INDIANAPOLIS—Congo refugee Emmanuel Musinga almost got killed by militia from another tribe in a civil war because he was from the wrong tribe in Africa.
America seemed to be a dream come true when he first arrived here in 2010. Musinga didn’t wear shoes growing up on a farm in the mountains of eastern Congo and walked 2 miles to get water for his family. He saw his country torn apart by civil war.
In America, Musinga could wear shoes, ride a bus, and buy food in a store. “It was a big shock,” he recalled of his arrival in Rock Island, Ill., then Indianapolis. “It was my first time to have a bathroom in the house. It was a miracle to me.”
Musinga sings America’s praises more than most Americans. “If you are born in a family or country, you think it is normal,” he noted. “But don’t take America for granted.”
Working at Walmart and at a factory, Musinga might have forgotten his war-torn country and just taken care of his wife Clementine and his growing family.
Instead he’s found a new calling, helping a small but growing group of Congolese refugees in Indianapolis. Like Musinga, many have legal status as refugees from the civil war, and Musinga helps them with everything from a job search to improving their English through English-as-a-second-language training. He works part time for the Exodus Refugee Immigration organization and has started a small church, Grace Tabernacle Ministry.
Carleen Miller, director of Exodus Refugee, admires how Musinga goes beyond immediate assignments. “Despite all the suffering he’s been through, he’s always looking for a way to help others, “ she said. “But he looks for ways to help them succeed, on their own, to empower them. He’s not just giving and giving.”
Musinga grew up in the eastern mountains of the Congo, near the border with Rwanda, farming with his parents, as the fifth of nine children. He and his brothers and sisters would take turns farming, or walking several miles to school.
“I remember in my village, the first guy who got his high school diploma at a school far away—it was a big celebration,” Musinga recalled. “We killed a goat. It was a big miracle.”
In the 1990s, though, civil wars broke out in the Congo and neighboring Rwanda, both tribal conflicts and contests for political power. Musinga became a target of a militia attack and was shot in the leg by a militia group. He was taken to Rwanda for treatment after turning down a proposed leg amputation in the Congo. From there he went to Kenya, where he started to learn English and was granted refugee status in the United States along with his wife.
His father was a pastor and a farmer, and Musinga had grown up hearing the gospel, coming to his own commitment to Christ. A turning point came when he heard a message about his need to forgive— Musinga had not been in any mood to forgive the militia members who tried to kill him.
But a preacher challenged that assumption. “Some Christians,” Musinga said, ‘they preach the Bible, but they still do not forgive. They still have revenge in their hearts.”
Musinga realized he was guilty and repented of not forgiving those who had shot at him. His prayer: “God, give me love to love other people—to love anyone, even those people who shot me, those people we fight, those who say we are not Congolese. I want to love them.”
The step toward forgiveness lifted a load. “When I wanted revenge,” Musinga said, “I was carrying a burden.”
Now, as a pastor, with three young children, Musinga is also a social worker, providing transportation, translation, and guidance for refugees. He estimates that approximately 100 Congolese refugees live in Indianapolis. “I want my people to be self-sufficient,” Musinga said.
Historically, missionaries have headed to foreign lands with the gospel. Now refugees are coming to America and, in the case of Musinga, they take the gospel to other refugees coming from circumstances similar to theirs.
Musinga said he would like to write up his story at some point, under the title, “The Same One, but Different.”
“I was born in the bush,” he said. “Now I have shoes and I can drive and talk English.”
Emmanuel Musinga sees his life as a miracle, but he’s the same person.