Following are the incredible stories of Justin Bisimwa, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Collins family, a family of 15 in San Diego, California, who have now teamed up to create a non-profit organization called New Neighbor Relief that helps refugees in San Diego become self-reliant.
Justin Mudekereza Bisimwa grew up in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo). He was the 11th son and 24th child (out of 44) of the late Victor Bisimwa Mudahindwa, who was a chief and cultural leader in his local jurisdiction in the province of South Kivu from 1976 to 1997. “He was one of the most respected personalities in my area,” Justin wrote to LDS Living about his father. “And I was his best friend.”
In 1996, war broke out in Justin's home country when Rwandan and Ugandan armies invaded Zaire, overthrowing dictator Joseph Disiré Mobatu Sese-Seko who had led the country for 30 years. Citizens fled to more peaceful areas, and Justin hid with his father, awaiting a resolution to the violence. With pharmacies closed across the country, however, Victor was unable to find medicine to treat his hypertension, and he passed away in 1997.
One conflict bled into the next, and Justin watched as the African World War tore his country apart. “It made millions of people lose their lives and belongings,” Justin wrote.
Victor had taught his children that it was important to take care of those in need. “While he was still alive, my father had a habit to call all his children and wives on the first day of the year to share food, prayer, and thoughts together. During this time . . . he taught us that [any one] of us who would like to become rich should learn to love and give to others in need,” Justin said. He took these lessons from his father to heart and used his inheritance money to start a non-profit organization to help widows, orphans, victims of rape, and other war victims in South Kivu.
Justin worked with many international organizations and United Nations agencies such as UNFAO, UNWFP, and UNDP for funding. It wasn’t long, however, before local politicians started to see Justin’s association with such powerful organizations as a threat.
A Turn of Events
Justin was captured and tortured by those who felt threatened, and the marks of the violence are still visible on his body. Justin recalled, “As they were punching me with their knives and guns, when I felt too much pain, I said one thing: ‘Father in Heaven, I helped people surviving in many ways. You led me, but . . . what I can see now is death . . . please remember now.’”
Immediately after his prayer, the commanding soldier leaned down and whispered in Justin’s ear. The soldier told Justin that although he had received orders to kill him, he knew of Justin’s work for the needy. Justin recalled the soldier’s words: “When you hear a bullet shot, you will pretend [to be] dead . . . but don’t go back to the city because we will pay [for] it dearly if they know that we didn’t execute you.”
Three days later, Justin met up with his family in a nearby village and together they fled the country. They soon found themselves among thousands of refugees in a neighboring country. Justin and his wife had three children, including a six-month-old baby, nowhere to sleep, and nothing to eat.
Justin, his wife, and their five children
After another prayer, Justin and his family found lodging in a church that was under construction. They lived there for a month before someone helped them find a room to rent. “With no food to feed my children . . . I told my wife, ‘I will not sleep. I will cry to my Father in Heaven until something happens,” Justin wrote.
That night, Justin prayed, “Father in Heaven, while in my country I fed widows, orphans, and many others who need food, but now I am not able to feed my children and their mother—the children and the wife you gave me. I know you are with me and you see what I’m going through now. I need your help now.”
The next day Justin received a phone call and was offered a job as a project manager for a Belgian company. It was the miracle they needed. After many months of hard work, Justin and his family were able to “recover the life we lived in our country.”