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Congolese Refugees and Envision Cleveland
Monday, November 6, 2023 by Brave Knight Writers

Why are there Congolese refugees in America? In recent days I traveled to a Congolese community in Cleveland Ohio, to help winterize gardens. My knowledge of the organization Envision Cleveland consisted of a Sunday service message but little more. My venture and contribution stirred curiosity about the situation, so I’ve done some research, as I do for all my missions. The core belief of Envision Cleveland is: Every person matters. Empowered neighbors, strengthen neighborhoods

Below I draw a quote from a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Metro section, April 2018, By Brian Albright. “In recent years ethnic strife and war has claimed more than 5 million lives, either as a direct result of fighting or because of disease and malnutrition. The conflicts have been particularly brutal, marked by mass rapes, abductions, forced recruiting, use of child soldiers and sexual violence.”

The Congo region of Africa has been unstable with ethnic strife since gaining its independence from the Dutch in 1960. Many of the refugees arrived in Cleveland around 2016-17. 1355 Congolese arrived in Ohio while 84, 994 resettled nationwide. One refugee said in the Congo you may find a way to survive, but since coming to America he feels he has a chance to live. Desperation can be a great motivator, even though it requires courage to overcome situations.

Most people of any ethnic or racial background simply desire to live, love, eat, and create families. A trade or craft supports a family. Handouts destroy the human spirit as much as any other attack (such offerings should be viewed as temporary support). Much of the Congolese community desire to contribute toward success, but human spiritual frailty and an easy support system can allow evil ways to surface. A revenue flow must be linked to accountability to have successful results.

The organization Envision Cleveland works to address community safety, stability, and skills issues by securing properties identified by the city as crack houses and turning them into garden spaces. Some properties are now converted into play areas for children, while the gardens have picnic tables and raised beds for growing vegetables.

Just as our military veterans suffer from PTSD, these same issues can affect civilian refugees from war-torn areas. Envision addresses the issues by offering the community a career center where interested men and women can learn a trade. Rehabilitation of the community, individuals, and families is a must to battle alcoholism and drug addiction.

My arrival in the Congolese community came before sunrise on a Saturday, none of the other missionaries were there yet. When not familiar with the area, one must maintain an alert posture. Several figures stumbled about, and it was obvious they weren’t on their way to work. Most of the homes in the area consist of rental properties in poor repair. Waiting in a gas station parking lot, great relief came in the form of a man emerging from a van at the gas pumps. It was Tall Paul, the mission leader, who must stand 6 foot 8 inches, and with a hefty build. Inside the van were three additional mission volunteers. Reflecting on my own uncertain feelings, I imagined how a refugee must feel, plucked out of Africa and dropped into a strange neighborhood in Cleveland. Surely a better situation, but nothing familiar.

Our mission work started with collecting trash, beer bottles, cans, papers, all while on guard for needles. To me this is a sign of great disrespect for our efforts and a method evil uses to shut down the human spirit (all part of spiritual warfare).

With daylight, a vehicle with church families arrived to pull weeds and refresh the raised beds. The children had a picnic table full of snacks, and at one point gathered for a story-time break in a corner of the garden. In the battle of spirits, setting a good example and praying for others to follow is good ammunition. The battle can’t be won by force. Victory is a decision, a choice each individual must make.    

Disclaimer: "The views expressed in this blog are those of the author (Brave Knight Writers) and not necessarily those of the Envision Cleveland Organization, any of their other volunteers, or staff.” 

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