Christian Leaders in Refugee Camps

“Many of the 43 million forcibly displaced people in the world today identify themselves as Christians. In my 30 years of serving refugees, I have found that there are many active pastors, priests and Christian leaders serving among them. I have also discovered that few of us are aware that these brothers and sisters and their churches even exist.

It had never crossed my mind that there were refugee-led churches in refugee camps until I was introduced to pastors serving in the Kakuma refugee camp in north-western Kenya back in the year 2000. I was surprised to hear how these churches were actively planting churches among the diverse population in the camp. They shared that in the mid-1990’s there were only 4 churches in the camp of 80,000 refugees. By the year 2000, there were over 50. My surprise was compounded when they told me that they were also planting churches in the villages surrounding the camp.

…when they voiced their greatest challenges and needs, several spoke of difficulties related to church planting among the unreached villages surrounding the camp. They are only able to plant churches within a 15 kilometer radius from the camp because that is as far as they can go by foot. They tithe their cornmeal rations in order to support their mission initiatives.

I have learned to expect to find churches and fellowships among refugees. Like the first generation of Christians, they have not let forcible displacement extinguish their passion to pursue the missional calling of the church.

“Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8:4)

The refugee church needs to be on our radar. Not only because they are isolated and forgotten by much of the non-displaced church – but because they have much to teach and offer us. Indeed, we need each other.

In spite of her circumstances and limitations, the refugee church is alive and well. She doesn’t need our pity. She needs our friendship and solidarity. She needs our help. And we need her.

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself…” (Leviticus 19:33, 34)”

The Church On the Refugee Highway, Tom Albinson | International Association for Refugees

“…here we were sitting in a room with about 50 Congolese refugees who use this book (“Healing Wounds of Trauma”, put out by the American Bible Society) to lead healing groups in one of the most trauma-impacted areas of the world with Harriet Hill, the woman who had a dream over a decade ago to develop the material. It was extremely moving. Leaders/facilitators gave testimonies about the groups and about personal healing, and presented questions they had. One person shared, “We are all traumatized…This material heals us and then we can help others heal.” Another shared, “During the genocide, so many of us – on both sides of the conflict – had hearts like animals. The Bible takes away our animal hearts.” Not all of these testimonies were ones of “arrival,” however. A few shared how they are still in the midst of the long healing process.”

Heather Drew, Musings of a Christian Psychologist, 15.8.2014

“…a native ministry leader working in the Kurdish region of Iraq. Those working with him spend the majority of their days sharing Christ with the destitute masses crowding the refugee camps. The workers go from tent to tent, sitting down with frightened families who have fled ISIS, the merciless Islamic terrorist group that succeeded last week in purging all non-Muslims from every town and village in the Nineveh region.

For those people without shelter, ministry workers organize “sleeping groups,” where a large number of families gather together to sleep in one area for safety. “The Lord’s hand is clearly upon us and protecting us from evil,” reported the leader. “Even though some of us are going through trials, we believe strongly that the Lord is taking us to another level of faith and a higher place of blessing”.

…one ministry leader reported an “army of volunteers from local churches and house churches are ready and willing to help.” These workers, he said, are all born again, evangelical believers with at least basic Bible training, most of whom he has worked with previously. In addition to their need for prayer and spiritual strength from the Lord, the workers have personal needs. At the end of the day when they return to their homes, they have to take care of their own families,” a ministry leader told the director.

Long after foreign aid agencies leave the region, these native workers will remain to continue their outreach to the many broken people, hungry for hope and truth. “In a crisis like this, we are experiencing a time of revival and awakening everywhere,” reported a ministry leader. “God is not just moving people geographically, He is moving in their hearts, as well.”

God is using native missionaries in Iraq to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with those who have been forced from their homes. But the needs are great! Gospel workers want to meet physical needs, as well as spiritual needs, and they require our help to do so.”

By Amie Cotton, APR/ Assist News, August 15, 2014

“It is over; we can’t get back what we lost,” said one discouraged Christian refugee here in Jordan. “It will never be the same anymore for me or my family! We’ve lost hope.” He said he had to flee with his family at night, because anti-Christian persecution in Syria is becoming a steadily growing reality. “I had my own business. I ran a supermarket, and we were financially stable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case anymore; our dreams vanished when a group of terrorists threatened to kill my family, burn our house, and set fire to the store if I didn’t pay them $7,000. I paid the amount, hoping that they would leave us alone, but they did not. Instead, they kidnapped me for a whole week. They only let me go on one condition: that each month I would pay them the same amount! What do you think I could do? I fled. I packed our stuff, taking only the basics. I took my family and came to Jordan. My son Omar has one year left to finish his bachelor’s degree, but now his dreams have vanished as well. I was a business owner . . . but now I am a laborer barely able to provide the day to day needs for my family!”

Another older woman told native missionaries, “I was talking with friends next to our building when suddenly, from every direction, we heard gun shots. At the same moment I watched my friends fall in front of me dead! I lost my friends in one second. I was also hit by a bullet. It fragmented my knee, and now I can’t walk normally.”

Many victims have come to Syrian refugee camps in the northwest towns of Jordan. The economic and social demands of this crisis has put a great strain on the communities; health care and education systems are both overloaded by the influx of new patients and students.

Jordanian missionaries are visiting Syrian refugee families and listening to their stories, as well as distributing food packages, blankets, mattresses, and other aid. “Here at our mission,” said one leader, whose work is being helped by Christian Aid, “we view this refugee crisis as an opportunity to share the love of Christ. It is God who opened the door for us to minster to these refugees, and we cannot abandon our brothers and sisters. We believe that if we are faithful, this may be a time of harvest among the Syrian refugees. God is sovereign, and He cares. We must care too, for we are ambassadors for Christ and must reflect God’s love. As we show compassion for their pain and grieve with them, we also try to show respect as well. We distribute New Testaments and Christian tracts – particularly to those who have not begun to follow the Lord. After each visit we receive blessings from the refugees’ reactions – one family told us that they had been visited by other charity organizations, but they know that we are different because we respect them and make them feel loved and welcome”.

A church being used by the missionaries has kept its doors open 24 hours a day for the refugees since the crisis began. The needs are huge. Many are unable to find jobs or ways to support them. Others are injured, struggling with broken bones, disabilities, and illness that need medication.”

Christian Aid Mission, April 19, 2012.

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