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'It is thanks to God we survived': a refugee's story

Barnabé Anzuruni, who leads Tearfund’s work with churches in East and Central Africa, reflects on how his time as a refugee gives him a passion for equipping churches to help others.

Written by Barnabé Anzuruni Msabah | 18 Jun 2021

Credit: Tom Price/Tearfund

I was born a refugee. My parents fled the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and were living in Burundi when I was born. Our family was forced to move back to the DRC when violence broke out in Burundi. However, due to conflict in the DRC, we had to move again to Tanzania. For more than 30 years I remained a refugee, but I thank God for what I went through.

I lived in a refugee camp and it was a life of poverty. Living in a camp with no water and electricity was horrible and the camps were terrible. It is thanks to God we survived.

God's transforming grace

However, it has been that upbringing and the experiences that I've had along the way that has helped in my role at Tearfund working with local churches.

I think about the conditions I used to live in and I know that I am what I am today because I had the opportunity, thanks to God's grace, to be transformed. In the same way, what we do at Tearfund in our partnerships with local churches is to give people the opportunities through which they can lift themselves out of poverty.

Power to change lives

I have so many examples that I could tell you of where the church has made a big difference to the local community. For example, in Mutaho, a rural community in Burundi, there was a school with only three classrooms. Children were sitting outside, and when it rained they had to run inside.

It was chaotic and there were many challenges. But church leaders engaged with the community, and together they built three more classrooms. It's now a full school.

In another nearby community, our church partners helped local families to start a plantation of bananas, which the families fund themselves. They sell the bananas to pay for their children's school fees and take care of their other basic needs.

Community transformation work is needed because it's the church going to where the people are. That's what Jesus did – he was out there with the people more than he was in the four walls of the temple.

That's the mission – we need to go where people are, rather than calling them to where we are. We need to combine the message of the Bible with actions so that we are a relevant church in this time. The church is God's chosen vessel to transform lives!

These are just two of many examples of change that are taking place. Sometimes people think development is people giving handouts and resources, but it's not. Communities we work with now realise that they have the power to change their own lives.

With thanks to the Lord

If God could be so gracious to me to take me out of poverty, then I will dedicate my life to doing the same for others. I thank God for what I went through because I can use my own experiences to help others.

I spent a large part of my life being seen as a nobody because of my refugee status, but all along God saw me as somebody. So, as a former refugee, I know what it feels like to be an asylum seeker, I know what it feels like to be ‘homeless’, I know what it feels like to be an unaccompanied child, an undocumented migrant. But God held me in his hand. Indeed, if it hadn't been for the Lord, I felt like I would have been swallowed alive.

Please join me in praying for refugees around the world, that they will also know God’s direction and transforming blessing. Let us pray that refugees will have courage and resilience as they go through their daily challenges. And pray that God will meet their needs today.

Pray with us

A blessing for refugees

As you travel away from your home,
may God bless you with a safe journey.
may God bring you comfort.
As you arrive in a new place to call home,
may God bring you community and opportunity.
As you wonder what's next and where you go from here,
may God provide you with a path before you and grant you peace.

Written by

Written by  Barnabé Anzuruni Msabah

Barnabé Anzuruni is Tearfund’s Theology Network and Engagement Regional Coordinator for East, Central and Southern Africa

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