With guest David Crook, regional director for East Africa. Hosted by Julie Sanders Keymer. (28:30)
With guest David Crook, regional director for East Africa. Hosted by Julie Sanders Keymer. (28:30)
Eritrea, Africa–Residents of the country of Eritrea, which is situated between Ethiopia and Sudan, have been fleeing to refugee camps by the thousands. Mulugeta and Zaid Weldeab, husband and wife, were among the refugees who escaped. They found themselves in the Hitsats Refugee Camp in northern Ethiopia where they began witnessing for Jesus as they had done in their homeland of Eritrea before it became dangerous.
When mission officials noticed the large number of baptisms resulting from Bible studies Mulugeta had given, they hired him as a Gospel Outreach worker.
The Adventist churches in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, adopted him as a worker. He conducted Bible studies and held services in the small house the United Nations provided. When I visited the camp last year, Mulugeta said, “We need a church. Other denominations have a church, and people ask, ‘Where is your church?’”
The small group of believers showed us a parcel of land that the camp authorities had given for the building of a church, which would cost about $5,000 U.S. I wondered how these people could possibly raise such an amount. But they prayed fervently about the matter.
Nahom Yitebarek, president of the Tigrai Mission, went to his computer and sent out a message stating the need for a new church. An Eritrean physician in the United States happened to see the message and quickly raised the needed funds to begin construction. What a day of rejoicing when the lovely new church was opened and dedicated. Many visitors from the camp joined the members for this special occasion. Please pray that many more camp residents will accept Jesus and be part of the Hitsats Refugee Camp congregation.
SOUTH SUDAN—Working in countries like Sudan presents many dangers and challenges. A group called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) comes into villages in countries like Uganda, South Sudan, and the Congo. They abuse and mutilate women and capture men and boys, forcing them to join their army.
Growing up, Madra went to a school operated by a Christian denomination. Here Madra read his Bible and joined in the singing of hymns. Through the influence of his brother, he learned about the Sabbath and was baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist.
“God, these are your people. They don’t know what they are doing. Please provide a way for our escape!”
In 1981, civil war broke out between North and South Sudan so he fled to a refugee camp. In a raid by the LRA, he along with 17 other men and boys were captured. Their hands were bound so that they felt paralyzed. Eventually, the soldiers untied their hands and made each one carry a 110-pound sack of corn all night into the thick of a forest guided only by a flashlight. In the morning, they were allowed to have a 30-minute rest. All through this experience, Madra was earnestly praying. The soldiers searched everyone looking for money. Madra had only his Bible in his pocket, but for some reason, the soldiers didn’t take it. Then they continued their march until late afternoon when they were finally told to rest under a tree.
Madra prayed, “God, these are your people. They don’t know what they are doing. Please provide a way for our escape!” Just then, the commander stepped forward and unexpectedly asked, “Who wants to join the Lord’s Resistance Army?” Madra told him, “We can’t, because we are refugees.” The commander replied, “OK, you can go.” This was an absolute miracle!
Madra helped to bring many people to Jesus in the refugee camp and to plant and build a church. In January 2016, he joined Gospel Outreach as an evangelist.
Two Gospel Outreach (GO) workers from southeastern Europe are working with refugees from the Middle East. Every month they go to a different refugee camp to deliver food and medications. One of the GO workers tells the following story.
While visiting a Muslim family from Syria, someone asked me a difficult question, “How can Jesus be the Son of God?” Whenever I am asked by Muslim friends if I believe that Jesus is God’s Son, I do not immediately say, “Yes.” Instead, I ask what they mean by the term “Son of God.” Clarifying this point is critical because sometimes Muslims are told that Christians believe Jesus is God’s Son in a natural sense–a son born of a physical union. We must strongly deny this view based on John 1:1-4 and 14-18.
Ascribing sexual attributes to God is extremely offensive to Muslims. The Qur’an says, “God is but one God. Far be it from Him that He should have a son!” (Sura 4:169). To enhance my point, I used the following analogy from their own faith tradition. Ali, the son-in-law of the founder of Islam, is highly respected by many Muslims. He was known by the title, “Son of a Lion.” I asked my friends what this title means. Doesn’t it mean that Ali had the characteristics of a lion, such as strength, bravery, and power? In a similar way, I explained to them, the term “Son of God” means that Jesus has the characteristics of God because He is holy, sinless, eternal, just and merciful.
My friends greatly appreciated this explanation. In the end, I showed my refugee friends that Jesus has many titles–one of the most important being “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). They immediately requested that I visit them again and talk more about Jesus. I praised God for this great opportunity!
SERBIA—At the last Gospel Outreach rally, a special offering was taken to reach out to displaced people who have left their home countries in the Middle East and North Africa and have “flooded” Europe in search of a better life. More than a million persons from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan have fled their homes, risked their lives, and spent all their resources in search of peace and a normal life.
Gospel Outreach has teamed up with the Adventist Seminary in Belgrade, Serbia, to use these funds to purchase basic items for the refugees. The seminary students, serving as GO workers, have so far distributed 500 packages to the people in the temporary refugee camps. The packages contain basic necessities such as clothes, food, first aid kits, and short notes with Bible promises.
The students, who are preparing to be pastors, were delighted to have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of the refugees.
The annoying buzz of your alarm clock signals the beginning of another ordinary day. Within minutes your household springs to life as the children prepare for school and you get ready for work. Taking a quick look at the mirror, you smile. Maybe life hasn’t turned out exactly the way you’d hoped, but you have your family, friends, a roof over your head, food on the table and money in the bank.
That was Monday. How quickly life changes. Today is Thursday. You have failed a citizenship test. The government has seized your bank accounts and house, your children have been expelled from school, you’ve lost your job, and now you and your family are trudging down the road, forced toward an unknown future with nothing to call your own. You can’t even comprehend what’s happened. You’re a refugee, unwanted and lost in a sea of other refugees.
Nearly 17 million people worldwide are refugees, forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disasters, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Millions more are still in their countries of origin, but they’ve been forcibly displaced from their homes.
It’s nothing short of a crisis. What can we do? How will we respond?
For more information and a vision of the work to be done, Adventures in Missions turned to Dean Coridan, president of the Iowa-Missouri Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and Tim Saxton, Gospel Outreach associate regional director for Nepal.
AIM: Dean, as a conference president, what’s your connection with refugee work?
CORIDAN: We’re developing a refugee ministry in our conference. People often think of New York or Los Angeles as entry points for refugees coming into the United States. But the No. 1 entry point now is the Midwest.
AIM: Why the Midwest?
CORIDAN: The United States provides refugee immigrants with housing, medical care and schooling for four months after they arrive. All of this is cheaper in the Midwest.
AIM: So your conference is ministering to immigrants arriving in the Midwest from various refugee camps?
CORIDAN: As we began to meet refugees in our conference, the Lord spoke to our executive committee and our constituents. We felt a need to help these people—to become their friends. But coupled to that we saw an opportunity. We are also doing a lot of overseas mission work, using the teenagers from our academy. We go to countries where there are refugee camps.
AIM: Tell us more about what you’ve discovered in your ministry to refugees.
CORIDAN: For a long time, the No. 1 immigrant refugee group to the United States has been the Nepalese-Bhutanese refugees. Their story goes back about a hundred years.
Back then the Bhutan government asked the Nepal government for laborers. Thousands and thousands of Nepalese went to Bhutan to live.
Then, about 30 years ago, the Bhutan government became concerned that the country’s identity was being lost with such a large population of heritage Nepalese. As a result, 450,000 were forced to leave their homes in Bhutan and walk back to Nepal.
When these heritage Nepalese reached the border of Nepal, the Nepalese government refused to let them in. The United Nations formed five refugee camps at the border, and for 30 years these people have been living in the camps.
Right now the intent of the United Nations is to close the three remaining refugee camps. There are 185,000 people in those camps. The majority will come to the United States.
AIM: How do you see God leading in refugee work?
CORIDAN: The refugees we began working with were Bhutanese refugees that had come to Kansas City. As we worked with them, we began to realize they still had family back in the camps. I took family pictures of the immigrants in Kansas City.
Then I had an opportunity to visit the refugee camps overseas. We found every family and gave them a picture of their families back in the United States. There was much joy and many tears.
Let me tell one story of a Kurdish family that had immigrated to Columbia, Missouri, from Iraq. Members of the Adventist church in Columbia befriended the family, and this led to an interest in Christianity.
The Kurds are animists. They believe in the spirit world and that spirits communicate through dreams.
One day the mother of this Kurdish family told of a dream she’d had. In her dream, she was back in Iraq. Islamic extremists were coming. She knew her family had waited too long to escape, and they were going to be killed. She was scared, but a Man stood by her. He was the whitest Man she’d ever seen—white clothes, white hair, white beard.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Man said. “They’re not going to hurt you. I’m going to cover you with a cloak, and they won’t see you.”
The mother was so grateful. She reached out to take the Man’s hand to kiss it and saw a mark on His palm. She turned His hand over, and there was a mark there too. She woke up before discovering the identity of the Man.
“Could you tell us who that Man is?” she asked.
The church members in Columbia said they felt like Daniel. “There was a dream, and we could turn right to the book of Revelation and give the description of Jesus,” they said.
AIM: How big is the opportunity to share Jesus with refugees and refugee immigrants?
CORIDAN: Most refugee immigrants come from countries where Christians aren’t free to share the gospel, but we can reach the people in refugee camps and begin a friendship. In the Bhutanese refugee camps, for instance, people who have been cleared for immigration know well in advance the very day they’ll arrive in the United States, and the very city where they’ll be.
Imagine having an Adventist family drive to the airport to meet these new immigrants and help them get settled.
If these immigrants become Christians and Seventh-day Adventists, they’ll immediately tell their relatives back in the refugee camps and home countries. So we could carry the gospel to the world if we reach the refugees among us. They will tell their families.
AIM: Tim, you’re working with Dean and Gospel Outreach to help expand this vision. Right now, Gospel Outreach sponsors 15 Bible workers who are witnessing among refugees. What can people who are reading this article do to help?
SAXTON: We have the opportunity to take the gospel to the poorest of the poor. When Jesus came to earth, didn’t He come for us—the poorest of the poor in the universe?
I’d like to share three ways people today can follow in Jesus’ footsteps and become involved in this important work:
AIM: Dean, any last thoughts?
CORIDAN: What better avenue than the church, which is God’s family on this earth, to come alongside these refugees, to be in their homes, and to include them in our families? Refugee work is God’s work, and we will be blessed to have a part in it.
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“Oh, the joys of those who are kind to the poor! The Lord rescues them when they are in trouble. The Lord protects them and keeps them alive. He gives them prosperity in the land and rescues them from their enemies” (Psalm 41: 1, 2, New Living Translation).
How should nations, churches and individual Christians relate to refugees? The Bible doesn’t leave us guessing. Seven key principles describe God’s abiding concern for refugees and our responsibility to help meet their needs:
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In recent years, more than 50 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, according to the United Nations. Of these, nearly 17 million are refugees—people forced to leave their countries to escape war, persecution or natural disasters.
It’s a reminder that this world is not our home. We all are refugees, all just passing through, although circumstances allow some of us to reach out and help others along the way.
This special refugee section of the website takes a closer look at the refugee crisis and ways we can share the good news about a much brighter future. The biblical narrative, after all, is the story of refugees coming home, and not just spiritually, but physically and socially as well.
It’s a striking narrative.
We begin with Adam and Eve. Because of sin, our first parents became refugees—driven from their garden home and away from direct daily communion with God. In short order, their choice to disobey continued to play out in the lives of their children.
After murdering Abel, Cain became a second-generation refugee. And, with the protective mark placed on Cain, we begin to see a pattern of God working to offer hope within the refugee camp of this world.
Flipping a few more pages in Genesis, we find the story of Noah. He and his family were displaced when they entered the ark and the Flood destroyed the world they knew.
And we can’t overlook Abraham, who seemed to have a real knack for being displaced. Famine sent him packing to Egypt for refuge. But while Abraham was there, Pharaoh took a liking to Sarah. Subterfuge led to confrontation, and Abraham was told to take his wife, pack his things, and leave Egypt.
The biblical narrative, after all, is the story of refugees coming home, and not just spiritually, but physically and socially as well.
We scarcely finish reading about that when Abraham and his nephew Lot are forced to go separate ways because the land wouldn’t support both households.
Lot, of course, didn’t fare any better. Favoring the fertile Jordan plain and close proximity to Sodom, he finally was told by angels that he and his family must flee for their lives or be killed in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
More intrigue in Abraham’s family led to Abraham fathering a son with Hagar, an Egyptian slave. Abraham’s wife, driven by jealousy, forced Hagar and Ishmael out into the desert to face near-certain death, but God rescued them.
The Old Testament continues with the displacement of other familiar Bible characters: Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, the Israelites, Naomi, Ruth, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Ezra, Esther and Mordecai, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and his three companions, and Jonah—to name a few.
The New Testament doesn’t miss a beat, starting with Mary, Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt to avoid persecution and death.
Later, as the early church was in its infancy, persecution scattered many people, including Philip and Peter.
And so it continues to this very day—people being displaced for various reasons. As we consider our response, isn’t it our privilege as Christians to reach out to our fellow refugees and offer them friendship, hope and the Way, the Truth and the Life that will guide us to our final destination? Then, one day soon, we’ll be home, reunited at last with God and family. Join us in hastening this day.
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