IAFR was established in 2009 in response to the need for an international Christian non-profit agency devoted to the mission of helping people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this in partnership with local churches, refugees churches and the church-at-large. At the time of our founding, we did not know that the world was on the brink of an unprecedented refugee crisis that would play a defining role in the 21st Century. We were established for such a time as this. Together with the church, we are a force for hope, healing and recovery in the world.
Click a name to learn more about our team. Listed in alphabetical order.
Tom Albinson has been serving refugees full-time since 1981, first with Slavic Gospel Association (1981-1992) and later with International Teams (1992-2009). It was in June 2009 that he founded IAFR.
Over the years, Tom has provided leadership and ministry support to teams serving forcibly displaced people in Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, Malawi, Malta, New Zealand, Sudan, Turkey, the UK, and the USA.
In 2013, Tom was appointed by World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to serve as Ambassador for Refugees, Displaced and Stateless People. Tom is an active founding member of the Refugee Highway Partnership - a growing international network of churches and Christian agencies serving refugees and forcibly displaced people.
Tom graduated from Taylor University in 1980 with a B.A. in Social Work. He has since studied some theology at Wheaton Graduate School and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has also taken courses in the Leadership Studies graduate program of Azusa Pacific University. But he has learned most from the forcibly displaced people with whom he has worked over the years.
Tom was based in Austria from 1981-2003. Tom and his wife, Donna, have been married since 1985. They have two children and live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Clear here to get a close up view of Tom's day-to-day ministry.
Nonprofit and church leadership is where Tim has spent the majority of the past 30 years. After serving in several youth ministry positions and then as a pastor to university students, Tim spent 9 years at International Teams. His role included leading the areas of People Development and Mobilisation, and then serving as Executive Vice President. During his tenure at International Teams, Tim worked closely with Tom Albinson and those serving the Global Refugee Ministry.
Most recently, Tim has served as the Executive Pastor and as Campus Pastor at Richwoods Christian Church, a multi-site church located in the Peoria, Illinois area. He also worked closely with the Richwoods Missions Team.
Tim comes to IAFR with a BA in Communications and an MBA focused on Global Management. Developed from a young age, he comes with great interest in and a heart for the world. Tim has traveled to over 30 countries and lived in Australia for 3 ½ years.
Tim is married to Liz, who serves as President of Ear In The Envelope, Inc; a company that creates and distributes art supplies to artists around the globe. They have two children and live in Peoria, Illinois.
Kelsey graduated from university in 2017 where she studied peace and conflict in addition to earning a degree in social work. During that time, she discovered an interest and passion for working alongside displaced people. Having had the opportunity to spend time with forced migrants in Boston, MA and Rome, Italy, she continued to grow in her desire to see more just and hospitable communities welcoming those who have been forcibly displaced.
After joining IAFR and having the opportunity to work with them in both Italy and the United States, she is increasingly convinced that communities of faith play an integral role in offering restorative hope and peace, and is hopeful that these things can exist, even amidst deep suffering.
Ilir was born in Albania under communist rule. In 1991, as the regime was beginning to fall, he fled to Greece as a refugee. He came to know Jesus in Athens in 1995 and has been working full time among displaced people since 1998. Kate was born and raised near Chicago. After graduating from Wheaton College in 1997, she moved to Athens to work among refugees. Ilir and Kate met while serving together in Athens with One Collective, and were married in 2000. They have two children.
Ilir and Kate have served among refugees from many countries, including Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. Ilir loves to talk to people and share the hope he has found in Jesus. His experiences of growing up in Albania and coming to Athens as a refugee help him relate to refugees today. As the One Heart secretary, Kate helps keep the ministry running smoothly.
Ilir and Kate serve in Athens with our partner agency called One Heart. One Heart is a registered Greek non-profit which provides assistance to refugees needing medical care, shelter, food and much more. Click here to learn more about the ministry in Athens.
Shelby joined the IAFR team in 2019 after five years of working in college ministry. Although she enjoyed discipling students, her heart yearned to give a voice to those who often go unheard. She longs for the church, especially in America, to see the refugee crisis as something God cares deeply about, and to join him in loving displaced peoples.
Shelby serves IAFR as its Director of Social Media. She is eager to use her passion for written and visual communication to promote the work of IAFR and share stories of the forcibly displaced with the world.
Shelby lives in Peoria, Illinois, where she also operates the social media accounts for Epiphany Church. It was at Epiphany that she met Tim Barnes, who introduced her to IAFR. Shelby and her husband were married in 2016 and they have one son.
Shanna Doughty developed a love for refugees while teaching English at the Family Refugee Camp in Hal-Far, Malta, from 2008-2010. She served the local church in Malta for four years as a missionary with Greater Europe Mission. Upon returning to her home state of Colorado in 2010, she volunteered as a cultural mentor for refugees through Denver Rescue Mission before re-locating to Madison, WI in 2011. While in Madison, she completed her B.S. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership, worked for 3 years at a local non-profit, and served with InterVarsity on the Operations Leadership Team for the Urbana Student Missions Conference. It was at Urbana that Shanna sensed God was calling her to live among and advocate for the refugee community.
It is the call to live among refugees and to do so in multi-ethnic community that has drawn Shanna back to her home state of Colorado. In the northeastern plains, she walks alongside those who have been forcibly displaced as well as the local church in pursuit of hope renewed through restoration and reconciliation.
Shanna, along with her husband and two children, moved to northeastern Colorado in 2016. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Justice and Mission at Denver Seminary.
Click here to learn more about IAFR ministry in Colorado.
Pastor Jean Pierre Gatera is Burundian by birth. He spent 20 years of his life in Kakuma refugee camp in remote northwestern Kenya.
Pastor Gatera pastored a refugee church in Kakuma for 10 years. He also served as the chairman of a diverse association of churches from within the refugee camp and surrounding host community for over a decade, during which time the association grew from 21 to over 83 churches. He also taught for many years at the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission (KISOM). It is through Pastor Gatera and his many networks that IAFR's ministry in Kakuma began in 2012.
Pastor Gatera is passionate about helping refugees overcome the many challenges of resettlement in the US and other countries. He has a special burden to encourage and equip refugee Christians for ministry in refugee camps as well as in countries of resettlement. He has a special calling to encourage and strengthen interdenominational associations of refugee churches within refugee camps, believing that God seeks to use the refugee church to further his kingdom in a mighty way around the world.
While a refugee, Pastor Gatera earned a Diploma in Missions from the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission (KISOM) and a Bachelors degree in Theology from Global University. He also earned certificates in Bible Training for Pastors, Don Bosco Vocational Training, Trauma Care, Conflict Transformation, Leadership Training, Peace Building, Pastoral Training and Million Leaders Mandate.
Pastor Gatera and his wife and three children were resettled from Kenya to the US in 2016.
Whitney serves with IAFR in Vienna, Austria. Whitney Gerdes is an educator, but a relief worker at heart. She graduated with her BS in Elementary Education, with Middle School English and History degree from Winona State University in 2006. While there, she went overseas for the first time to Bosnia, and God began calling her heart to Europe, and refugees. She spent 9 years working with middle school students and teachers both in the United States and Europe. Four of those years were in Vienna, Austria at the International Christian School of Vienna. While there she served as a teacher and the middle school principal, and God continued to confirm his call to Europe. She returned to the states in 2012, and earned a master's degree in Human Services, with a focus on trauma and international education, from the University of Northwestern-St.Paul.
Whitney is passionate about making education accessible for every child, and loves the power that education has to bring hope to a community. Moreover, she sees the church and faith-based organizations as the bridge to provide these opportunities, and be the hands and feet of Jesus to kids and their families.
Click here to learn more about IAFR ministry in Austria.
Michael and Heather serve with the IAFR team in Lille (northern France) where they seek to promote reconciliation and strengthen a spirit of hospitality in a nation whose relationship with refugees has become strained.
Michael and Heather have many life experiences that have brought them to a deep love for all people, including refugees. They have witnessed the struggle of people facing an unknown future in war-torn Afghanistan. They have seen the traumatic experience of orphans first-hand through short term missions and more personally through two international adoptions.
Michael and Heather met while serving as counselors at a Bible camp many years ago. Ministry has always been an important part of their lives.
Heather has a BA in Child and Family Ministry as well as an Associates Degree in Music from Crown College. She served as a camp counselor and Office Manager for many years at a Bible Camp, worked in various administrative capacities at Mayo Clinic, and most recently served as the editor of a blog for mothers in Rochester, Minnesota. Michael has a BS in Computer Science from Winona State University and has served as a Nursing Assistant, and Senior Analyst Programmer at Mayo Clinic, prior to which he served with the US Army Reserve.
Click here to learn more about the IAFR ministry in northern France.
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. She stepped into the Ministry Leader role in the summer of 2019.
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.
Josh and Jen served with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) from 2003-2017 in Ozark, Arkansas, where they helped pioneer a YWAM campus which trains young adults in the study of scripture and the foundations of Christian living, while facilitating overseas mission trips.
Josh's heart was stirred for refugees in 2003 when he spent time teaching at the Kawthoolei Karen Baptist Bible School in the Mae La refugee camp in Tak, Thailand. He asked his students to transcribe their life stories in English and was greatly impacted by the challenges they had overcome. He still has those handwritten stories.
Jen served onboard the M/V Anastasis, flagship for Mercy Ships International from 1999-2002. Mercy Ships uses ocean-going vessels to offer medical aid and community development to impoverished peoples. During her time of ministry with them she made a commitment to give her life to serving to the poor and needy in some capacity.
In 2016 Josh, Jen, and their four children, Marin, Ava, William, and Linnea worked in Sicily with a welcome center ministry for the refugees pouring across the Mediterranean. They helped facilitate a discipleship program for Christian refugees for 3 months. The experience was life changing for them and they are excited to continue serving displaced peoples through the ministry of IAFR.
Josh & Jen Levin joined IAFR in 2017 to work with the team in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.
Click here to learn more about IAFR's work in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Sarah has been serving refugees since 1992. She served asylum seekers in Europe for nine years and has served resettling refugees in the USA since 2001 with International Teams.
She has also served refugees in Kenya and Malawi and has led short-term teams to Kenya and to U.S. refugee and immigrant communities. She most recently served as International Teams’ U.S. Area Ministry Director. Sarah began serving with IAFR in 2014.
Sarah is an active member of the Refugee Highway Partnership in North America – a network of churches and agencies serving forcibly displaced people.
Sarah has traveled extensively over the years and has met refugees and asylum seekers from over forty different countries. She currently lives in Minnesota.
Click here to explore IAFR ministries in the USA.
Sherry is passionate about serving and helping forcibly displaced people in ways that help them recover their dignity. She seeks to empower the Body of Christ to reach refugees with God’s love by building bridges of friendship and meeting their practical needs.
Sherry was born in Somalia. In 1997, she learned of the love of God for her and the story of how His Son, Jesus Christ, had given His life for her. She began to seek this God of love. It was in 1998 that she accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. In 2000, Sherry and her son fled to the US as asylum seekers.
In 2005, God led Sherry to Minnesota where she began working as a Job Counselor with Arrive Ministries (affiliated with World Relief). While with Arrive Ministries, she launched Rajo Ministries (Rajo is the Somali word for Hope) through which she has communicated her Hope in Christ daily with Somalis and other refugees.
Sherry’s life experience enables her to empathize with refugees and asylum seekers. Her theological and trauma care training further enhance her ability to pastor and care for others. Her many years of ministry experience have taught her much that will serve to strengthen IAFR’s work the US and internationally.
Sherry received a M.Div from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2007. She has nearly completed her certificate for Spiritual Direction through New Way Ministries. She received a certificate for Level II trauma care training with STAR through Eastern Mennonite University. Sherry speaks English, Somali and Arabic.
Sherry enjoys hospitality and loves to read and study the Scripture. She also enjoys walking and playing Pickleball.
April has been serving refugees since 2014. She first served with One Collective, through which she and her husband, Steve, spent four years working with There is Hope in Malawi. April filled many roles during that time, including: Youth Coordinator, Education Coordinator, and Administrative Assistant. Her time in Malawi strengthened her passion to see refugees rise above their circumstances to survive and thrive.
April joined the IAFR team in the fall of 2018 to support the Executive Team and strengthen the core of the organisation as we pursue our mission.
A graduate of Grand Valley State University (2000) with a degree in Juvenile Criminal Justice, April also has experience in retail, children’s ministries, and in the local public school system.
April and Steve have been married since 1999. They live withe four children in Hudsonville, Michigan.
Paul began serving refugees and asylum seekers in 1985. As an ordained pastor and a co-founder of the Refugee Highway Partnership (RHP) in Europe, Paul has strengthened church-based ministries among refugees and asylum seekers throughout Europe. He also serves on the Executive Team of the Global Diaspora Network (GDN) of the Lausanne Movement. Over the years, Paul has encouraged and supported refugee leaders from Europe, the Middle East and parts of Africa.
Originally from the USA, Paul and his family live in Lille, France. His wife, Reinhild, is from Germany, and they have three grown kids raised in 3 different countries. Paul has completed the MDiv and MA Counseling (Gordon-Conwell) and recently a Ph.D. at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) about the intersection of forced displacement and faith. (From Gravity to Grace: Finding a Redemptive Voice Among Displaced Christians in Europe)
Sharon Tonzo is a missionary from the Philippines serving refugee families and children in Atlanta, Georgia. She joined the IAFR team in March 2015 to serve as our Atlanta Ministry Leader.
Sharon has certificates in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), biblical counseling and life coaching. She has previously served in Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Hongkong, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore and England with International Teams Philippines.
Her vibrant faith in Jesus is contagious. An active member of Passion City Church, Sharon has assisted with Passion Conferences to help with translation and hosting.
Click here to learn more about IAFR in Atlanta.
Jacob first came face to face with the global refugee crisis in 2008, when he spent 4 months living in Cairo, Egypt, where he worked with Sudanese Refugees. This experience of living and working alongside displaced people helped shape his life in ministry and led him to attend Seminary when he finished his undergraduate degree.
Jacob served refugees for over 5 years with International Teams and There Is Hope in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. His work in Malawi focused on partnering with refugee and local churches to support them in their ministry through leadership development opportunities and projects to benefit the community. During his time in Malawi, Jacob worked closely with IAFR in assisting its Kanisa Ndugu (sister church) relationships in Dzaleka camp.
Jacob has a BA in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University and a Master’s Degree in Missions and Evangelism from Calvin Theological Seminary. His passion is training current and future church leaders in practical ministry skills, and helping church leaders who have been displaced have access to quality theological training. He also has a heart for local churches around the world, to help them engage with displaced people in their community.
Jacob married his wife, Jennifer, in 2009. She who worked with him in ministry in Malawi providing training and support to Sunday School teachers in the refugee camp.
Click a following link to learn more about IAFR ministry in Kenya and Malawi.
Rachel uncovered her passion for refugees while completing her undergraduate degree. Studying the history of warfare made her wonder about all the people displaced by conflict and how they managed to live and recover after a disaster. In 2001, she served refugees in Athens, Greece, before returning to the USA to marry Tim and complete a MA in History focused on immigration.
Rachel has continued to work among the forcibly displaced since 2007. Rachel and her husband helped start Il Soggiorno, a refugee integration and hospitality center in Rome, Italy, where she now serves as the chairperson for the board of this ministry. In 2013 Rachel and her family moved to England to support community transformation projects and church discipleship programs in the very diverse immigrant community of Southall.
In addition to her work with refugees, Rachel is committed to helping strengthen and support local churches. This passion is born out of time on staff at a church in the USA before leaving for Italy, as well as close partnerships with church leaders in Italy and England. It is this intersection of Rachel’s deep love for the local church and her passion for forcibly displaced people that brings her to work with IAFR. Rachel is eager to see churches equipped and encouraged as they care for refugees in their midst.
Click here to learn more about IAFR Training or click here to learn more about IAFR ministry in Italy.
Tim serves with the IAFR Service Team in Minneapolis. Tim serve in ways that strengthen every ministry of IAFR.
Tim found that his early interest in pastoring and his degree in communication could be used to advocate for people globally. This broadening perspective eventually led to opportunities to serve internationally among refugees and asylum seekers.
Tim has worked among the forcibly displaced since 2007. From 2007 to 2013, he helped start Il Soggiorno, a refugee integration and education center in Rome, Italy. In 2013 he and his family moved to England to support community transformation projects in the diverse immigrant community of Southall.
Prior to leaving for Italy, Tim served as an interim associate pastor for a year, reflecting a strong commitment to the local church. It is this intersection of his deep love for the local church and his passion for forcibly displaced people that brought him to work with IAFR.
The work of IAFR flows naturally out of our relationship with Jesus Christ who taught us that the greatest of all commandments is to love God and our neighbor.
We affirm the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, to be the word of God and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine and conduct.
We affirm that Jesus Christ is the divine atoning sacrifice for sin and that forgiveness from all sin, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the indwelling Holy Spirit, citizenship in the kingdom of God, and everlasting life are among the life-transforming gifts freely received by God’s grace through personal faith in him.
We acknowledge our wholehearted dependency upon God. We seek God's direction, God's provision, God's power and God's presence in all we consider, attempt and accomplish.
Recognizing our participation in the mission of the church begun at the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we affirm our identification with the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed.
Furthermore, we serve forcibly displaced people in the spirit of Best Practices for Christian Ministry among Forcibly Displaced People (Refugee Highway Partnership), Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World (WEA) and Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders (developed at the request of UNHCR in 2013).
IAFR recognizes that refugee churches are uniquely situated to identify the needs of forcibly displaced people. They are well aware of the challenges and opportunities related to their context and often have clear vision and a compelling sense of mission. IAFR looks for opportunities to help refugee churches accomplish their mission.
Photo: A refugee church praying in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.
As followers of Jesus are to be marked by hospitality to foreigners, local churches are called to be communities that welcome refugees. Their knowledge of the local language, culture, resources, and laws make them well-suited to helping displaced people integrate into their new society. The refugee crisis desperately needs churches to show up in ways that further hope, healing, and reconciliation in the world.
Photo: An IAFR partner church in Minnesota sending their greetings to refugee churches in Kenya.
Relationships of trust form the basis for all that we do. IAFR develops long lasting relationships with refugee churches and like-minded partners from which projects come and go. Our commitment to these relationships continues long after projects are completed.
Photo: IAFR missionary, Sharon Tonzo, visiting with a resettled refugee family in Atlanta.
Refugees are more than people in need. They are among the world's most resilient and resourceful people. Yes, we need to help them, but we also have much to learn from them. IAFR ministries promotes mutual blessing in all we pursue.
Photo: A short-term missionary sharing smiles with a refugee sister in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi.
The challenges and needs facing forcibly displaced people are overwhelming. No single agency has all it takes to meet these needs.
We compliment existing ministries and partner with refugees as well as like-minded churches and agencies, believing that we can accomplish more together than we can on our own.
Photo: Our US partner (Wheaton College) offering theological and trauma care training to our refugee partner in Kenya (United Refugee and Host Churches).
We are committed to demonstrating respect and affirming the dignity of forcibly displaced people. IAFR publications and media will represent them in honest, respectful and non-exploitive ways. We share IAFR publications, photos, videos, etc. with those featured in order to confirm that they feel respected and appropriately represented.
Photo: US church leaders listening to a refugee church leader in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya.
IAFR ministries and projects draw from resources available in the host country whenever possible. We seek to strengthen local economies and avoid creating dependencies upon foreign economies.
Photo: Pastors in Kakuma, Kenya, sharing their joy upon receiving a fresh shipment of Bibles. The Bibles were purchased from the Bible Society in Kenya.
Click image to download a copy of our most recent Annual Report (FY 2018).
Click here to download the FY2018 IAFR IRS 990 report.
The IAFR Board of Directors includes Jill Elefritz (Chair) | Rev. Brian Doten (Vice Chair) | John Swale (Treasurer) | Kristel Lehner (Secretary) | Stephen Freed | Tom Albinson
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All photos on this website by IAFR.