The IAFR Blog

Field notes, perspectives, stories, news & announcements

My answer is simple...

"She grabbed my hand."

I recently accompanied a woman to her asylum appeal hearing in Paris. Her initial request for asylum in France was denied, putting her at risk of being sent back to the country where she suffered persecution. Now she had to tell her story again to a panel of three judges.

She’d asked our IAFR team in Lille if someone could be present as an emotional support. In the Asylum Court waiting room before her trial, her stress was visible:

I just want to cry,” she said.

You’re a brave woman,” I told her. “We’re with you.”

To pass the time, I asked about her interests, her culture, her family back home. She started to smile. After a minute, she grabbed my hand. We stayed like that, chatting, holding hands, present to each other, until her name was called.

"I believe you."

Asylum seekers have left communities where they are known and loved because of a threat to their lives. In the countries where they seek protection, they’re often treated with suspicion or contempt. In France, only ⅓ of asylum claims receive a positive result.

As with my friend’s case, a lack of resources, community support, and political goodwill put asylum seekers at a disadvantage in being able to prove the credibility of their fear of persecution.

When people ask me why I serve with IAFR, my answer is simple: through prayer, presence, and practical support, I desire to communicate to each asylum-seeking individual: “I believe you. You are worthy of dignity, belonging, and protection.”

During my friend’s hearing, I sat at the back of the room as her invited companion. I felt gratitude for all the financial partners who sustain this work. Your donations allow us IAFR workers to be present in these vulnerable and sacred places, where people have to tell their stories of suffering and survival, so they can know they’re not alone.

The Ultimate "Why"

My friend responded thoroughly to the judges’ questions regarding the veracity of her story. She raised her hand - the same hand I’d held minutes before- to emphasize a point; it was shaking, but her voice was strong.

It can be difficult to hold the stories of people who have survived torture and war, but the courage and hope of my asylum-seeking friends continually moves me.

Finally, my friend bears the wounds of the world’s injustice. The world’s systems place on her the burden of proof for her right to asylum.

In contrast, I know that Jesus willingly bears the proof - in His wounded, resurrected body - of His redeeming love for her, for each person in search of home. Christ’s love and Presence is the ultimate why of my IAFR work, and my sustaining hope within it.

CLICK HERE to learn more about IAFR's work in Lille, France!

- SJ Holsteen

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I felt the tears coming

Kakuma refugee camp - Kalobeyei refugee settlement, Kenya
"I could feel the tears coming."

 It caught me off guard. I could feel the tears coming. All it took was for my friend to ask, “How did your visit to Kakuma refugee camp go?

On the day we arrived at the camp, a friend working with the UN warned us that protests were planned. News that their meager food ration was going to be cut in half left refugees wondering how they would survive. It was already hard enough.

A couple of days later, a protest turned violent. Police took over the area and made it a no-go zone – even for UN and NGO workers.

The truth is that the UN simply doesn’t have the funding to provide the growing global refugee population with enough of anything. Donor nations are not coming through. The cries of the affected people go unheard. Despair is taking hold.

Growing despair

During a conference for church leaders from the refugee camp and the surrounding local community, a Sudanese pastor came up to me and told me that 3 people he knew have committed suicide this year. Just days after we left, he sent me a photo with tragic news. A mother of ten had not been able to feed her children anything for 4 days. On the fifth day hope failed completely. She took her own life.

Churches are doing what humanitarian agencies cannot do.

While there I visited many of the refugee churches that have received building materials from IAFR this year. They now had a roof over their heads. The pastors and church leaders expressed their deep gratitude for this provision.

We also met with a church that lost its building to flooding at the end of 2023. They showed us the land on which camp authorities said they could rebuild. But they need help to get needed building materials.

People from a Sudanese church gather at the plot on which they can rebuild in Kakuma.

The rain began falling again while we were there in April. Shortly after we left, flooding swept through the camp. As most buildings are made from sun-dried mud bricks, many were destroyed. Eleven churches were among the victims.

This matters because the churches in Kakuma are doing what humanitarian agencies cannot do. Against all odds, they are keeping hope alive by offering welcoming and supportive communities that embrace a life-giving worldview.

What can we do to help?

As I fought off the tears and shared this with my friend, she asked, “Is there anything we can do to help?

I encouraged her to consider helping provide building materials to churches in need. The average cost of putting a roof over a church is $2,000. Any contribution to the IAFR Church Building project will help strengthen hope in that challenging place.

Our forcibly displaced friends need our prayers. We know God sees, hears, and cares for them. And so, we join our prayers to their cries for help – and look for opportunities to partner with God as God answers their prayers.

CLICK HERE to help put a roof over the head of a church in Kakuma.

- Tom Albinson

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