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A Time to Build!

Refugee Church Buildings - Before and After

The Kenya government opened the Kalobeyei Refugee Settlement in June 2016. It is located about 10 miles down the road from Kakuma refugee camp. About 40,000 refugees live there today.

Being a relatively new camp, Christian refugees are struggling to build suitable church buildings - a necessity as the harsh climate and terrain do not make it possible to meet safely outside.

At present, most of the churches in Kalobeyei look like the "today" photo above. As you can see, the heat, sand and winds quickly shred their simple structures.

When I met with local church leaders there in February, they asked if IAFR would partner with them to help build more durable church buildings. They proposed that we provide them with metal sheets. They will come up with the other building materials and build their churches.

100 metal sheets will build 1 refugee church. The cost per church = $1000.

A refugee church in prayer

Photo: A refugee church in prayer

Investing in life-giving faith and supportive community

Refugee churches are far more than buildings. They are communities of life-giving faith that play a critical role in helping people survive and recover from forced displacement.

Refugee church buildings serve as community hubs that buzz with activity throughout the week hosting worship services, prayer meetings, discipleship studies, choir practices, and programs for children, youth and women. They also serve as ministry centers through which the needs of orphans, widows, single moms, the elderly and chronically sick are met.

Refugee church buildings play a critical role in helping people survive and recover from forced displacement.

Thank You!

Our generous partners have already provided enough to provide metal sheets for 5 refugee church buildings! There are an estimated 45 refugee churches in Kalobeyei, of which most are in need of metal sheets.

Please pray with us that these churches will all have a suitable building before the end of 2019.

-by Tom Albinson, IAFR President

KISOM is here!

It was a joy to participate in the first training seminar to be held in the brand new building of the Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission (KISOM) while in Kakuma last month!

KISOM was established by an association of refugee churches over 20 years ago. They have been praying for a suitable building for their school and God has now provided. What a joy for IAFR to participate with God as he answered their prayers!

KISOM - Before and After

The photos above show where they have most recently been meeting - in an abandoned and condemned primary school in the refugee camp. The new building is on land owned by our refugee partner United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC) and is situated in an easily accessible spot just outside of the camp.

The hill in the distance is commonly known as "prayer mountain" - a place that refugees and Christian humanitarian workers have gone to pray ever since the camp was established back in 1992. What a perfect view from the KISOM campus!

Prof Kalantzis teaching theology in Kakuma

Photo: Wheaton College Professor George Kalantzis teaching theology in Kakuma refugee camp (2/2019)

IAFR has been partnering with KISOM for many years. Through our partnership with Wheaton College and the Humanitarian Disaster Institute, we have brought theological and trauma care training to refugee church leaders. While in Kakuma last month, we were encouraged to hear how they are taking what they're learning back to their faith communities.

IAFR has identified 5 essentials that strengthen hope and human resilience. Our investment in KISOM is a substantial contribution to each of them. Through KISOM we are:

  1. strengthening refugee church communities;
  2. deepening faith in Jesus Christ;
  3. equipping refugee churches to help heal the wounds of trauma;
  4. strengthening the capacity of refugee leaders to care for their churches;
  5. and supporting the initiative and vision of our refugee partners (KISOM).

The KISOM campus

Photo: The KISOM campus today

Many thanks to everyone who prayed and contributed to the KISOM Building Project over the years! We hope the sight of the new building fills you with joy!

Please pray as we are now working on the final touches to this phase of the development of the KISOM campus.

We recently received a grant from the 2018 Urbana Student Missions Conference that will make it possible to add 4 toilets and a rain water collection system to provide a sustainable source of water on campus. We're praying that we will have enough funding remaining to install solar power - a clean, reliable and sustainable source of electricity on the KISOM campus!

-by Tom Albinson, IAFR President

Givers or Takers?

Photo: Sharon Tonzo with Nestorine

IAFR's Sharon Tonzo is a missionary from the Philippines serving forcibly displaced people in Atlanta. Over the years, Sharon has become friends with a family from D.R. Congo. Appoline, a daughter, is part of Sharon's youth ministry. She put her faith in Jesus earlier this year.

Nestorine, Appoline's mother (above), recently gave Sharon a generous gift for her mother back in the Philippines! Nestorine wanted to honor her for allowing Sharon to serve refugees in the US!

Meanwhile, in a refugee camp on the other side of the world...

Photo: Mama Fartun with her children in Kakuma

Mama Fartun (photo) has been a refugee in Kenya for at least 20 years. IAFR's Tom Albinson always looks forward to visiting with her and her neighbors when in Kakuma.

Over the years, Mama Fartun has sent Tom back to the US with hand tailored clothing for his wife, his daughter, his son-in-law, and in February she sent him back with bed sheets for his mother! She has made it clear that saying "no" to her gifts is not an option.

Refugees are more than people in need. They are among the most generous people in the world.

Photo: "These brothers and sisters came around me when I needed them." -T.Albinson

Tom Albinson was in Kakuma refugee camp when he got the news that his sister-in-law had suddenly passed away. It happened just a few minutes after he had taken this photo.

These brothers and sisters saw Tom was in pain and quickly gathered around him in prayer. They were no strangers to grief and heartache.

While this happened several years ago, Tom will never forget the gift they gave him that day - their loving presence.

Making a meaningful contribution to the lives of others is essential to recovery from forced displacement.

Despair takes root when we feel that we have nothing of value to offer others. Yet all too often, refugees are perceived and treated by others as if they are only people in need. Not only is this harmful - it isn't true.

So as we help our friends survive and recover from forced displacement, we often find ourselves on the receiving end of their generosity, hospitality and care.

In the end, we are all givers and takers.

-by Tom Albinson, IAFR President

Jesus at the Table

I stop by Jonathan House one evening and realize I’ve walked in on supper prep. Our two newest residents invite me to the meal. The third resident arrives home from work. He brings in a wall-hanging that he picked up at a restaurant that evening, a 2019 calendar with a picture of the Last Supper at the top. He wants to put it up on the kitchen wall before we sit down to eat. It’s like a prayer: Jesus with his disciples suddenly presiding over us. Hey, look - you’re there; we’re here. One table an echo of the other.

A resident presses a warm cup of sage tea into my hand. Another sets before me a plate of steaming curry ramen with dried hake and smoked crayfish. The third hands me a slice of bread to dip into a dish of yoghurt drenched in olive oil and za’atar. I can only receive.

The resident who put up the calendar wants to know, what’s the story behind that table picture? And why is Jesus always portrayed as a white European? Another resident mentions a movie where Jesus’ features are never seen, his figure simply emanates light. “Yeah, no one knows what he actually looked like,” another says. I point to my darker-skinned friends, “In reality, he probably looked like you.” “I like this very much, SJ,” one says.

Then the meal and conversation moves on. We discuss how we got our names and what they mean, cultural culinary differences, the weather, funny Youtube videos we’ve seen.

After dinner, someone circles back to Jesus and the current realities of the place where he lived. Nowadays, we note, he’d have to go through a military checkpoint just to get to Jerusalem to be crucified. What a hassle.

All together, we leap into wild speculation of how Jesus might subvert a checkpoint: “He could walk on top of the water…” “Yeah,” another says, “He’d walk on the river under the bridge where the soldiers are. He’d say, ‘If you want me, come and get me.’” “I think he’d stay at the checkpoint and keep it open so others could get through,” I say. “He’d tell the soldiers, ‘Uh, excuse me. I am the Way.’” Our eyes flash with the possibilities; we’re bent over with glee.

From artistic portrayals of the Last Supper to our own musings on Jesus at the checkpoint, all hint at the confounding premise of an Incarnate God. How could a human body contain the light of the world? How could the invisible God look like us? How could the Lord of the multiverse be both in the world and over it? All our imaginings fall short.

But our words and laughter also remind me of the joy and hope that can come when God enters into humanity. Like the residents at Jonathan House, Jesus’ own story includes displacement and homelessness. He understands life under oppressive regimes and Occupation. He knows in His flesh what it is to be persecuted and reviled. He, too, was falsely accused. And during his life on earth, the Incarnate God sat at a table with his disciples and inaugurated a new Feast, to remind them how His body would be broken for the redemption of all things.

In this moment, my asylum-seeking friends invite me to the table and back into the mystery of the Incarnation. They encourage me to expect Christ’s in-breaking into the familiar and the foreign, into beauty and brokenness, at those places that gather or divide us. And suddenly, supper at Jonathan House echoes with the hope of Emmanuel: Hey, look - you’re here, and I Am with you.

-by SJ Holsteen (from the Jonathan House ministry of the IAFR MSP Team)

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