IDP. Another acronym you learn in Africa. Internally Displaced Peoples are, by definition, refugees in their homeland. Presumably a little more fortunate than a flat-out refugee. A little less fortunate than a homeless kid on the streets of Nairobi.
An IDP camp is a safe haven. An in-between. It’s food and shelter. A caring person to come alongside. A place where people sit around and shake their heads, or bury them in their hands. Homeless, bankrupt, possibly lost a husband or a child in the chaos. Questioning why. Questioning God. And sometimes, planning revenge.
I’ve been to a few of these camps over the years. In Congo, hidden in the lush green of the Ituri forrest. The smell of smoke and palm oil and humanity numbering tens of thousands. In Sudan; humid, naked, dark. In Mozambique; wet. All of them hungry. Some of them filled with the warmth of people who hold fast to a sovereign God. Some of them inconsolable.
Yesterday, our little media team visited two camps in the Kenya highlands. I think figures have topped 300,000 as to the total number of Kenyans currently displaced in this country. These that we visited were not large camps. Merely hundreds. Showing up late at night in a dump truck. The pastor getting a knock on the door. Can he open up the church compound for “refugees?” He does, and after two days there are 1,200 men, women, and so many, many children. And before long there are tents from the Rotary Club. And a huge shelter constructed in the parking lot thanks to a local businessman. Food from the mission. Vehicles summoned to get more people. Logistics to find new homes for the swelling numbers in the camp. It is a situation repeated all over the country. Almost overnight the demographics of Kenya have changed as people flee heterogeneous areas and cluster according to tribe. And the question looms; will anyone ever go back?
We talked with a number of Kenyans from both sides of the strife. To pastors in the middle. To missionaries trying to stay on the sidelines and not pick sides. As a media department in AIM, we are looking for the stories of reconciliation in the midst of the awful stories streaming out of Kenya. But perhaps we are too early. The wounds are still so new, and fresh ones are inflicted every day. The people in these camps have lost everything––many to the very neighbors they have lived beside for decades. We ask if they will forgive. Typically the answer is “I don’t know.” And then we ask what forgiveness means. And most are at a loss for answers.
I think the answers will come. I sat with the pastor of the church there and encouraged him to press on. He said he was tired. I told him that I thought God was in all this, nodding my head in the direction of the camp taken root in his church parking lot. He agreed. God is doing something. Perhaps something good.
It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon here in Nairobi. Sunny with a warm breeze. Happy even. But it is not hard to imagine the degrees of sadness all around us. And even so, my heart is turned toward home most of all–like the IDPs sitting and waiting and thinking of their homes. Renee and I glance at a picture of my mom and dad twenty times a day and are sometimes filled with warmth, like people who hold fast to a sovereign God, and sometimes we are just inconsolable.
We have now booked tickets home to New Jersey. Leaving in one month. Bringing my dad the two grandchildren he wished he could gaze upon. Bringing my mom that shoulder she specifically requested to cry on.
Dad should be out of the hospital in a week, or two. There’s no promise as to how long he will stay out, and we hope to arrive while he’s still home. I don’t really know how much we can do to help my parents right now. Maybe a lot, or not so much. But I do know what a treasured gift it will be to all four of us just to be around my father for a time. Renee and I have been discussing the value of a heritage lately––in the context of the gifts we can give to our children. And there’s something really special about my dad that we hope Amelia and Zach will take to heart and carry with them all of their days.
“Thank you” to those of you who have helped pay for the tickets home. This trip for us falls under what our mission calls “compassionate leave.” But it will turn into an early furlough, and perhaps we will be able to visit with some of you. Thanks, as always, for your prayers… even now as we prepare to become displaced.