I come from a people called the Banyamulenge. We are cattle herders and live in the high mountains of Eastern Congo overlooking Lake Tanganyika.
Over the years, my people have been forced from one area to another in search of green pastures for our livestock. When the Belgians ruled this part of Africa, we lived in what is now Rwanda. However, a severe famine forced us from our land and eventually we moved to the mountain slopes of Mulenge in Congo.
After years of peace there, my people began to feel the effects of racial and political conflicts in the region and we were mistreated because of our ethnic background. In the past twenty years, many of the Banyamulenge have been targeted and killed. My people are unloved and unwanted.
In my own home, my father was a pastor, and I was the leader of the church choir. I loved training the young people to sing, but one day I had a dream and God spoke to me: “Your time in this church is over.”
I told my father about my dream and he released me to go. So I walked into the nearest town and I was directed to a Mennonite church. I immediately knew that this was my new home.
Eventually, I began to lead the choir and to train young people. It was among these Mennonites that I also learned the importance of forgiveness and the work of peace and reconciliation. I knew that this would be a part of my future ministry.
During this time, it was not easy for me as a Banyamulenge. My people continued to be mistreated. My own life was threatened many times. Then, in 2003, while my parents were fleeing from their home, they were murdered. I decided that it was time for me to leave also, so I fled to Burundi, where I lived for three years in a refugee camp.
After that, I returned to Congo for six months, to see if the atmosphere had changed toward my people. But it was too difficult, so this time I fled to Malawi, where again I made my home in a refugee camp.
In Malawi, the refugee camp was full of conflict and hopelessness. Even among the Christians, there was much division and strife. People of different ethnic groups kept to themselves. Witchcraft was predominant.
Among these refugees, I began to exercise my gift as an evangelist. And people began to respond. During my first year in the camp, I started a church. With a small group of disciples, we would go door to door throughout the camp, inviting people to follow Jesus.
I often shared from the Book of Ezekiel (36:18-26) where the prophet talks about how God had driven his people from their land and dispersed them among the nations because they had forsaken him, but that he also would offer them forgiveness: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (v.26).
So the new church was a gathering of soft hearts, and we became very focused on Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness and loving our enemies. Our message was simple: because God loves us, we must love one another.
During this time, a man joined our church. He was also a refugee from Congo. When he first arrived into the camp, I received this man into my home. After some time, I learned that he was the one who had murdered my parents in Congo.
I knew that my own teaching – the teaching of Jesus – was being put to the test. It was my desire to be a part of a church that took the Scripture seriously and was based on peace and reconciliation. If God forgave me, I had to forgive others. So I forgave this man for what he had done to my family.
Today, our church is built on this foundation of the peace and forgiveness of Christ. We are preaching this Gospel and God is blessing us. Now there are eleven more churches in this area. I love what God is doing here. It brings my heart so much joy to see these churches thriving. To God be the glory!
My Brother Safari
I recently visited Safari in his home in Malawi. To be clear, the refugee camp is not a pleasant place to live. It is dry and dusty and lacking in so many resources. People are despondent and the rate of suicide is high. Crime and prostitution are also prevalent, and hope is at a premium. But this is where my brother has chosen to live.
It is important for people to know that, after six years in the refugee camp and a fruitful church-planting ministry, Safari was given the opportunity that all refugees are waiting for – his application to the United Nations was approved and he was selected to go to the USA.
He turned it down. He told me plainly, “I couldn’t leave the churches. The sheep couldn’t be without a shepherd.”
I was amazed at his commitment. I was humbled to call him my brother.
Two years later, the UN officials came again and presented him with a second opportunity – Australia. This time, he accepted. But as the process got underway, he knew he couldn’t go. God has called him to this refugee camp in Malawi. So again, he chose to stay.
As a result of turning down these opportunities, the UN has discontinued his support. In fact, it was so beyond their understanding, they assumed that Safari had lost his mind. How could anyone turn down these opportunities?
Today, Safari continues to serve as an evangelist in the refugee camp and an overseer for the churches. He works alongside the pastors and keeps them focused on their vision. He is a good shepherd.
Safari ekes out a simple living by farming and, through this, he is even able to help support the churches. In fact, during the winter months, when famine strikes and food supplies are diminished, starvation becomes a common problem in the refugee camp. Along with a group of church leaders, Safari has begun training people to conserve some of their food during harvest. The church has now rented fifteen acres outside of the camp where they are able to produce more food, store it, and save it for the lean months when people are in greatest need.
Now, I call him Joseph.