Written by Susan Yem
In 1994, just one week after Mwambi arrived in her new marital home in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), her life and her future husband’s life changed forever in terrifying and unexpected ways. DRC is the second largest country in Africa. Although it is rich in natural resources like oil, diamonds and gold, civil war, political corruption and social unrest within its borders, as well as spillover from conflicts in neighboring countries, have led to decades of instability.
Although Bashale’s family was well-to-do and lived in a beautiful house, their wealth and status could not save them from peril. As a judge, Bashale’s father had ruled on a case involving the son of a local military commander who had stolen his father’s gun and used it to murder a man he was attempting to rob. For this crime, the son was sentenced to twenty-five years in jail which incensed the commander.
“He came with five of his soldiers to our house at night and threatened my father,” Bashale recalls. “He broke down our gate, broke into our home, and shot my mother and father, killing both of them.”
Although Bashale, his siblings and Mwambi tried to hide, they were discovered. Mwambi was gang raped by five of the soldiers. Bashale and his older brother were caught by two soldiers, but Bashale’s brother was able to overpower them. The brother was wounded in the melee and died soon after. News of the incident spread quickly, and the remaining family members realized they could not safely harbor Bashale and Mwambi. An uncle advised them to leave the country and they headed to the Meheba Refugee Settlement in Northern Zambia.
“Our lives were very difficult in Meheba,” says Mwambi. “We suffered there because there was a shortage of food. We were not allowed to leave to find work, but we were not given enough food to survive.”
Surviving through prayer
The family decided to take a risk and leave the camp to live in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. “We were in constant fear of getting caught and being sent to prison because we were living illegally outside the camp.”
As practicing Christians, they were sustained through prayer and trust in God as Bashale says, “We realized the only way we would survive was to pray to God. We fasted; we prayed overnight; we even climbed the mountain to pray.”
Others joined the family in prayer, and eventually two churches were formed which continue to meet today.
After 28 years of waiting, the family was finally notified by UNHCR that they had been accepted for resettlement in the United States. They arrived in Spokane in July. “The people in Spokane have been kind,” says Mwambi. “They accept us, give us shelter, give us food and help us with a lot of things.”
Hopeful for the future
World Relief has assisted the family in establishing themselves in Spokane by finding housing, setting up medical insurance, preparing the kids for school and providing information on how to find jobs. Bashale and Mwambi are currently working with a World Relief caseworker to get the necessary documentation to enable them to work. Bashale hopes to continue to serve God. “I have a passion for working for God here in America,” he says.
Although he does not have happy memories of their lives in Africa, Bashale is reflective about their experiences, “In every situation whether you’re happy, sad, suffering, rich – you still have to praise God for everything.”
Building a just world means coming alongside families like Bashale and Mwambi’s once they’ve reached the U.S., and it means finding lasting solutions to the problems that force families to flee in the first place.
Currently, there are about 30,000 immigrants from DRC residing in the United States. Four hundred live in Spokane. While we work to welcome and help newly arriving refugees and immigrants integrate into life in Spokane, World Relief’s team in DR Congo is addressing the drivers of mass displacement that often force families to flee in the first place.
We live in an interconnected world, and as crises converge, the only way to move forward is together. You can join World Relief Spokane as we build a more just and welcoming world by signing up to volunteer or partnering with us through a financial donation.
Another great way to discover what’s happening at World Relief Spokane is to join us for our Around the Table Gala on November 16. Register here.