JOHNSTON, Iowa — The First Baptist Church in Johnston is pairing with a local Congolese man in efforts to help refugee children feel welcome in their new community, as well as keep their English skills sharp in the summer.
Boaz Nkingi, a 29-year-old Congolese refugee, came to First Baptist seeking help to start a summer program for Congolese refugee children. He said one of the hardest parts about moving to America was learning the language and wants to help the kids overcome that barrier.
“In this country, if you don’t know how to read and write, it’s not a good thing,” he said.
Boaz Nkingi was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but was forced to flee to a refugee camp in Burundi when war erupted. In August of 2004, rebels attacked the Gatumba refugee camp, killing Nkingi’s six siblings and father. Only he and his mother survived and fled to the United States to make Iowa their new home.
“It’s hard to describe. Every time when I remember what happened, it brings a lot of bad memories to myself,” he said. “I felt lucky to be able to survive when others were killed and wounded, but it’s one of those things you don’t even have control over.”
Since moving to the states, Nkingi has become an active member of his community. He began a nonprofit for Congolese refugees in Iowa, and strives to help them acclimate and learn about their new community.
“I remember how I got helped when I came here and I just wanted to do the same thing,” Nkingi said.
Nkingi said education is the most important thing for refugee children when they are trying to adapt to new surroundings.
“Because of programs like this one, kids are talking and writing and reading,” he said. “It makes them happy when they go to school and can be able to communicate with their classmates.”
Nkingi went to Pastor Tim Deatrick at Johnston First Baptist to help kick start this program. Deatrick and his wife, Lisa, recruited over 70 volunteers for the program’s first day. The program runs every Thursday at 5 p.m. Volunteers help the Congolese kids get to the church and there serve them dinner, play games and do reading and writing exercises.
Lisa Deatrick said that it’s not just the children who are learning.
“For us, it’s broadened our world, it’s helped me appreciate what I have and say you know a lot of things that I think are a big deal are not,” she said.