By Bishop Michael E. Goings, Senior Pastor of
It was in August of 2009, when I first met Samuel Ndikumana, who I refer to as “Sammy.” Amazingly and unbeknown to me at the time, he would be the one who would interpret my Sunday morning message for the one hundred or more Burundis who had recently settled in our area. Due to having been employed by Perdue Farms, these former refugees had come to our area and were attending our church. In all honesty, I was expecting another African, whom I had met at Gordon Elementary School earlier that week, to meet me that Sunday morning to be my interpreter for the Burundis. I was surprised when I ascended the pulpit platform and there stood Sammy. I was not only surprised, but also a little bedazzled. I had only met the other fellow briefly and did not quite know whether Sammy was the one I had met earlier that week or not. However, I quickly learned that he was not the one, but was perfect and God-sent for the role and job that needed attending. As I
have grown to know and love Sammy, I thought his story would make a very interesting reading and perhaps help to enlighten and sensitize us to the plight of the Burundis in our locale.
Sammy’s story must begin with his parents who were caught in the savage and genocidal conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis. This horrible and brutal war claimed over a million innocent casualties in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This war was acknowledged by former President Bill Clinton as the worst regret of his presidency, due to the fact that we (the United States) did nothing to intervene and to stop the genocide. Samuel’s parents and his older siblings, along with thousands of others, had to flee their native and ancestral homeland to a country in East Africa known as Tanzania. It was there in a refugee camp that Samuel N. Ndikumana was born and grew into adulthood.
The Horrible Experience
of Growing up
in a Refugee Camp
I thought that I had many challenges, difficulties, and disadvantages while growing up in New Town; however, after listening to Sammy share some of his childhood experiences, while growing up in refugee camps in East Africa, mine seemed pale in comparison. Sammy and his family had to live in a huge tent with four hundred other refugees. They had to endure the indignity of no personal privacy, no restroom, no portable water, and a congested sleeping area where people barely had enough space to move. The food that his parents received every two weeks was very scarce, which consisted of dry corn, yellow flour, beans, salt, oil, and sometimes rice. These meager portions, which were never enough, were cooked out in the open on three rocks with dry tree branches as fuel. Many nights Sammy and most of the other refugee children went to sleep hungry with their stomachs growling and craving more food. Also, inadequate health care was one of the great
challenges that Sammy, his family, and the thousands of other refugees had to endure. If they became sick, they had to wait for untold hours in a long line before they would get a chance to see one of the few doctors or nurses, who were assigned to the camp by the United Nations or other such agencies like the Red Cross. Sometimes they just endured the symptoms and pain, in hope that the malady would go away, rather than wait in the sweltering and scorching heat.
As a boy growing up, Sammy had no privileges or rights to get an education. This was debilitating and a great disadvantage for him and the thousands of other children in the refugee camps. Few, if any, were able to afford those high and outrageous school fees. If the semester fees were two hundred dollars for the indigenous people’s children to attend school, refugee students had to pay twice as much for their fees. Nevertheless, as challenging and insurmountable as this feat was for the majority of the parents of refugee children, Sammy’s parents managed to fend, hustle, and scrounge in order to send him to a basic school for a few semesters to learn the three “R’s” of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.
The Molestation and Rape of Women and Young Girls
Of all the horrible things that occurred in the refugee camps, perhaps the worst of all were the many molestations and rapes of women and young girls. Due to the fact that many of the women lost their husbands and the young girls lost their fathers, uncles or older male relatives (because of the mass genocide), there were no men around to guard and protect them from the gangs and sexual predators, who routinely preyed upon such vulnerable females. Sammy’s memory is full of such times when women and girls were raped and assaulted in broad daylight. They screamed and shouted for help to no avail. The law of the jungle and survival of the fittest prevailed. It was all they could do to survive and protect their own. One did not have the means to be a police force or a defender of the weak, even though they despised and hated what was happening.
From the day of his birth until he reached the age of twenty-one, Sammy endured and remained optimistic and hopeful that a better day was going to come. Because he never belonged to any particular country and was not considered a citizen anywhere, he longed to come to the United States. In the midst of the turmoil and hardships of living in a congested, cramped, and overcrowded refugee camp, he managed to keep his hope of escaping alive. In spite of the allurement of the many refugee camp gangs, the violence and evil that persisted in this place of misery (a Dante’s Inferno), Sammy kept his head above the waters and his feet firmly planted on a solid rock. Thanks to his faith in God, the love and care of his parents and older siblings, Sammy was able to remain healthy, happy, and very hopeful. He believed that something good was going to happen and that he would become free him from this prison called “A Refugee Camp”. Although he did not
possess the natural conveniences and opportunities that most of us take for granted, there burned an unquenchable and fervent fire in his bosom that could not be suppressed or put out by the many dream killers that were on the prowl in the refugee camps. He was determined to not only survive, but to also strive against all odds.
Coming to America
Most of us are quite familiar with the movie, “Coming to America”, which starred Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall. This story was a fiction based on an African prince who went to New York in search of a free-thinking young woman to be his bride. In contrary to this story, that was made by Hollywood to entertain and generate profit, our real life saga is a true depiction of a real African who came to America. He was not seeking an African-American wife but life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. After six years of waiting and hoping, Samuel N. Ndikumana was finally accepted by the U.S. Embassy to be a refugee in America. Words cannot adequately express or explain how he felt at the news that he was coming to America. In spite of all the challenges that awaited him in this bold new world that was full of both opportunities and opposition, it was the chance of a lifetime and a dream that was now coming to fruition. He was twenty-one years of
age when he first arrived here in America. Things did not just automatically happen for him. Though he was in the land where he had always wanted to be, there was yet many oppositions and challenges to be encountered and surmounted.
The Language and Cultural Challenge
One of the most challenging things with which Sammy and all of the Burundis had to contend in coming to America was their inability to speak English. If you have ever been to a foreign land (like I have) where they do not speak English, then you know to some degree the dilemma in which Sammy found himself. I really admire and to a degree envy him in a good way for his quick-witted ability to learn new languages. Having not only the ability to speak his native tongue of Kurundi, he also mastered Swahili, Lingala, and French before coming to America. So having already established himself as a true linguist, he was able to quickly overcome the language barrier that presented many problems and obstacles for most of the refugees. Sammy’s ability to learn and speak our language not only benefitted and afforded him access to many things that this country had to offer, it also certified him to be selected as an interpreter and agent of the United States
Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), where he helps to assist other refugees coming into our locale. Due to his experience, education, and ability to represent other immigrants and refugees, he was hired by Perdue Farms, Incorporated to be their Refugee Coordinator. His theological training and experience as a church leader made him the ideal person to lead and pastor the Burundi segment of our ministry (Outreach Family Fellowship). Sammy is presently taking college classes online to further his education. His story is compelling proof that with divine favor and personal ambition and perseverance, one can overcome and accomplish anything they set their minds to do. It is my hope that this abbreviated account of Samuel N. Ndikumana’s life will help to enlightened and empathize us to the plight and obstacles that still confront most of the Burundi refugees who have settled in our locale. To their shame and ignorance, many of the citizens
of Dillon look down upon and treat these noble and resilient people with contempt. It has been brought to my attention that even some of our business establishments have deliberately short changed and taken advantage of their inability to recognize and differentiate our currency. Shame on you! I am also aware of some our children (Blacks) who taunt and tease the Burundi children because they are different! We, African-Americans, who have been the victims of such hostile, discriminatory, and cruel practices, should never under no circumstances promote, permit or condone such ignorant and insensitive behavior from our children. Parents, those who commit such contemptuous acts of teasing, taunting, and bullying to the Burundi children and students, should be first taken to the woodshed and whipped. Then last, but not least, they should be given a lesson of their own history. The fact of Sammy and the Burundis coming to our area is not an accident,
but an act of providence to try us and remind us from whence we have come. My Judeo-Christian training and practice compels me to conclude Sammy’s triumphant struggle against all odds with these very inspiring passages that are quite relevant to our story.
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21.
“Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 34-40).