May 06, 2008 Ami Olson Uncategorized
Imagine someone asking where you are from.
Imagine not being able to answer that question.
Because the country where you were born no longer exists. And the country you fled to is not really your homeland, and you fled again, to a third country — but you don’t live there, anymore, either.
For the group of 32 African political refugees that recently joined Sojurn Free Methodist Church in Fairmount, this question requires a complicated answer.
In December of 2007, just 10 days before Christmas, Sojurn parishioners was introduced to the first group of refugees to be relocated to the Syracuse area from a refugee camp in Tanzania. Ephraim Barangendana, his wife and seven children were joined with Sojurn because Barangendana is a Free Methodist Pastor. A week later, Ephraim’s brother Amoni Hakizimana, a Free Methodist deacon, his wife and their seven children arrived.
John Stone, a Sojurn parishioner, said he volunteered immediately to help provide transportation for them. Each week, Stone drives the newcomers to and from Sunday service — two full trips with a cargo van.
Stone said at first, the trips were quiet. The families speak Swahili and Kirundi. Without an interpreter, there was little conversation.
“It’s amazing how much communication you do with a smile,” Stone said.
Now, the van trips are lively, his passengers laugh and talk loudly — a sign for Stone that they are becoming more comfortable.
Stone said many parishioners were enthusiastic and excited to have the opportunity to help the refugees and learn about their culture.
“It’s a good opportunity to start practicing what we’re all supposed to be living.”
Barangendana and Hakizimana, and other members of the group, originally hail from Burundi. They fled Burundi in 197 and relocated to the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 1996, they were forced to flee again to Tanzania, where they remained in a refugee camp for 11 years.
Along the way, children were born and families grew. In February, two more families arrived; the youngest of the 32 is an infant.
Speaking through an interpreter, Innocent Hakizimana, also a Burundi native who shares a similar past to the refugees, Barangendana said one of the hardest aspects about adjusting to life here is learning to live in a house or apartment. They are used to living in tents, in a camp. One of the best things? The availability and variety of food.
Catholic Charities helped them get jobs, but they agree it is difficult to stretch their income to cover expenses. Here, Amoni Hakizimana works on a turkey farm; in Africa, he was a fisherman, said Barangendana.
Both Barangendana and Hakizimana said they still have children in Africa.
At Sojurn, they sing religious songs in Swahili before Sunday Service, Stevin Ngendakuriyo, who arrived in February with his family, has plans to start a choir. Communion is given by both Pastor Chris Misciagna and Barangendana. Each week, Barangendana introduces a new Swahili word or phrase to bridge the language gap.
This week, the phrase is Bwana asifiwe.
Praise the Lord.
Anyone wishing to donate goods or services to the refugees are encouraged to contact Jess Kaufmann, 437-4010.