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A Refugee’s Hope for Home

A Refugee’s Hope for Home

Banyamulenge man longs to be with family in the U.S.

Ruben felt one of the pure joys of life when his wife Aline told him she was pregnant.

"It sounds like heaven on earth,” he said of that day a little more than a year ago. “I felt I'm going to be a dad. And I was enjoying the fact that I'm going to be a dad of an American.”

But there are painful hours in Ruben’s life. His daughter Keziah was born in April, but Ruben has not held her or kissed her. He has only met her through photos and video calls.

Ruben lives in Uganda. His wife and daughter live in Dayton, Ohio. Both are Banyamulenge refugees who escaped the genocide of their people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have been separated for five years – except for Aline’s three-month visit to Uganda during the summer of 2021 – because of the complications and red tape that impede the resettling of refugees.

“Many of the nights I don't sleep,” Ruben said. “I'm living a painful life. No one can be willing to live this kind of life I’m living.”

Vision for education

Some day – when U.S. immigration allows Ruben to join his family – one of the obstacles that refugee children face won’t be in Keziah’s way. Keziah will go to school like all children in the U.S. Children of other Banyamulenge parents in places such as Uganda often can’t afford to send their children to school.

Beyond Borders has stepped into Uganda, and Ruben, while he remains, is helping the local missionary, Pastor Prosper, to assist in the work of the ministry. More than 30 children are being sponsored through monthly giving to attend private schools.

When Ruben arrived in Uganda in 2019, he met Prosper, a fellow Banyamulenge refugee who had started Grace Church. Ruben and his many family members who were resettled in Uganda were the first Congolese to join the congregation. The desire to get children into school was part of the Church’s mission that eventually led to the partnership with Beyond Borders.

"They could easily understand the vision and mission,” Prosper said. “And God willing, if they own it, then it becomes much easier for us to serve to them. So that is how we met, and we became good friends. And we start sharing joy and burdens and pain of displacement.”

A displaced people

The Banyamulenge homeland is within the borders of the DRC. But that region was inside the borders of Rwanda before the end of European colonization. When the Europeans left and borders were reset, the Banyamulenge became citizens of the DRC.

The genocide began in the 1990s and continues quietly today. Some tribes in the DRC saw the Banyamulenge as outsiders who belonged in Rwanda. Rwanda didn’t want the Banyamulenge either. Thousands of Banyamulenge were killed. The ones who survived saw their villages, homes and farmland burned.

About 60 percent have fled the DRC for asylum in other nations. The rest are scattered in the DRC. Those who left often traveled at night and hid in the bushes during the day. Estimates put displaced Banyamulenges at 1.5 million.

Ruben’s refugee journey began in Burundi, south of Uganda and on the eastern border of the DRC, and the danger didn’t feel much less. While in a village near a refugee camp, 146 Banyamulenges were killed in one night. So in 2017 he sought asylum in Kenya, but the camp there was populated by the same people group that slaughtered his people in Burundi.

However, while in Kenya he reconnected with Aline, whose family he knew in the DRC. They married but were unable to stay together long. Ruben and his parents and other family members were resettled in Uganda after Aline and some family members were resettled in the U.S. a month after their wedding.

"I'm not fearing again of being killed because I'm safe now in Uganda, but I have a fear of life,” Ruben said. “Life here is not as simple as you imagine. It's complicated.”

Ruben’s father still has siblings in the DRC.

“We have fear that one day we will be called and told that they were killed,” he said.

Longing for family

Ruben knows he is doing God’s work in Uganda, working as a secretary and teaching Sunday School for Grace Church and helping Beyond Borders get refugee children sponsored so they can go to school. But his heart longs to be in Dayton, Ohio, with Aline and Keziah.

Aline submitted paperwork four years ago to start the process to allow Ruben to join her. But nothing substantial has happened. They have limited funds and hope to find a gracious attorney familiar with immigration law to help them.

“The process is very slow,” Ruben said. “I don’t know why.”

Ruben said his prayer used to be to join his family. But he has examined what his faith means and is now praying for God’s will to be done.

“I'm not praying again to be in America,” he said. “I'm praying asking God to show me his will, to strengthen me, things like that. I cannot decide myself to go, so I have to wait and see God's will.”

Others are praying for Ruben to be permitted to move to the U.S. and be with his family.

“Biblically, putting a family into perspective, a married woman and a married man should not live separate.” Prosper said. “He's not meant to live alone here. His wife is not meant to live alone there.”

Ruben agrees that to be with his family is God’s will – in His timing – which is why he is praying the way he is. “Surely,” he said, “God said that it's not good for a man to be alone, right?

“Sometimes there are lows in a situation like that. But we have to believe that.”

The day-to-day is difficult for Ruben, who also works some as a tailor. He has tasks at the church and with Beyond Borders, but he can’t plan for the future like others do.

“I’m working, but it’s hard to know how hard and to what end,” he said. “There is no permanent plan you can have while you are in this situation. Sometimes you think you are going to resettle so you don’t plan for a long time.”

Prosper, though, sees a strong man living out his faith no matter how difficult life becomes.

“He is managing a heavy family with almost nothing,” Prosper said. “Too, it is hard for a younger couple, younger marriage, to live separate, and yet remain faithful. I'm married for more than 25 years now, and I can't imagine the challenge.”

Prosper knows much of what Ruben feels. During his refugee journey Prosper spent three years in Norway separated from his wife and children.

“I can tell how hard it is to live separate from one's family,” Prosper said as he mentors Ruben through his journey. “But when I see the strength, the courage to manage, to try to sustain and live a Christian life – honestly, it is it is something I'm thankful for. He's courageous.”

Ruben knows the struggles of being displaced with nothing and what living in refugee settlements can do to a man. He has seen drugs and alcohol ruin lives and steal hope from people and families. He is sure that without God he would be a drunk, trying to cope with life.

“Because I believe in God, I don't feel you can take drugs,” he said. “I don't feel I can look for other ways to relieve my situation, my pain. So I'm sure I am in what God planned me to be in. I know he planned that today. I'll be here. I'm teaching kids. Who would be doing that if it's not God's plan for me to be here? I know even if I'm going through tough situations, it's God's plan.”

Still, Ruben longs for the day when God’s plan sends him to a permanent home in Ohio. He’s wanted that since Aline moved. He wants it even more since Keziah was born.

The doctors introduced Ruben to Keziah on a video call the day she was born. Oh, how he longs to hold her on her first birthday in America.

“That baby deserves to see her dad,” Prosper said. “She deserves that love of both the father and the mother. I'm proud of what he's doing for the ministry for the body of Christ. But again, I'm praying that God can open this wider door for them to be reunited.

“He needs to be there.”

31 Oct 22
by Jeff Gilbert
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