“We come from a country in conflict, where we can be killed or raped at any moment. It’s a country where the government does not think about the governed, a country where injustice reigns, where the rich become richer and the poor poorer, and where human rights are not respected.”
Myrrha, her husband, and their three children are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country in central Africa that has been at war for over 20 years. Because they lived in Kinshasa, the capital, they were able to avoid the dangers of conflict for a long time. Myrrha had an MA in Public Health and a good job, and her husband worked in IT logistics. But in 2012, the conflict crept closer to Kinshasa.
Food prices soared. “You could go to buy bread one day, and the next day the price was double,” Myrrha remembers. Innocent civilians were killed in the streets and homes were broken into. Myrrha and her husband decided they would apply to emigrate to the U.S. Two years, several interviews, and mountains of paperwork later, they received their visas and arrived in Chicago in October 2016.
“Now the difficulty starts,” Myrrha continues. Because they had spent much of their savings applying for their visas, they only had a small amount left to restart their lives. They found an apartment, enrolled their two older children in school, and Myrrha’s husband found a job packaging food. But the stress of moving halfway around the world, and the uncertainty of the future began to take a toll.
Myrrha developed joint pain, chronic headaches, and severe back pain. She became unable to walk or to pick up her baby daughter. “I wanted to die,” Myrrha’s voice quiets. “I wanted to move back to Congo, but I didn’t come here for myself. I came here for my children.”
But then Myrrha learned about World Relief’s free English classes and Early Childhood program at College Church. Even though walking was difficult, she was determined to attend. She remembers in the early weeks of class, before her health improved, how volunteers would carry her baby daughter for her, making sure she was safe. “English class was the first time I went outside and met other people,” her face lights up again. “It gave me something to accomplish. It gave me hope.”
Through one of the volunteers in her class, Myrrha and her family were connected to Glen Ellyn Covenant Church, another one of World Relief’s church partners, which has become a strong network of support for them. “They are like my family. I did not choose them, but they love me.”
For Myrrha, World Relief’s ESL classes were not only a place to improve her English, but also a portal to connections and friendships that have enriched every part of her family’s life. Thinking about all of the ways their life is better now than when they arrived two years ago, she says, “I see how Christ is with me and my family, showing us the way. Now I smile. Before, I couldn’t smile.” And she beams.