Making Room for African Refugees in the USA
One Meeting’s Story
by Sue Tannenhill
They came as refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in August of 2010. Quaker Pastor, Ndanga Ramazani, his wife, and 7 children arrived in Buffalo, NY, under the auspices of Catholic Charities. Eventually they found our Buffalo monthly meeting and we welcomed them with open arms. They were Evangelical Friends. We are an unprogrammed meeting. That never mattered.
Now, a church has grown up around Pastor Ndanga, and that church is applying to our regional meeting for status as a monthly meeting. How did this all happen? It was built on good will, much help from the meeting, the region and the YM, and a grant.
Our meeting offered financial assistance, tutoring support, accompaniment to teacher parent conferences and medical appointments and more. Ndanga attended a college. Within a few years, he had his bachelor’s degree in social work and his two older girls were also attending college. The family became citizens and bought a home.
Farmington Scipio region also embraced them and helped pay off the $12,000 bill from Catholic Charities for their airfare to the USA from Africa. In addition, NYYM, through the Barrington Dunbar fund consistently supported scholarships for one of the children to attend a private Jesuit High School.
Buffalo is home to many DRC refugees and a group of them approached Ndanga, saying, “We want to worship as we did in the DRC. Please be our pastor.” We found space for them where we rent space. We approved them as a preparative meeting, and Friends, including our General Secretary, attended the services that were in Swahili. Though we didn’t understand the language, the sense of praise and worship was evident. Their worship was joyous — singing, dancing, testimonies, preaching the word of God. The church, named Christ is the Answer International Fellowship, grew, and before the pandemic 50-80 people attended each Sunday afternoon. Ndanga, his wife, and several of the children continued to worship with us as well as with their own church later in the day.
Then the group who had approached Ndanga initially came to him saying, “We want to be part of the Quakers.” Most refugees were not yet fluent in English. It felt important to our meeting that this congregation understand our branch of Quakerism.
Buffalo Meeting sent Ndanga and his daughter Regine to a workshop on clerking with Arthur Larrabee and Steve Mohlke in January of 2020.
In addition we received a grant from the Thomas H. and Mary Shoemaker Fund that provided a professional translation from English to Swahili of NYYM Faith and Practice as well as the printing of 350 copies. In July 2020, these copies were distributed. The Church has committed to having monthly sessions learning about “Imani Na Matendo”— Faith and Practice.
Christ is the Answer International Fellowship has written a letter to the region requesting monthly meeting status. This August, Buffalo Monthly Meeting will consider a letter supporting their request to become a monthly meeting. (Editor’s Note: Since the writing of this article, Farmington Scipio Region has approved this request, and Christ is the Answer is now a monthly meeting.)
At a time when divisiveness is rampant, it feels good to welcome a faith community that shares our heritage, but practices it in a different way. According to Scripture, there is clearly room for us all as we find in the Psalms both forms of worship:
“Be Still and Know that I am God (Ps. 46:10),”
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands (Ps. 100:1).”
We rejoice that we have been able to nurture this meeting and welcome so many recent immigrants to the wider body of Friends.