I was born and raised Free Methodist in the high mountains of the Eastern Congo known as Hauts Plateaux d’Itombwe in the province of South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
My country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has experienced many wars that took the lives of about 6 million people over the last three decades, and many thousands had to flee their country.
On the evening of May 24, 2004, when I arrived home from work, we heard heavy gunfire and grenades on our street. Gunshots and heavy artillery continued through the night. The next day, it got worse. The next day, we were told to evacuate the town of Bukavu, where we lived, and flee across the border to Rwanda. We were not given a chance to pack. This was a frightening situation for my wife and me with seven children. By the grace of God, we managed to cross the border safely amid heavy gunfire. That very day, many friends lost their lives, including my niece and a few members of the church that I pastored in Muhumba/Bukavu.
When we fled from Bukavu, none of us knew that this was a beginning of a long journey that would take us to the United States (six years later). We stayed in Rwanda for about a month and then moved to Burundi.
The six years in Burundi were not easy, but God was with us. I came to the United States for medical treatment and was separated from my family for three years. This was when I applied for asylum, realizing that the situation in my country was getting worse. After my petition was approved, my family joined me in the U.S.
A new chapter for our family began. For once we were not worried about fleeing, hearing gunfire, bombs and living with the fear for our safety and lives. However, other challenges awaited us — integration, language, education, culture and more. With every challenge, God was preparing us for a special ministry to many other refugees and immigrants who would have to overcome the same.
Over recent years, many communities and churches around the U.S. have been receiving increasing numbers of immigrants from the Central Africa region. This region has suffered decades of political instability and civil wars.
For most immigrants or refugees, making it to the U.S. is considered a great privilege. They don’t take it for granted as they sometimes wait many years to get approved and resettled. Often the process leaves many waiting for years in the horrific conditions of refugee camps. Sometimes a father or mother is approved alone and has to wait many years to be reunified with their families. While the process of immigration is difficult, integration in the U.S. also comes with great challenges. However, having endured so much, immigrants and refugees are deeply thankful for the unfolding opportunities in the U.S. to begin a new life of hope and future.
Many Free Methodist churches and conferences have been receiving these new Americans and sometimes they are not sure how to assist them. The Free Methodist Church in Central Africa has been very fruitful (with more than 400,000 members). For that reason, many of those who end up being resettled from refugee camps are Free Methodist Church members. They are the fruit of seeds planted by Free Methodist World Missions and the sacrifice of missionaries over many years and faithful African evangelists, pastors and leaders who gave their lives to bring the gospel unto salvation and building the church in Jesus’ name.
Here are some of the areas where a lot of refugees and other immigrants might need help:
Language is one of the biggest challenges most people face when they arrive here. This impedes access to public services, employment, health care, education and adjusting to a new culture. Beyond this, not being able to fellowship and worship in one’s own language makes the journey more difficult. For this reason, many refugees and immigrants seek out a local Free Methodist church. This requires churches to extend great patience, understanding and compassion at a very crucial time in the life of these precious and vulnerable people who many times see their only hope in the one church they have always known – the Free Methodist Church.
Refugees and other immigrants are eager to take whatever job is available. My first job in the U.S. was as a “wheelchair escort” at the Portland International Airport. I had a hard time accepting this job. My previous job back in the Democratic Republic of Congo was executive secretary of the Free Methodist General Conference. I also pastored a church of 400 people in Bukavu. Pushing wheelchairs seemed a waste of my abilities, but I took it to earn money and help my family survive. Many immigrants who come to the U.S. with college or graduate degrees have a hard time finding jobs in the field of their training. They must do something completely different from their area of expertise. For a lot of them, this is very heartbreaking and discouraging, but one thing they want to do is work to support their families.
Other needs: transportation, finding and connecting with a local Free Methodist Church home, helping immigrant children through so many cultural and social adjustments, understanding legal processes and systems
In my present position as the coordinator of African Immigrant Ministries (AIM), I have the privilege of helping my sisters and brothers and their families make the huge adjustment to life in the U.S. I also have the opportunity to work with Free Methodist churches and conferences to smooth the way for my people to find a spiritual home. Our journey was not easy, but it has brought us to a place of joy and service. Our goals now are to do what we can to make it the same experience for the people we are called to serve.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2).
Isaac Bujambi is a Free Methodist elder who serves as the coordinator of African Immigrant Ministries (AIM). Visit fmchr.ch/fmrefugees to support Free Methodist refugees in the United States4