A “funny story” from a refugee survivor of his long journey to America

It has been one year now since I am in touch, day by day, with refugees from all over the world through Arrive Ministries, my employer. Though refugees are recovering from trauma and hardship, they have never lost hospitality and hope of starting over a better life full of joy and promises. Several times I ran into incredible hospitality from the supposedly poor families who joyfully share little things that they have; sometimes, things that they have been given in support to their new life. What a great lesson! May the people from Ukraine, Thailand and Congo, to cite the few, receive here my gratitude.

Because of push factors (war, religion/ethnic persecution, economic hardship, political violence, etc.) people desperately long for coming to America because this country has proven over and over again it has opportunities for everyone to prosper and become somebody in life: the American Dream.

In November last year, Arrive Ministries resettled the Olema family which I had the privilege to serve as the case manager. The following is the account that this family shared with me about their long journey to America when I went to visit them one typical Minnesota snowy afternoon in January.

“After fleeing the war in my native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, my family and I ended in a neighboring country, Rwanda, where we got a refugee status from UNCHR. Life was not easy, though we tried hard to be financially independent by working hard. The dream was to be resettled in the U.S. So, we prayed abundantly and fasted regularly. We stayed so long in Rwanda to the extent that other children were born to the family while we were waiting for America’s doors to open. The youngest daughter of the family, Sarah Olema, was born in Rwanda. She grew up and studied in Rwanda. She speaks French, English, Swahili and Kinyarwanda. During this period in the refugee camp, my wife, Jena Olema, and I both dealt with high blood pressure, but it was mostly under control. Our lives were not threatened with it.

It was twenty years later, after we had fled from Congo, that my family was admitted to travel to the U.S. for resettlement. What grace!

The “funny story” started when the news of resettlement came to me and the family. It was like a thunder in our ears and hard to believe even though we have devoted an amount of time of prayers and fasting for it. When I was told that my family should get ready to travel because we were accepted to resettle in the U.S., the excitement caused my blood pressure to go higher than ever before to the extent I needed immediate extensive care. I was hospitalized and the doctor could not understand the reason why my blood pressure was so high at that point.

When the doctor discovered that the discomfort was caused by the excitement to come to America he thought the best way to reduce the excitement was to give me false information. He told me that my family’s resettlement in the U.S. was cancelled! The doctor’s good intention was to bring under control the high blood pressure by a deceitful news. Unfortunately, that was the worst idea that the doctor had thought of! Instead, the situation become more complicated than ever before because I became seriously anxious and desperate.

It was like my dream went in the smoke after twenty years of patience and effort. My wife and everyone in the family were in great panic because I risked losing my life after escaping death from bullets in my country and the hardship of a refugee’s life. So, the doctor decided to apologize and tell me the truth saying that the trip was not cancelled and I was scheduled to travel soon. It was at this moment that the high blood pressure started going down to normal. When I was discharged, we traveled.

Once we arrived in the U.S., the high blood pressure story has become famous and a “funny thing” in the family and also like a symbol to remind us of the joy of coming to America.

Thank you Arrive Ministries and all the staff for the services and the cultural orientation my family has been beneficiary for our transition period in the U.S. If we can fly by our own wings today, we owe it to Arrive Ministries.”  *names have been changed

written by Kisongo Mbeleulu, Resettlement and Outreach Coordinator