Someone You Should Know: Journey from the Congo to North Dakota

Someone You Should Know

At rare moments in our lives, we lose control — but it’s what we do next that defines us.

“I know I haven’t reached my dreams yet, but I can see them getting closer.”

Meet John Ndabuguye. For the last three years, the 22-year-old has called Bismarck home. But before that, “home” was a much more complicated concept. “People were dying — firearms, bombs — it was too much to take,” Ndabuguye says.

He was born in the Republic of Congo — but in the early 2000s, extreme violence spurred on by the Congolese Civil War led to a refugee crisis — one that John and his two younger brothers became swept up in. “Running, using a bicycle — do what you can to save yourself,” he recalls.

He became separated from his parents and was taken in by an orphanage in the neighboring country of Burundi.  “I know back home, life was not great because of all those wars, rebellions,” Ndabuguye says. “But in the orphanage, I felt like I was safe.”

John stayed there for ten years — but his trajectory changed when a group of people from America paid the orphanage a visit.

“And then there’s this huge, big dude with a wide smile. Super happy,” Ndabuguye remembers.

That man was Manny Ohonme, the founder of Samaritan’s Feet. “These children were amazing,” he says. “The smile, the joy, and how they loved and treated each other — they’ll melt the heart of anybody in the world.”

“And then he’s washing my feet,” Ndabuguye says. “Put brand new socks on my feet. Brand new shoes. Jordans. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is crazy!'”

“When you choose to spend your time and dignify those kids and humble yourself and wash their feet,” Ohonme says, “you get the chance to establish a unique connection.”

That gesture never left John’s mind. “I know these guys are caring for me. But a time is going to come where I have to leave this place. What am I going to be?”

John and his brothers were given passage to the United States as refugees in 2015. And not just anywhere in the United States. “They tell me I’m going to North Dakota, in Bismarck,” Ndabuguye remembers. “And honestly, I’d never heard of North Dakota before!”

That’s when “North Dakota nice” reached a whole new level. He found a community of friends at Evangel Church. And Lutheran Social Services did what John thought was impossible: they reunited him with his mother.

“I thought she was gone,” he says. “And then… here she is out of nowhere. So we were reunited in Bismarck. And it’s the best thing.”

John completed his associate’s degree at Bismarck State College this year. Now he’s pursuing a degree in International Studies in Moorhead, Minnesota.

He says he wants to work for the United Nations, to become a voice for children and refugees all over the world, just like him.

That’s why John Ndabuguye is Someone You Should Know.

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