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Paci’s Story: Expanding the effects of compassion

Aimee Pacifique Byiringiro was born in Rwanda to a loving family, but moved to Zambia at an early age. She spent most of her childhood years growing up there. The country, however, was a mess. Zambia is a nation that suffers from extreme poverty and deep debt.

Church attendees in Zambia.
Photo by Nima Sarram on Unsplash

It was in Zambia that the family lived in a refugee camp. There was no phone service available; no one had a cell phone. Electricity was a distant dream. Snakes were the reality. They lived in the grass and slithered everywhere. Paci said she couldn’t even walk down the street without stepping on a snake!

If a family was rich, they could put a window in their house. Paci’s family wasn’t rich, and they didn’t have a window. Roofs were made of long yellow grass. Although it kept the sun from beating down on, the grass was prone to leaking during the rainy season. Rain meant that Paci had to sleep on a wet bed.

“The whole situation was so rough!” Paci laughed. For five years, Paci and her family waited in the refugee camp.

In the meantime, Paci encountered a loving God at church. She lived five minutes from the Adventist Youth Church. It was there she praised God in song and lived in fellowship with other Christians. When one member of the community needed help, the others banded together to get the task done. It was this community that made life in the refugee camp bearable – even enjoyable.

Because they had no TV, Paci entertained herself by doing activities like swimming with her friends. Because they had no money, the community just visited and talked to each other. They celebrated, played, worshipped together and supported each other.

“It was fun things like that that made us not remember where we were,” Paci said.

In 2010, the family’s resettlement case was approved. After packing their things, they boarded an international flight without a clue of the destination. But they were excited nonetheless.

“Back then, they didn’t even tell you where they were taking you. You just arrive here, and they are like, OK, you are in Spokane Washington’…Ok! Where do we go?”

Aimee Pacifique Byiringiro, Kinyarwanda Community Ambassador

When the family arrived in Spokane, they initially stayed in a hotel room. Paci remembers being awestruck by the amount of food. She remembers being given apples and bread by the staff and thinking, “All of this is for us?” She didn’t want to waste even a little bit of it.

“I wanted to eat until I threw up, but I feel like I was full!”

When she went to Fred Meyer for the first time, Paci was amazed. “I just realized how much food people in America have.”

She was equally impressed by Elena and David, the volunteers they met. These people explained how to use the bus and took the family grocery shopping for the first time. While there, the volunteers demonstrated how to use an EBT card to purchase items.

“Man, just the love…it was all positive!” And made such a difference.

Whether she got paid for it or not, Paci decided she wanted to welcome people and show them around Spokane just like Elena and David.

She began to help refugees in her community to find homes, go to the store, make calls, apply for jobs and interpret during interviews. Every moment brought her joy. She loves seeing the people in her community becoming more independent and improving their own lives.

Paci remembers when a community member was looking for a job to support his family. He didn’t speak English and needed an interpreter. Paci assisted him in putting together a resume and interpreted during his interview. The man got the job, and now the family can pay rent and buy groceries.

“I helped them, and now look at them. They’re on their own! That makes me feel so wonderful,” she said.

Paci and her family are active members in their church community. Her mother discovered the church four months after arriving in Spokane. She met a man on the street and struck up a conversation. Paci’s mother mentioned that her family was Seventh Day Adventist and that they were looking for a church. The man was a member of a Seventh Day Adventist Church and invited the family to join him.

Now, they translate for newcomers who speak Kinyarwanda during the services. The church has grown in size and hospitality because of these new members. In this vibrant community, Paci looks forward to raising her children to love God and be generous to their neighbors:

“Share and love God – love God first of course – love God first and just be a kind person.”

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