Ruth and Dieudonne met and got married in the Gihembe Refugee Camp. Both their families found refuge there in 1997. They were there “for too long” – and most of their family is still there.
“They don’t have a chance to come. If they had a chance, yes, they would want to come.”
Dieudonne and Ruth both sang in the choir at church and her brother was neighbors with Dieudonne, whose name means “God gives.” They would often see each other during the day and week. The two were married in 2015 at a small ceremony of family and close friends. In 2016, Ruth’s family was notified that they would be going to America. Because Dieudonne and Ruth had only recently gotten married and not filed together, Ruth needed to go with her sister, brother, and mother to America. Before she left, she went through the required medical exams and tests. She found out she was pregnant, and at a follow-up ultrasound, they discovered it was twins! Dieudonne said goodbye to Ruth before she got on to a bus with others headed to the airport.
“When couples say goodbye in the waiting area, usually they cry. Ruth cried. I hid my emotions. Her sister and her friend Lillian cried too.”
With separate cases, Ruth and Dieudonne still held on to hope that they would one day be reunited, but they did not know when.
Ruth and her family arrived in 2016. Arrey Kelvin Bissong was one of their assigned World Relief Good Neighbor Team volunteers. An immigrant from Cameroon, he was not able to welcome Ruth and her family at the Memphis airport because of work, but he rushed to meet them the next day. One of Ruth’s siblings speaks French, and they were excited to hear a familiar language when Arrey Kelvin spoke French to them that day. He invited them to his church, and the church welcomed them eagerly in the coming months. Everyone took care of Ruth. There were doctors’ visits, World Relief appointments, and job hunts. The first few months of arrival are always overwhelming, and having a new circle of community to care and comfort is essential. Through a difficult pregnancy, early delivery of the twins and time at the hospital, Dieudonne was present via WhatsApp calls and texts. He longed to hold his babies and be with his wife. “Each week, we talked together on the phone with the kids, on video. It is family. It felt like family.” Ruth and Dieudonne decided to name their twins after Arrey, to honor his role in their lives as such support in Ruth’s transition to America. Their son is named Kelvin and their daughter is named Kelvine.
“What was the hardest part about being away from them for those years, Dieudonne?”
The twins began to babble, speak their first words, take first steps, and grow up. After years of texts and calls, there was word that Dieudonne’s case was moving forward. They finally got the call. Ruth prepared to reunite with her husband and start their life together in America. The case still took a while, and they waited eagerly.
The night finally came at Memphis International Airport. World Relief staff, family, and Ruth’s community in Memphis gathered together. Kids ran around with little American flags, friends embraced and shared their excitement for Ruth.
Passengers of the same plane slowly appeared and walked past. There was a whole crowd awaiting one man. At the first sight of Dieudonne, the security guard had to persuade Ruth to stand behind the specific “no entry” line across the floor. Overcome with emotion, friends and family screamed and cheered, as Dieudonne passed over the line into Memphis, Tennessee, embracing his wife after more than three years. Shy little Kelvin and Kelvine shuffled forward to meet their father for the first time in their lives. He scooped them up in his arms.
“There were so many people. I was surprised to see so many people to welcome me,” Dieudonne reflected a year later.
Arrey has taught Dieudonne how to drive. Through World Relief’s Connect Language Center, Dieudonne has learned English so he can work and provide for his family.
“As a parent, I get to do everything. Pay for everything, go to work, take care of my family, praying, everything.”
Since their reunification, Ruth and Dieudonne have welcomed another son, Israel, into their home.
“On my side, with Israel, everything was perfect. Up close. Getting to see him grow. The twins are already grown. I was there [on WhatsApp, but it was] totally different. Ruth had her mother and sister, but now I’m here!”
When asked what he hopes for his children, Dieudonne answered, “I pray for their future. To grow in the hands of God. To live in harmony and peace. That their futures be bright.”
What would you say to Americans learning about refugee resettlement?
“Let families reunite! It’s a big gift for kids to have both parents!”
Emily Frazier is a humanitarian photographer and gifted communicator. She seeks to educate, advocate and empower through her work, partnering with NGOs, non profits, and individuals to document the human experience with dignity. Emily has photographed for World Relief Memphis since 2017.