Presbyterians Assist Congolese Refugees in the U.S.

A letter from Ruth Brown in the U.S., on Interpretation Assignment from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

November 2016

Write to Ruth Brown

Individuals: Give online to E200528 for Ruth Brown’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507542 for Ruth Brown’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Muoyo wenu! (“Life to you!”)

In late August in Kananga, my home in D. R. Congo, for reasons not yet clearly understood, Congolese soldiers killed a local village chief in his home and scores if not hundreds of Kananga residents were turned out of their homes near the city’s airport. After this violence a plea went out to local churches to care for children made homeless by this hostility.

Scores of children found protection with members of different church denominations. The Presbyterian Church of Congo added 12 newly homeless children to the Ditekemena program, a program for at-risk children initiated in 2013 with a grant from Presbyterian Women’s Thank Offering. As the program’s housing was amid the fighting, the children and staff hid from the violence in several different homes elsewhere in the large city. Caring for the homeless and the refugees in such ways is part of our Judeo-Christian heritage and faith.

During Interpretation Assignment travels this year I discovered that three churches that support my sending and support and/or our partnership for community development in Congo are also supporting Congolese refugees in America! First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, Tenn., and First Presbyterian Church of Wilmington, N.C., are actively assisting a family, and the third church, Wayne Presbyterian Church of Wayne, Pa., is in training for receiving a family before Christmas.

In September 2015 FPC Knoxville was asked to sponsor a Congolese family newly arrived in Knoxville after 10 years in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Colleen Shannon of FPC Knoxville describes the Congolese family as an “especially vulnerable family because the four of them came with no English and no adult male. Alphonsina, the 52-year-old matriarch of the family, never attended school while in Africa and did subsistence gardening there. Her daughter, Kito, graduated from high school and speaks not only Swahili but also French. Her granddaughter, Demama (20), whose mother disappeared, had limited schooling. Her grandson, Bikyeombe (10), lost both his parents while in Africa and is under the care of his grandmother.”

Colleen explains: “For months only two of us worked directly with the family, although other church members contributed clothes, household goods and books. This changed last summer when our plea for more volunteers brought tutors for Bikyeombe, drivers for Alphonsina to get to English classes, a dentist to care for their teeth, a nutritionist to teach them to use appliances and prepare nutritious low-cost meals, and several families who planned fun excursions and transportation to church. As church members greeted the family at church and talked about their wonderful experiences with them, the desire to be engaged with the family grew. When Alphonsina had a medical procedure the congregation prayed for her. Bikyeombe now comes to Sunday School with two of his Congolese refugee friends.”

FPC Wilmington actively sought to care for a refugee family as a reaction to news this year of the plight of the Syrian refugees. The church approached their local Interfaith Refugee Ministry office and learned that immigrants currently being resettled in their city were Congolese. The city of Wilmington has resettled 300 Congolese refugees in the last five years! FPC Wilmington now supports a Congolese family whose mother lived the last 18 years in a Rwandan refugee camp. The church is caring for this mother, Mukashaka, and her six children who range in age from 15 months to 16 years old. None of them speak English or French, and none has more than a second-grade education.

Yesterday when I contacted these Wilmington, N.C., and Knoxville, Tenn., churches for more information about their new relationships with these families, I found that the church members were out meeting with the families at the time of my call.

Colleen wrote back from Knoxville: “Now I am sitting in a class with Kito (23) and Demama (20) as they practice job skills. This morning I was with their mother/grandmother in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class. Out of an entire ‘school’ with multiple classes she is the only one from sub-Saharan Africa—most are Asian, Arab and Latina.” Colleen added, “This has become a full-time occupation/experience! They are like my family now.”

Love is costly and can be all-consuming of time and talents and energies, but it gives “muoyo” (“Life”)! These PC(USA) churches are not only supporting my sending and support and “Extra Commitment Opportunity” programs in Congo, but they are also full-time friends and assistants to Congolese families resettling in America! What energy! What love! What blessings!

I commend to you the book Leviticus and Numbers, a study in the Westminster Bible Companion series. The author, Richard Boyce, questions, “What would it be like to belong to a church or a synagogue where the people were united more by God’s redemption than they were differentiated by neighborhood, income, and possessions?”

Last night when I reached Bruce Gibson of FPC Wilmington he said, “It’s all about the ministry of presence, just being with the family, spending time with them.” Bruce had just come home from taking the Congolese family to see a soccer game. On the way home the family was treated to pizza—a strange, new meal for them. Bruce said, “When we dropped the family off at their home, Dusave, a 10-year-old fourth grader and the youngest girl in the family, asked to go to church on Sunday.”

At the close of 2016 I give special thanks to you for your prayers, your messages of support, and your hospitality to me on my journeys in the U.S.A. these last several months. Thank you very much for your donations to my travel expenses for my travel to your churches and for your donations to my sending and support.

As of October 30, 2016, I have received only 50.58 percent of sending and support costs for the first year of my next three-year term, which begins this coming new year. I am committed to reaching 100 percent funding for this coming year and for my third term. If you have not yet committed financially to this ministry, would you consider doing so for 2017? If you are currently supporting this ministry through giving, would you prayerfully consider an additional gift at the close of this year, and consider increasing your gift for 2017? I greatly appreciate any gift that you can give.

Thank you for your encouraging support to me and our partnership for community development in Congo. May the joys of love and faith and family be with all of you during the holiday season-
Love,

Ruth


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