When I visit refugee camps around the world, I often wonder who is really giving and who is really receiving. One thing I am always touched by, is that refugee families, friends, and churches always want to send their greetings back to the USA, to my family and friends. I have always found refugees to be truly grateful for anyone to come and visit them, to treat them as human beings, and to be willing to invest in a relationship with them, and not just do things ‘for’ them. Their thanksgiving is amazing, and it reminds me how much we can learn from those who are forcibly displaced in this world.
When we visit refugees, one of our major goals is to always learn from them. Yesterday, IAFR and the Dzaleka Christian Churches Union hosted a joint conference on leadership in the refugee camp. It was a great time of teaching, sharing, questions, and learning together. I am convinced we have so much to learn about leadership, life, and development if we will take the time to listen to our refugee brothers and sisters. They have the solutions to many of their own problems, and it is an honor to get behind those visions.
In my time spent in different refugee camps, one thing has always been clear: Refugees are extremely grateful to their host nation for giving them refuge and safety when they were forced to flee their country of origin. Many often feel a burden to say thank you with more than words. This is what our church friends in Dzaleka refugee Camp do – they give back to their Malawian hosts by assisting the orphan children in many villages. They do things like pay for the children to attend school, assist them with basic physical needs of food and clothing, and they encourage them in different ways. It was great to talk to some Malawian leaders today and hear them say “thank you” to the refugees as well.
The name says it all. Since our work in Malawi began in 2010, IAFR has been working with a local Malawian organization known as There Is Hope. This organization was founded by a former refugee Innocent Magambi, and his wisdom and understanding of the refugee situation in Malawi has guided us in our projects and planning along the way. We are very thankful for the huge scope and impact of their work. It was great to spend some time today with the staff and hear about their continued work.
Based on media portrayals and false narratives, it can be easy to think of refugees as only people in need and to label them as drains on resources. In my years working with refugees I have NEVER found this to be true. Refugees are so much more than people in need, they are hard working, generous, and committed to making their communities a better place, wherever they are. The Pentecostal Community Church in Dzaleka is a great example, as they have started a pre-school for the kids in their community, to help prepare them for Elementary school in the future. We are proud to get behind this vision and many more of the refugee churches.
One of the really cool things about refugee churches is that every church has 4 or 5 different choirs that create their own original praise and worship songs each week. This is a powerful way for refugees to worship and express their emotions as part of their journey towards recovery from forced displacement. The other great thing, is that every week, each church will send a choir from their church to visit another church in the camp, and to share their songs with each other. It is powerful to see this in action, and it is a great testimony to their shared spirit of unity and community. Check out the photo below of one such choir that visited Emmanuel Full Gospel Church this week!
Today I had the great privilege to spend the day with Emmanuel Full Gospel Church in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. It has been over a year since I last saw these great friends, and they have since constructed a new building for worship and other church activities. The church has done all the required labor for the building, and as part of our Refugee Church Construction project we were able to help out with some of the materials needed to finish the first phase of the work. It was a great joy to see the building finished, and to worship together with these friends. You can read more about our work with refugee churches on the projects page of www.iafr.org.
From Saturday October 28 to Monday November 6th, IAFR will be visiting our refugee friends and partners in Malawi. Today Dzaleka Refugee Camp located just outside of the city of Lilongwe is host to 25,000+ refugees from surrounding East African nations. In the camp, many churches have organically grown and are providing an amazing amount of community support through their work caring for widows, orphans, and others who are most vulnerable. We are excited to partner together with these churches again on this trip.