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From refugee to refuge found

From the November 21, 2005 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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MY COUNTRY has suffered severely during my lifetime. In addition to recent warfare and civil unrest, the Democratic Republic of Congo endured decades of rule by an undemocratic regime, which fostered corruption, political manipulation, and financial malpractice. However, it was also during this time of suffering that I learned some very important lessons—about honesty, from my father's example; and about home, from the challenges that followed his stand for honesty.

In 1994 when Congo was still known as Zaire, the government set out to purge the payroll that was stuffed with fictious agents. My father was put in charge of the list for the Department of Post Offices and Telecommunications for the whole country. This was a gigantic task and was to be carried out in secret within a certain deadline. My father asked me to help, and I put all my heart and time into this noble work. This effort would have saved our government several millions of zaires (the currency at the time), money that was making its way into the pockets of people under cover of immunity.

My father had to make a choice: join the mafia camp and pocket huge sums of money, or work for the good of the country. He chose to work for the country. Standing firm in the face of many pressures, we continued to assemble the list, and as a consequence of this, my father was let go from his department for three months without salary. He also received death threats. On receiving the letter giving him notice, my father replied that he would accept the consequences of this work with honor. However, we were to go through the most difficult period of our lives. There were days when my brothers and sisters and I went hungry, and we had only water to drink after we had exhausted all our savings. Concerned for my safety, my father ordered me to leave the country, for he saw that the country was corrupt at a high level and he no doubt wanted to spare me all that was happening to him.

This was the beginning of my exile into the unknown. The first choice that came to mind was Namibia. My simple prayer was, "God, please guide me." As I traveled southward, I passed through Angola, which itself was in the throes of an uprising. I was searched twice in different locations by soldiers looking for money. Strangely they did not find the travel money I had hidden away.

My constant striving to understand God during those two years in Namibia helped me gain a higher sense of home each day.

One day, soldiers came to the hotel where I was staying and searched the rooms, but they did not enter my room. I was in the habit of pondering certain Bible passages to calm my fears in such situations, including, "Fear thou not; for I am with thee . . . I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee" (Isa. 41:10). Through my study of Christian Science, this passage enabled me to see clearly that because God is All-in-all—the infinite God, expressed by each of His sons and daughters—the soldiers and I had our identities in God. We already had all that we needed in God, the substance of each of us, and therefore there should be no confusion or evil expressed among us.

On arriving in Namibia, I declared myself a political refugee and was accepted. But imagine my desolation to find myself deported to a refugee camp far away from any town, where the living conditions were deplorable. I had to sleep in a tent out in the bush where the heat was almost unbearable and the dangers of the desert were always nearby. Yet, ideas from Psalm 91 helped me to understand that, with God, "no evil [shall] befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling" (91:10).

One night while sitting in a tent dimly lit by an oil lamp, I heard a neighbor cry out, "Snakes!" He pointed to the spot where I had just been sitting. A snake immediately slid away, and we were all safe and sound. Another night, I suddenly awoke to find something crawling across my forehead. With a reflexive gesture, I knocked off a large scorpion. Later, I went back to sleep, certain that God had never failed to protect me, and the next day my life continued as usual.

Namibian law did not permit even qualified refugees to work for the country. So I lined up with everybody else to get my monthly food ration. It was a way of life I could not accept—being without a permanent home or purposeful work. I decided to make a deep study of books that were among my few possessions—the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy. I focused on what these books say about overcoming evil and mesmerism, and endeavored to understand that God, good, was present in this forgotten corner of the world.

I wrote regularly to my Christian Science teacher, and her responses enabled me to calm my fears and maintain a sense of certainty that good was unfolding, in spite of the material picture of repetitive, monotonous camp life. Three months after my arrival, the Namibian government passed an unprecedented law allowing qualified refugees to be employed in some fields where there was a shortage of manpower. Although we were very optimistic about this law voted in by parliament and approved by the government, in practice there seemed to be no real improvement as far as any refugee finding employment and being able to live in the city. But I saw this situation as an opportunity to express gratitude for the opportunities others might receive.

As Science and Health states, "In the scientific relation of God to man, we find that whatever blesses one blesses all, as Jesus showed with the loaves and the fishes,—Spirit, not matter, being the source of supply" (p. 206). Within a year, about ten refugees found work, although I was not one of them. However, I was not discouraged. I continued to cultivate gratitude during my second year as a refugee.

After almost two years of fighting between hope and despair, I began to see blessings appear. I obtained a postiion as a teacher of math, chemistry, and physics in a highly reputable secondary school.

I also had to overcome the thought that borders exist only to confine and restrict. I remembered that since God is Spirit, He is everywhere; and as His image and likeness, man also exists with Him everywhere. Because God knows no borders, His creation or manifestation knows no limitations or borders. This was not easy to accept at first, for everything my eyes and ears took in told me that I was truly confined in a refugee camp.

During the daytime, though, the sky was blue and often cloudless. I loved to contemplate the firmament, pondering the infinity of God and knowing that man is everywhere with his Creator. And during the night, the sky was full of stars. I loved to contemplate them, too, and affirm the circulation of good in the divine Mind and the absence of restrictive borders. In those times of prayer and contemplation, I felt the powerful truth of these words: "Pilgrim on earth, thy home is heaven; stranger, thou art the guest of God" (ibid., p. 254).

My constant striving to understand God during those two years in Namibia helped me gain a higher sense of home each day. As children of God, we are creations of Soul, and we belong forever to the spiritual universe of God. So, when we listen and follow our spiritual senses, we shut the door to discouragement and impatience, and consequently are ready to accept God's guidance—prepared to see the good He's already established for us. Home is wherever the Father-Mother and God's children are, and that includes under the blue sky during the day and the stars at night.

Along with many other refugees, I was eventually offered the opportunity to apply for residence in Canada. I was optimistic of acceptance, even though it was taking a long time and the Canadian embassy in South Africa was inundated with hundreds of applications.

On the other hand, I was completely without resources—I had no money and only a little clothing and some worn-out shoes. Since I held a diploma from an institute of higher learning, I saw myself as prepared for jobs according to my academic achievement. But I desired to begin to express more humility, as is illustrated in the parable of the unjust steward: "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Through my spiritual study in the camp, I learned that I should be available for any kind of job that was offered to me, however lowly that job might be—that I could express spiritual qualities such as love, joy, availability, and obedience, no matter what kind of work I had to do.

Finally, after almost two years of fighting between hope and despair, I began to see blessings appear. I obtained a position as a teacher of math, chemistry, and physics in a highly reputable secondary school where ministers and other high-ranking Namibian officials sent their children to study. The salary was satisfactory, and I was given free lodging in a well-equipped large house. Less than three months later, I received notice to come for an interview relating to residence in Canada. I was the only one out of nine candidates to be accepted, and, to the great surprise of my friends, I was able to travel in a very short time. After arriving in Vancouver, I finally decided to settle in Calgary, Alberta.

I believe that Canada, a multicultural country and one where no one lives above the law, is the ideal place for me to live. It's now been ten years since I immigrated. I obtained the status of permanent resident, and three years ago, I became a naturalized Canadian citizen. In the meantime, I have continued my studies and have obtained a degree in business information systems. This accomplishment brings me great joy, for I had always dreamed of changing my career. I was trained as a dietician, but I had longed to do something more compatible with the teachings of Christian Science.

Finally, I am able to attend my yearly Christian Science association meetings without asking for help with the cost of travel and lodging. The lessons I learned about perseverance, humility, gratitude, and living close to God continue to help me whenever I have to face difficulties in my daily life in Canada.

At this time, the Congolese people are preparing for democratic elections and looking forward to a new republic. The road ahead may not be easy for them either, but my continuing prayer is that their real home is the heaven I have tasted—life in God's presence, under His control. l ♦

Gabriel Lumbadila currently serves as a home support worker, assisting families in foster care situations.

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