Baraka (“blessing”)

Before leaving Kenya, the team took an overnight debrief safari in one of Kenya’s beautiful wildlife parks. This 25 year old black rhino came over to greet us today. His name is Baraka, which means “blessing”.

Baraka lost an eye in a fight with another rhino a long time ago. His other eye has an untreatable cataract – so he’s pretty much blind. And while black rhinos are known to be aggressive, the park rangers discovered he is fond of sugar cane. He has since become somewhat tame, making it possible to feed him by hand and walk right up to him (no zoom used on this photo).

To be in the presence of such a beast is hard to describe. I guess it was a blessing 🙂

Peace building

Most of the kids from Refugee Youth Camp 2018 managed to squeeze into this photo as the camp drew to a close this week.

While hard rains reduced the number of kids who could participate (travel within the camp was extremely difficult), it was still a special time of worship, learning and fellowship.

One of the powerful impacts of camp is that it brings youth from diverse nations and tribes together – many of which are at war with one another. By bringing the kids together for a week like this, they experience transcending their ethnic identities and finding themselves to be brothers and sisters in Jesus.

This gives me hope for the future of their nations. For these kids are the future. And youth camp is sowing seeds of hope, reconciliation and peace that address the root causes of the mayhem in their homelands.

Lives are going to change

National Presbyterian Church (Washington, D.C.) is partnering with IAFR to scholarship 3 refugee girls and 2 IDP girls through secondary school beginning this fall.

I had a chance to meet the 3 refugee girls (photo) to learn a bit of their story and to make an introductory video to send to National Presbyterian Church. Sadly, the IDP girls were not able to make it to the meeting due to torrential rainfall.

It was a privilege to be the messenger to tell them that a distant church was burdened to help them get through high school and generate some hope for a better future.

The girls are from South Sudan, D.R. Congo and Burundi.

IAFR is partnering with Windle Trust, a locally active NGO specializing in educational scholarships.

Walking the land

Pastor Brian Doten (Northwood Church) and Nicholas Gagai (Director of Kakuma Interdenominational School of Mission – KISOM) take a walk together on the land that IAFR financial partners, including Brian’s church, helped our refugee partners purchase last year – the future site of the school. Classes are presently held in an abandoned and condemned primary school in the refugee camp.

As there is no school of its kind in the region, KISOM will serve as a blessing to both the refugee and surrounding host community. It is a joy to be part of making this vision a reality.

Bibles

Who does not have a Bible of your own?”

That was the question asked by Nicolas, the director of the annual refugee youth camp.

In response, most of the youth shot their hands up into the air, eager to finally receive a personal Bible.

The Bibles were provided by IAFR financial partners participating in our on-going Bibles for Refugees project.

As most of the youth learned English while in school, they received a NIV or a NLT Study Bible. May God use these Bibles to strengthen their faith, hope and love as they follow Jesus.

As many refugee friends tell me, “When we were forced to flee their homes, they did not have time to pack our Bibles.”

As there is no place anywhere near Kakuma from which they can buy a Bible, the IAFR Bibles for Refugee project is a great way for us to give them a gift of high value and let them know that we care about them.

Breaking boulders

The refugee pastor (right) of the Evangelical Ethiopian Church was hard at work today loosening and hammering ancient volcanic boulders just behind their church building.

The old building is starting to fall apart, and so these stones will be used as part of the foundation of the new church that they plan to build once they have the needed resources.

In the meantime, they do what they can with what they have to prepare.

A refugee church

I climbed up a pile of ancient volcanic boulders to take this photo of the Evangelical Ethiopian Church in which the youth camp is being held this week.

Sources of stress

See the white blur in the top left corner of this photo? It’s a small soccer ball that we brought, thinking it might come in handy during youth camp. Kris Doten put it to good use this morning as she taught about stress and stress management. The youth passed the ball to one another, each time naming a source of stress in their lives. They didn’t hold back. War, loss of loved ones, refugee life, uncertain future, etc. all were named as the ball was thrown around the room.

Faith plays an essential role in helping people cope with loss, suffering and trauma. And so this refugee-led youth camp is focused on encouraging these young men and women to fix their eyes and hearts on Jesus, for he sees and hears and cares for them.

Photo: A young man who has lost both of his parents and finds himself alone in Kakuma fixing his heart and mind on Jesus as we sang together.

Kris teaching in Kakuma

Kris talked about dealing with stress to 60 Kakuma Refugee youth today.

They told us they feel stress from being forcibly displaced from their country,  from the death of loved ones, from very limited educational opportunities, from hardships living within Kakuma and from big questions about their future.

Their stressors are real and huge. In her comments Kris shared suggestions that seemed to bring encouragement. She reminded the youth that God sees and cares about each of them and then she prayed God’s help, strength and blessing over them.

Would you please take a minute right now and pray for Kakuma youth? That God would greatly encourage them and give them strength  and hope? Your prayers can make a difference.

Brian

Meet some of our partners

We are happy to have Dave Mwangi (left), Kenya Director of Biblica, here with us for part of the week. IAFR has worked together with Biblica to get over 12,000 Bibles to refugee churches in Kakuma. Biblica has developed some resources designed to specifically speak to youth-at-risk (including refugees) that we believe will also prove to be an asset to the churches here as 51% of the refugee population is under 18.

The other 3 gentlemen in this photo are on the executive team of our refugee partners, United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC). From right to left, the are: Pastor Mubarak (URHC Chairman from Sudan). Pastor Martin (URHC Vice Chairman from Turkana) and Pastor Yeshua (URHC Advisor from Ethiopia).  The URHC Executive Team includes representatives from every nation represented in the URHC community, making it quite remarkable.

While in a refugee church worship service yesterday, the Burundian pastor invited Pastor Martin to lead the congregation in a Turkana worship song (which involved a lot of jumping) and later asked Pastor Mubarak to bless his son during the service as he is to be married at the end of the month.

It is a beautiful thing to see brothers and sisters in Jesus transcend their ethnic identities and language barriers.

-Tom