Refugees choose forgiveness and friendship

Crispin woke to his mother’s screams. Rebel forces had broken into his home and were dragging his twin brother outside. Crispin knew he only had a few minutes to escape before the rebels came to his room to kidnap him. He jumped out of his bedroom window and fled into the night—wearing his pajamas. Because of his speedy escape, he had no ID or documents and no change of clothes.

Crispin comes from a church-going family and gives credit to God for providing sympathetic people who helped him as he fled the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In South Africa, he met IMB missionaries David and Julie Yngsdal in an English as a Second Language class. The Yngsdals minister among refugee communities by hosting free ESL classes.

As major cities in South Africa shut down due to government restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, refugees are left without any means to work or find food.

During class one day, Julie asked Crispin and another student, Justin, if they’d be willing to share their stories of leaving their countries. Both men arrived in South Africa under tragic circumstances, but the similarities ended there.

Justin grew up in a Muslim family in Burundi, just across the border from Crispin’s family. Justin’s father is the police minister of a rebel group. Justin had no choice but to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the rebels. This rebel force is the same group that attacked Crispin’s home and kidnapped his brother.

“With this shocking disclosure, let me tell you, our blood pressure spiked as we quickly diverted our eyes toward Crispin to judge his reaction to this revelation that he was now seated next to someone who had been his enemy on the night he fled his country,” Julie said.

Instead of rage, they saw grace in Crispin’s eyes. Justin continued sharing his story and shared how his father’s rebel forces kidnapped his best friend in a forced recruitment effort. His friend was given a gun, told he must fight in their army and was ordered to return his village and kill his family. Justin watched as his friend refused and was killed.

Justin decided he wanted nothing to do with his father’s career and lifestyle. The 29-year-old fled and eventually made his way to South Africa with his wife and six children.

Because of the Yngsdal’s ESL class, Crispin and Justin became friends, choosing to overlook the circumstances that could have made them enemies.

Current circumstances

David and Julie are unable to visit or host ESL classes in the neighborhood where Crispin and Justin live due to violence in the area and the advance of COVID-19. They stay in contact with and counsel Crispin over social media applications.

David and Julie Yngsdal serve refugees in South Africa through ESL classes.

Like many refugees in his area, Crispin is struggling to pay rent. South Africa is now under lockdown. Crispin and other refugees are not able to work. The government has welfare programs for the poor, but refugees and asylum seekers do not qualify. They also are not allowed to open bank accounts, so most have no savings to rely on during the COVID-19 lockdown. Julie said many will go hungry.

To combat the very present threat of starvation, the Yngsdals are working on ministries that will enable them to provide monthly care packages for refugee families. The faithful giving of Southern Baptists provides for ministries like these around the world.

Even though Christians like Crispin have hope in God, they live in circumstances—exacerbated by COVID-19—that stress and depress them. Choosing to fix their gaze on Christ and not on their circumstances is often a daily struggle.

Justin is using the ESL material the Yngsdals gave him to teach his children English. The English lessons are based on the book of Mark. The Yngsdals pray the studies will lead to an interest in the gospel and a decision to follow Jesus.

Julie said it is difficult to maintain communication with Justin. He doesn’t have any social media messaging applications, and the cost of text messaging is prohibitive, so Crispin sends updates to the Yngsdals on his behalf.

However, on the evening of April 6, Justin texted Julie asking for prayer. His wife left him and his six children. In Islam, when a man or woman turns away from, or starts to turn from, the faith, the spouse is allowed to leave. Via text message, Julie shared the gospel with Justin.

IMB missionary Julie Yngsdal poses with her friend, Aisha. Julie and her husband, David, are praying for new ways to provide for refugees.

Join the Yngsdals in praying for Crispin and Justin. Pray Crispin would look to God as his comforter and provider. Pray he would give his anxieties to the Lord. Pray for Crispin’s mother, who is sick. Because of COVID-19, Crispin is unable to return home to visit her, and he is unable to support her financially because all businesses are under lockdown.

Pray for Justin as he is now the sole caregiver for his six children. Pray he will continue to pursue Christ and count the cost of following Him.

Pray the Lord will meet the physical needs of refugees and asylum seekers in South Africa. Thank God for workers there who are dedicating their lives so that others would have eternal life in Christ.