After a Life of Fear, a Sense of Security
Editor’s note: This interview was conducted via an interpreter, as David Ngeta speaks Lingala and French. David spoke in French and it was translated by Alison Hubley of the First Congregational Church.
The travels of David Ngeta and his family are truly ones of courage and determination. Seeking to flee persecution and unrest in his native Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), David and his family undertook an arduous journey to seek asylum in the United States and start their lives again, and just recently were able to begin their lives again in Madison.
According to current U.S. law, asylum seekers are some of the most vulnerable migrants coming to the country. They must provide proof that they have faced, or fear they will face, persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership in a specific social group, or political opinion. According to federal government data, employment is often a key factor in many asylum seeker’s ability to assimilate into their new communities and begin to support themselves financially.
Imagine your home is so filled with crime, strife, and violence that you would risk your life and the lives of your loved ones just for the opportunity to have a chance at a peaceful existence. Sadly, David’s homeland in the DRC is beset with political corruption and violence, criminal gangs, and tribal warfare, making for a toxic stew of danger and threats.
“We were not safe there,” says David. “I was also not safe from my tribe there. It is extremely dangerous.”
“In the Congo, there is disorder everywhere, from the government right down to the people. The population there is very poor. People die a lot there, but in the United States there is order. It is calmer,” he says. “There is security and safety here. It is very different.”
David and his family left DRC with no guarantee that their request for asylum here in America would even be granted. The process is a slow and complicated one, and yet he walked, ran, and swam just to simply have the chance at freedom.
“We traveled through many different countries and faced many difficulties. Many of the people on that journey died along the route, but God protected me and my family until we could get to the United States,” says David. “They were difficult journeys and roads. But now that we are here, we are at the beginning of a new life. But it is not easy to leave your own country. We arrived here with only the clothes were we wearing.”
Unlike refugee families that arrive here in America and have been pre-vetted and obtained visas, David and his family, his wife Ndongo and daughters Gracia and Happiness, arrival here came with no guarantees as they were seeking asylum.
David and his family spent two years in Texas while immigration officials pondered a decision on their status and whether they would be sent back to the DRC and the threats awaiting them there. Contact with his family in the Congo is sparse at best and communication with them difficult as cell service is not available.
David says the First Congregational Church has provided much to him and his family and his praise is profuse. From transportation to work and doctor’s appointments (David and his wife Ndongo had their second child while awaiting their asylum decision in Texas, and though she is healthy now, she was born premature and needed regular medical attention), to a banking and financial set up, to coordinating David’s employment at the Walmart in Guilford, David says he and his family are profoundly grateful.
Any question whether David is a committed employee and community member was put to rest during a recent large snowstorm when David and his manager were the only employees who were able to make it to work that day. David has even come to like our winter season.
“I really like Walmart, and this is my first real employer I have ever had. I like it there,” says David. “When it’s snowing, the people from the church drive me to church and to work. They help me in the snow, so I don’t have to ride my bike, but I like winter.
“I am old,” David jokes, “but I still want to play in the snow.”
Asked how the adjustment to a new country and culture has been for him and his family, David doesn’t betray anything but positivity and his appreciation.
“When we first arrived, IRIS [Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services] and this church [First Congregational] were so inviting to us,” David says. “But the church really helped us start our new life. They gave us a place to live, helped us get lawyers, and helped me get work. That is how we were able to start our new life.”
David’s comments keep returning to the sense of peace, relief, and calm in which he and his family can now live. For those who have never had to dodge bullets on the way to go shopping or run for our lives from our neighbors, his experience offers an important moment to reflect on what freedom actually means.
“Everything is marvelous here,” David says. “Everything is good for us here. We have peace. We have security. It has not been difficult for us, only joyous.”
“To leave your birth country for another country is not easy,” says Reverend Todd Vetter of the FCC. “Your parents, everyone you know—you don’t have them any more when you begin that new life. It is not easy. David is a testimony to resilience and courage, his whole family is.”
Vetter says that the Ngetas’ situation provides an important lesson for us all.
“David has talked about how grateful he is and for all the church has done for him, but I think it’s important to realize being a part of a community that welcomes someone like David and his family has been an incredibly enriching experience for us as well,” says Todd. “We feel blessed to have David, Ngondo, and his children as part of our church.”
David says late at night he has reflected on how and why strangers would help him and his family, and offers one word, “love.”
“I thank everyone who helped us. We are so happy that we can feel protected here. The security and protection we feel is the best feeling in the world,” says David.
For more than two decades, FCC of Madison, in partnership with IRIS of New Haven, a long-standing nonprofit dedicated to resettlement efforts of refugees and asylum seekers, and other area organizations have assisted with refugee and asylum seeking families. To learn more or be a part of the effort to help families like the Ngetas, contact Rev. Todd Vetter at the First Congregational Church of Madison at firstname.lastname@example.org.