This is Linda Masuku’s story of how God’s grace accompanied her as she fled her home in South Africa in search of safety in Swaziland as a refugee, and then led her to Grinnell, IA and St. John Lutheran Church through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
I put Maki on my back and held on to my oldest child’s hand and we left home. By the grace of God we made it back under the barbwire fence and back into Swaziland where we were sent to live in a refugee camp.
Twenty-four years ago I arrived in America with my four children as a refugee, but I will start my story from the beginning. I was born in South Africa in the late 1950’s and was raised by my grandmother so that my mother could work. In 1976 students started rising up and rioting against the government, and in 1986 I had to leave my home because of political turmoil related to Apartheid. I crossed the border into Swaziland in the middle of the night and spent a week in the police station. When I finally arrived at the United Nations refugee office I was told that I would be sent to live in a refugee camp. Before fleeing my home, I had left my children with my grandmother; I decided I must go back and get my children. I took a bus to the border and crawled back under the barbwire fence to make it back home. I had a five-year-old, three-year-old, and six-month-old baby. My daughter Maki has special needs and my grandmother told me to take my other children and leave the six-month-old with her because she wouldn’t know how to care for Maki. I put Maki on my back and held on to my oldest child’s hand and we left home. By the grace of God we made it back under the barbwire fence and back into Swaziland where we were sent to live in a refugee camp.
I still remember very clearly what the conditions were like in the refugee camp. Families were expected to live together in small tents that all looked the same, and we were fed porridge for most of our meals. I had the opportunity to live with people from all over Africa. People who have never seen civilization, who had always lived in the jungle and in harmony in nature, but had to runaway because of gorilla warfare. You think life is so hard. Then you meet someone who is okay with living in a tent and having no shoes. We lived in the camp for five years until the UN decided it was no longer safe for political refugees to live in Swaziland and should be sent to another country.
I had an interview with a representative from the American Embassy; she said if we went to America, my daughter Maki would live a full and complete life. She told me that in America people with disabilities are a part of the community. She also asked me what denomination I was. I said I was Lutheran, and she said she would get back to me. The woman from the American Embassy sent letters asking if there were any Lutheran churches that would sponsor me, and my family. St. John Lutheran Church in Grinnell said yes, and that was the beginning of a new life.
When we arrived in Des Moines there was a big group of people from St. John to welcome us. Feeling very overwhelmed and tired, my children and I arrived in Grinnell in the middle of the night. The next morning members of St. John took me to Elm Street to a small house that they told me was mine. The house was filled with food and clothing, and things I had never had before like a washing machine, stove, and vacuum cleaner. It was amazing. My children started school a week later and I started working.
I want to say thank you because the minute I landed in Des Moines the St. John community took me in. And during times when I was down they never gave up on me; they picked-me up and held my hand. This community has helped me raise my children, and has helped make Grinnell our home. Now I have the opportunity to go back to South Africa to visit my family and give back to the community where I used to live. There is a high rate of HIV and Aids, and the money that has been donated by the members of St. John will be used for medical needs, food, and clothing.
By Linda Masuku
Written with Minda Davison, Director for Communications
(At time of publication, Linda was in South Africa visiting her family. Before leaving Linda asked members of St. John to give $1 to help provide medical supplies, medicine, food, and clothing for the people living in her community in South Africa.)