Charity (not her real name) was six when they burned down her village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and murdered the two mothers in her family in the year 2000. “They destroyed everything, all the animals, all the people, with a spear or a machete. You have to run on your own,” she told me. “You cannot wait to gather the family. It’s not like that. You run as fast as you can and you hope they don’t get you or your brothers, your sisters. You pray you can find them again. They killed as we ran.”
I met Charity at her family’s apartment about an hour’s drive from my house, so that I could hear her story and share it– well, at least parts of it– as part of a missions educations unit designed for children focusing on ways churches can make a difference in the lives of refugees. As I sat with her family at their kitchen table, she shared her story with me.
“You hide in a bush or whatever you find until they are gone. We hid there between one and two months. I do not know exactly. Who keeps time when life is like that? We learned to pick up dirt in fabric, in your shirt. You pick it up and you twist it and squeeze it and water comes out and you drink that water. You do what you do to survive.”
We talked about the year she and her father and siblings stayed in hiding near the border with Uganda, and the eleven years they lived in Ugandan refugee camps. “It was hard, but we could survive. We could live because we were together. They gave us sheets of plastic and we make a house.In Africa we have ten people to share a room this size, the size of our living room. We’d leave all our utensils and things outside so that the people could fit inside. We all sleep in it together.
As we talked, I couldn’t help but think of the children in the news of late, ripped from their parents as they came across our borders escaping gang violence or abuse. What parent wouldn’t run with their children to escape the burning, the killing or raping? What parents wouldn’t hide, wouldn’t try whatever they could to find a safe place for their children? How could this administration make it illegal to seek asylum, here in America, where Lady Liberty says, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me”?
What have we become?
To separate families in this way is to torture children. Are we people who torture children?
It seems that now we are.
It was hard, but we could survive. We could live because we were together.
Near the end of my interview with Charity, she told me about her trip to the States.
“We leave with many refugees, and everyone is scared and quiet. They take us, me, my father and brother Andrew to get on the plane to Chicago. We look at each other and we are terrified. Where are the others? Where is my sister? Where is her son? Where is my other brother? Andrew starts to cry. My father says to me, “What are we going to do?” My father wants me to explain this to him? I say, “Don’t ask me.” I start crying. We arrive in Chicago and they take us to a hotel to our room. I’ve never been in a hotel. I’ve never been in an elevator. I’ve never slept in a room without it being full of my family. They take us to two rooms, one for my father and Andrew and one for me. The whole room, just for me. It is pain I feel there, all alone. I don’t sleep so I just sat on the bed all night, afraid. I’m all alone and my heart is full of worry. My father is sick with worry. I cry and I fear. What if they sell me? What if I never see my family again? I wonder if now we are going to die, so far from what we know.”
Thankfully, Charity and her family reunited and are making a new home here in South Carolina. Her family is still acclimating, learning English and working hard. “God is still with us,” Charity says. “And we have found people who want to help us, people who make us feel comfortable. That everything is going to be okay. And we are together,” she smiles. “Together, we can do it.”