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'We were fighting for survival and these people were there for me'

June 27, 2017
Ida Nagbe (right) with Julie and Junior

Ida Nagbe (right) with Julie and Junior

From June 19-30, we will be sharing stories of Christian Reformed churches and individuals across the United States and Canada who have opened their hearts and homes to those fleeing from war and persecution. The following is the latest story in this series.

Immanuel CRC, Hudsonville, Michigan - In May, 2004, 17-year-old Ida Nagbe and her two children, Julie and Junior Hie, stepped off a plane in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

A group of people were there to meet her. She didn’t know them, but they were holding a sign with her name on it. As she walked towards them, they greeted her, found her bags and ushered her into a waiting van.

“I asked, ‘Do I have to pay for this car? I have no money,’ Ida recalls. “They said I didn’t. I was surprised.”

Ida had been living in a refugee camp in the Ivory Coast since she was 12 years old, after escaping violence in Liberia.

During her years in the camp, she applied for refugee status. The United Nations accepted her as a refugee, but an uncle took her papers and left the country.

Eventually, Church World Service stepped in and began an effort to move her to their affiliate in Grand Rapids, PARA now known as Bethany Christian Services.

Marion Vandesteeg, a member of Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan, received the call.

“They called me on Friday and asked if Immanuel would consider sponsoring a Liberian woman with two children who were coming in on Monday and had no sponsor,” he recalls.

“I polled the congregation on Sunday morning and had a very positive response. So on Monday a group from Immanuel met her at the airport, and the rest is history.”

Ida and her children spent their first night in the home of Immanuel members Lynn and Ron Rozema. They had arrived late in the evening and were glad to find a shelter for the night.

“We slept downstairs,” said Ida, “I was very scared.

“At one point, I heard a strange noise coming from somewhere in the basement. It was quiet for a moment, but would start up again. Eventually my kids and I found where the noise was coming from. When we picked it up, we heard whispering voices! We threw a blanket at it and went back to sleep. The next morning Lynn asked me where the phone was.”

Everything was new for Ida. She did not have any formal education nor had she ever had access to what most Americans consider normal amenities. Plus, the weather was cold.

That first year, with the help of Immanuel CRC, she learned American customs, what snow is, and how to manage an apartment alone. Members from Immanuel got her a job and helped tutor her kids in school.

“It was difficult,” she said. “I can read, I can drive, I can do many things I had never done by myself. All these people, every Sunday brought something new to my life. We were a family fighting for survival, and these people were there for me and my faith. God changed my life and the life of my kids.”