CSM Chicago will be posting a blog series called "Interrupted: The Unexpected Movements of God Working Through CSM's Ministry". If you have a story about how God interrupted your life through a CSM trip, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org!
God’s call on human beings to love one another is a major part of what fuels the ministry of CSM. Each summer, we send groups into our respective cities to embody this love to the people they come into contact with. While it is a general call on all humans to love the people in front of them, there are times when God causes the paths of very specific people to cross for very specific reasons. Such was the case with Grace 242.
Grace 242 is a fairly new church congregation from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This past summer, the pastor Tim Harrison decided to organize a trip for students through CSM Chicago. The schedule for one evening involved the students going to a men’s homeless shelter and ministering to the men simply through conversing and building relationships. On this particular evening, however, Grace 242 was impacted more profoundly than they could have anticipated. On the ride back to the housing site from the shelter, Tim asked how each student’s evening was. Tim’s seventeen year old son Noah and his friend Eric Stodola mentioned a Congolese man named Landry Fabrice Bitsindou Nganga (he went by Fabrice) that they had met, saying he had had a particularly striking impact on them.
Two nights later, the students of Grace 242 served dinner at a homeless shelter, and several of the men they had met at the shelter two nights before showed up, one of them being Fabrice. Tim and his wife Karen got to meet the man there son had talked so much about, and they were left with a strange feeling that this would not be the end of the road for their relationship with Fabrice. After the group returned back to Milwaukee, Karen arranged for French/English translated Bibles to be sent to the shelter for Fabrice, as French is a major language spoken in the Republic of the Congo. Two weeks later, Tim and Noah decided to come to Chicago once again and pay a visit to the shelter to speak with Fabrice, bringing a translator along with them. It was at this point that they were able to hear the compelling, painful, unabridged two-hour version of Fabrice’s story.
Fabrice was born in the Republic of the Congo (not to be confused with the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo) to a teenage mother. He has never known his father, and he grew up with his grandparents while his mother became a nun. Even though she would visit him periodically, Fabrice did not know she was his mother until he was twelve years old. While in the Congo, Fabrice completed secondary school and a year of university. He is extremely intelligent and has always worked very hard, becoming adept at five different languages as well as art, math, singing, and guitar. He worked hard enough that he got to the point of being able to financially support his mother, his own family, and his grandparents working for GX International, which is similar to FedEx. Ten years ago, he met his wife Chance, and they now have a six-year-old son named Baker together. He is a living example of resilience, choosing to persevere and make the most of his life despite daunting circumstances.
For years, and especially surrounding Fabrice’s early adulthood, the Republic of the Congo has been plagued by war; the violence stems largely from ethic divisions. Fabrice is Lari, and ethnicity not shared by the president and thus deemed as a group with second-class citizenship. This tension has been manifested in numerous violent conflicts, notably a 1999 incident known as the Brazzaville Beach Massacre, in which 350 Lari men were massacred under the consent of the current president. As it so happens, Fabrice’s uncle Gascard, whom he was very close to, worked for colonel in the army who had inside knowledge related to the president’s involvement with this massacre. Eventually, the colonel and several of his officers, including Fabrice’s uncle, were arrested. His uncle was initially acquitted release and would periodically make visits Fabrice at his Brazzaville apartment, visits that Fabrice has come to believe were being documented by government spies.
In 2013, hooded men invaded Fabrice’s apartment and took him to a secret location for interrogation, where they beat him in the head with the butt of a rifle and tried to get him to admit knowledge related to the colonel who had inside information about the president’s involvement in the massacre. Fabrice truthfully said he knew nothing of this. Eventually he was let go with his life under bribery that he would testify against the colonel. Shortly after, he found out that his uncle Gascard had gone missing. He has not heard from him since.
Fabrice immediately feared for his life, and his other uncle arranged for him to be put on the roster of a Christian singing group that was departing for the United States. Fabrice arrived in New York City with the group in June of 2014. He felt God prompting him to come to Chicago, and he arrived just two weeks before Grace 242 came on their trip with CSM.
After hearing Fabrice’s heavy story, Tim and Karen began to pray through and ponder the idea of taking Fabrice into their home. One Sunday, Tim gave a sermon with the central message, “it’s always the right time to do the right thing.” Tim became convicted by his own sermon and decided that he and his family needed to stop waiting around and go through with the process of trying to get Fabrice to live with them. The family called Fabrice’s shelter and got permission for him to come on a weekend trip as a trial visit. Just before the trip, Fabrice received word that his three-year-old daughter Blanca had died of malaria, and, though the men at the shelter raised about $300 to try and fly him home for the funeral, he was unable to attend in person and ended up watching his daughter’s funeral over Skype. Fabrice’s visit was a somber one, and the church family of Grace 242 helped him through his mourning process. After the visit, Tim and Karen invited Fabrice to stay, and he accepted. Fabrice came to live with the Harrisons in September.
Tim and Karen immediately went to work to help Fabrice get on his feet. They paid for an attorney for him to be granted asylum in the United States. He was granted asylum in January, and this has opened numerous doors for him that were previously shut. He now has access to Social Security, Medicaid, and employment eligibility. He now has his green card. Furthermore, he is eligible to receive $650 per month for his first eight months from the Office of Refugee Resettlement as he attempts to find employment and get back up on his feet. He is taking English classes and has also become an active a deeply rooted part of Grace 242’s church family, even being involved in leading worship at services. He has built relationships with some of the students, using his intelligence to even help one of them with calculus homework! Numerous church members have stepped up to provide money for Fabrice to send to support his wife and son, who are still in the Congo. As Fabrice attempts to find a job, church members are trying to help find him an apartment as well as providing furniture and clothing.
Fabrice and Noah (Tim & Karen's son)
Things are going well for Fabrice in the United States. Tim has been in contact with an immigration attorney, and they are currently attempting to bring Fabrice’s wife and son over to the United States to live with him in Milwaukee. The Harrisons are also trying to plug Fabrice into the Pan-African Community Association in Milwaukee so that he can experience community with other Congolese people and feel a bit more at home in the midst of a vastly different cultural environment than he is used to. Tim wants to get Fabrice in to see a doctor to work through some of the trauma he experienced as result of being beaten in the head; this includes short-term memory loss, depression, and insomnia.
Fabrice is a man in love with Jesus Christ. Grace 242 is a group of humble servants striving to live out what it means to be followers of Christ. By the grace of God, their paths crossed, and God showed up for Fabrice in a crazy day. No matter how bleak our circumstances, God takes care of his own. Radically living out the call God has placed on us to love those we come into contact with can have some amazing results. This story is a testament to the wonderful power of God’s grace and love being lived out by human beings. As you go about your days, ask God how he might be calling you out of your comfort zone and daring you to love boldly. You never know what can happen. God is a powerful God. He uses our meager, feeble attempts at emulating his love to do amazing things. Stories like this are why CSM exists. They fuel us. And, ultimately, they are the reason we are alive and on this earth.