African Refugee Reunites with Family After 11 Years
COLUMBIA - A refugee from the Congo, now living in Columbia, said he would never forget the day he reunited with his family after more than a decade apart.
Nene Rwenyaguza said, "It's like another wedding."
His long road to the U.S. started with a massacre that separated him from his family.
It was part of the genocide that began when tribal Hutu militias targeted their rivals, the Tutsis, in Rwanda in 1994. It left up to one million people dead.
The Hutus heard there were some Tutsis living in the Congo and headed to the region where Rwenyaguza's family lived.
"In the Congo it was very hard. It was very dangerous," he said.
In 2002, the conflict reached his village.
"The enemy was coming at night and they were coming with machetes and guns, and they said they will kill us."
Rwenyaguza said he and several other men tried to steer the Hutus away from the women and children. He was one of only three men to survive.
"When it was morning I was looking at all the villages; fire already. I said, maybe my family was died."
He said he searched for survivors and their families and was told his own family had been killed, their bodies dragged away.
For six years, Nene looked for his family but could not find them.
"I was running. Three days into Uvira, this is a city. Uvira to Bukavu. Bukavu to Rwanda. Rwanda to Uganda. Uganda to Kenya."
"But I prayed. I say, God where is my family? Maybe somebody could tell me if was died or had seen them, but nobody was telling me they was died."
He decided to come to the U.S. and received papers to be sent as a refugee in 2007. He arrived in St. Louis in January of 2008.
Just one month later, the U.S. Immigrations/Refugee department said it was able to locate his family in a refugee camp in Kenya.
"My pastor in Kenya was calling me, you're family is alive. I was not believing that, I say can you give them name and call them. They were sending me pictures and I say, thank you Jesus."
He then started the process and paperwork to apply for refugee status so his family could come here and join him.
While going through the process, Rwenyaguza was invited by the Congolese community in Columbia to move here and become their pastor.
He secured a job with a cleaning company that services Boone County National Bank.
"One day he came in and he didn't have his interpreter with him," said Charlotte Gaddy, consumer lending officer at Boone County National Bank. She said they began talking and developed a relationship.
"I asked him, ‘Nene, do you go to church?' And, he looked up at me and he said, 'Oh, do you know my Jesus?' And I said, yes, I know your Jesus very well, and he went, ‘Thank you Jesus.'"
Gaddy said they talked for the next hour and he told her how he came to this country, and how he found his family through our refugee department.
"He just became one of my children," Gaddy said. "There's just something about his spirit and my spirit, we just connected."
Last summer, Rwenyaguza was notified that his family would arrive in just a few weeks.
"Immigration was telling me, be patient, your family will be here."
Those few weeks turned into another year of waiting.
"They'd say they were coming again as so he got very excited," said Gaddy.
"Then there was an outbreak of polio, that delayed it so they didn't get to come. There was a miscommunication on identification on his youngest son Freddy, so the government let the paperwork set for months and months and months."
When members of the Columbia community heard of Rwenyaguza's story they rallied behind him.
"After we furnished his apartment, we went on to furnish four more apartments for Congolese members of his congregation," said Gaddy.
Finally, Rwenyaguza got the news he was waiting for.
"My wife, she was calling me, telling me you know they're giving us a flight," said Nene. "I put my hands up, I said, thank you Jesus, thank you Jesus."
Rwenyaguza spread the word.
"I call all the people, all my friends, I say my family will be here on the eighteenth," he said. "That day I will not forget, and the fourth, the day of independence, I will not forget that day."
The reunion was emotional, an embrace separated by 11 years.
"I say I will be strong and not cry, but few minutes, I don't know what happened," he said. "Their life will continue to be good, and I know this is an answer from God."
Rwenyaguza said he is excited about the future and making memories with his family.
"Tomorrow we will dance."
Gaddy said anyone wanting to offer support for Nene can contact her at the bank.
"When these families get here they have nothing," said Gaddy. "I just look for people that are willing to share and give."