• September 21, 2020

Pastor aids fellow refugees - Odessa American: Local News

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Pastor aids fellow refugees

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  • Overcoming Obstacles

    Edward Manasa poses for a photo at his home on Monday, July 6th, 2020. Manasa, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has spent over 20 years in various refugee camps in Africa, has been organizing a community class for immigrants and refugees to better help them learn English.

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2020 4:00 am

Edward Manasa has a modest goal, but one that could pay big dividends.

Manasa serves as pastor for a group of African refugees at First United Methodist Church. A refugee himself, Manasa knows full well the challenges the members of his congregation face in trying to forge their way in a new country.

To help them become better able to support themselves financially, Manasa said, the first step is to gain proficiency in the English language.

“I asked what can I do for these people,” Manasa said. “It’s when I decided to look for the opportunity for me to get assistance to support these people in their education.”

After looking into ESL programs with Catholic Charities and Odessa Bible Church, Manasa realized his group of about 30 refugees needed to start from scratch.

“I decided to send them to school where they are able to depend on themselves, not depend on me or somebody else,” he said. “I decided to find a place, but there was nothing (that met our needs). I went to Catholic Charities and Bible Church. Bible Church offered places for up to six people.”

This brings Manasa to his first obstacle — finding a location and materials to help his fellow refugees get a foundation in English before moving on to the next step.

“We want to take them from beginners to Level 1,” he said. “From Level 1, they would be able to go to Catholic Charities or to the Bible Church. Then they could be productive for themselves.”

Rev. Karin Carlson, associate pastor at First United Methodist Church and pastor at Mackey Chapel UMC, said the project fits in with both the refugee ministry and FUMC’s overall ministry.

“It's truly a project of the refugee ministry,” Carlson said. “With our partnership together at the church, it's an opportunity for support in educating and an opportunity in learning new cultures, both them learning the culture of the United States and us learning the culture where they're from in Africa.

“It's a relationship and a partnership. It's a growing together for the same ministry. It's a cultural relationship with the same purpose of being a church to people, whether they're from Odessa or not.”

Carlson said the best way to contribute to the program is to contact First United Methodist Church at its main number — (432) 337-1527.

“This is one of the opportunities to allow that connection point with the community for their ministry and also the church ministry,” she said. “It is a situation where the Odessa community can learn cultures together.”

Manasa’s own journey to Odessa was long and difficult. Born in 1977 in the South Kivu region of what was then known as Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Manasa spent more than 15 years in refugee camps in Tanzania and Malawi before coming to the United States and adopting an English name (his given name is Aimjgle Nusimga).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, not to be confused with the neighboring Republic of the Congo, celebrated the 60th anniversary of the end of Belgian rule on Tuesday,June 30.

After stops in Tennessee and Lubbock, Manasa made his way to Odessa and took a series of oilfield jobs before starting his ministry with other refugees.

For Manasa’s entire youth, Zaire was a one-party totalitarian dictatorship under the rule of Mobutu Sese Seko and his ruling Popular Movement of the Revolution party. The South Kivu region, located just across the border from Rwanda and Burundi, was the scene of much ethnic conflict and rebellion.

“We had a problem with civil war,” Manasa said.

In addition to spillover from the Burundi civil war and Rwandan genocide of the early 1990s, the eastern regions of the country, located on the opposite side of the country from the capital of Kinshasa, were a starting point for a popular rebellion against Mobutu by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo militia.

A member of the Banyamulenge tribe, a Tutsi tribe which migrated from Rwanda in the 19th century, Manasa was among thousands caught up in ethnic violence that involved Hutus fleeing Rwanda and indigenous Congolese tribes.

“The Banyamulenge have been in Congo more than 200 years, but haven’t been (granted citizenship). For that reason, we go,” Manasa said. “When my parents were killed, I fled to Tanzania. From Tanzania, I went to Malawi. I was in Malawi for 15 years, from 2000 to 2015.

“I was in a refugee camp. The life was too hard. We were using one private for 700 people.”

It was in Malawi that Manasa found his calling in life.

“When I was in Malawi, I went to seminary and Bible school,” he said. “I went to Bible school for four years, then I went in search of a church.

“I decided to stop working in the oilfield because I saw a need for my people, the refugees here in Odessa. I started a job Monday through Friday during the day and have the time where I can spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

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