Faith, Tragedy and Triumph

 In Telling a Better Story

By Cecile Ruthiririza

Nine years ago, my family and I moved to Portland, Maine from Burundi—a small country located in Central Africa. My father was already a permanent resident of Maine prior to my siblings and mom joining him in his small two-bedroom apartment at the time. Being a Pastor, my father traveled back and forth from Africa to the United States often, until he decided to permanently relocate to Maine in 2009. Church was a major factor in my family’s transition: my father continues to serve as a Pastor in Ohio, where my family currently lives.

My family has used its story of tragedy and triumph to uplift those within our reach; especially the immigrant community. We are originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), but were forced to flee to Burundi when the tensions from the Kivu Conflict escalated in 2004. The political instability was a clear indication to my parents that we had to find “home” elsewhere. Our faith in God carried us through the transition of being refugees at time. Burundi became home and my family continued to serve in a local church—with my father serving as an Associate Pastor. It is through his service that he was first granted the opportunity to come to the United States.

Since adjusting to life in the U.S, my father continues to live out his calling as a Pastor, and uses this platform to serve his community. He first served as an Associate Pastor at the Church of God in Portland, Maine for five years until he relocated to Dayton, Ohio. Since moving to Ohio, he has served as an Associate Pastor at a Nazarene Church, and was recently transferred to Philadelphia Nazarene Church in 2017—where he currently serves as the Senior Pastor.

As God’s image bearers, my home church is inspired by Scriptures when it comes to how it should care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40). Being a true believers in the words of Jesus claiming “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35), my church has been a great testament of what living this verse out looks like. My church community works tirelessly in providing spiritual guidance as well as support and care for the newly arrived immigrants in the church.

Most of the members of Philadelphia Church come from the Central African Great Lakes Region, notably from the DRC, Rwanda and Burundi, a region that has been devastated by endless wars and other atrocities since the 1990s through today. Due to this, the church offers spiritual counseling to anyone who may benefit from it. Many have sustained physical and spiritual wounds, and that is why the church has decided to embark on a reconciliation journey through the teachings on forgiveness and the Good News of Jesus Christ. The church assists immigrants in attending routine doctor’s appointments; since most are limited by their English language skills. Additionally, the church assists newly arrived immigrants in applying for work permits, jobs, driver’s licenses, green cards, and citizenship when they become eligible.

As my father would agree, living out Christ and portraying his true identity can take place throughout one’s everyday life. Despite being limited by resources, my father continues to dedicate his time and energy in giving back to other immigrant communities in Ohio. The work of assisting immigrant to become integrated into their local societies is the way Philadelphia Church demonstrates God’s true identity.

 Cecile Ruthiririza is a Spring 2019 intern with the Evangelical Immigration Table and current student at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio where she studies political science. 

Photo credit: Bill Winters, originally published on and Flickr:

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