Holsteen joins IAFR!

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IAFR is happy to announce that Sarah Jane (SJ) Holsteen has joined IAFR to serve with our ministry in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Read more to learn more about our newest teammate!


Sarah Jane (SJ) Holsteen joined the IAFR Minneapolis/St Paul team in Fall 2018 after having volunteered for two years in the launch of Jonathan House, IAFR’s housing project for asylum seekers in the Twin Cities.

SJ first learned about the social and political marginalization that asylum seekers face while volunteering at a walk-in clinic for migrants run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-AZG) in Antwerp, Belgium in 2002/2003. She’s excited to work with churches and nonprofits in the Twin Cities now to address gaps and build mutually-transformative community with asylum seekers in the US.

Having lived a time in Belgium, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Burkina Faso, SJ finds great joy in cross-cultural relationship. The love and welcome she experienced when a stranger inspires her to offer (and receive!) the same in living and working with refugees. Believing that shared stories form a foundation for healing and belonging, SJ enjoys inviting reflection on where we see God in our stories, as well as where He might be calling us deeper into His.

SJ comes to IAFR with a diverse background in health and social services, post-secondary education, and marketing-communications. She has a BA in Spanish from Wheaton College and an MFA in creative nonfiction from University of Alaska-Fairbanks. In addition to her work with IAFR, she teaches academic and creative writing as an adjunct English professor at University of Northwestern - St Paul.

Donate to SJ's Ministry Now!

We thank God for leading SJ to join our team of missionaries dedicating their lives to helping people survive and recover from forced displacement!

Changing Lives, One Bite at a Time

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I love to cook so when I was looking for a way to connect with refugee women in my town, I knew that food was a good place to start.

One day I was visiting a young Syrian mother in her home. She was so busy in the kitchen that we could barely talk. In order to spend time together, I rolled up my sleeves and asked her to teach me how to cook her favorite food. I was blown away by her response. In an instant this young woman, lost in years of tragedy, came alive in an amazing way.

Since then I’ve cooked with many women of all ages from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Regardless of what we prepare, the response from the time spend together is always the same… smiles, hugs, tears, laughing… joy!

It’s amazing how God uses the small things, like me and cooking, to make a big impact. But he does and I feel so privileged to be part of that.

If you’re interested in learning more about how cooking can help refugees thrive, visit We just published an amazing calendar with recipes you must try!

Grace + Peace,

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