My Brother Abedi
Last month, we featured the plight of Bro. Abedi and his family in a
refugee camp in Benin, West Africa. We are pleased to report that,
thanks to the faithful efforts of the household of faith, along with
God's blessing, our brother is now in a far safer situation.
I came to know of Abedi and his circumstances through Bro Duncan Heaster as we were discussing the plight of a brother in Pakistan who was being persecuted because of his association with Christianity. We were looking for a country that would accept him as a refugee from religious persecution when the name of Guyana came up. However the circumstances of the brother changed and we were about to shelve the thought when Bro Duncan informed me of another brother in a United Nations Refugee Camp in Benin who might be better off in Guyana if he could be admitted to that country, since he and his family were in truly desperate straits, but no Western country would admit them. Bro Duncan gave me the e-mail address of the brother and that of a Siser in France who is in regular contact with the brother.
I contacted the sister in France for some background information on Abedi and to see if any of this was really feasible. I was soon moved by her tremendous care, concern and solicitude for this brother and his family. Her unselfish love and devotion over the months that followed truly exemplified what it is to be a member of the household of faith, and that we are indeed our brother's keeper. Bro Abedi hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Because of political persecution he fled that country and has been a ward of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees for a number of years. Initially he was in a refugee camp in Tanzania, which is where he came into contact with Christadelphians and learned about our faith. The UNHCR then moved some Congolese refugees, including Abedi, his wife and their five children, to Benin, a small French-speaking country in West Africa, in the hope that, as French speakers, they would be able to adapt easily and become self-supporting. In fact, however, Benin is a small, very close and inter-related society, where these newcomers were resented and Brother Abedi and others were violently attacked. He tried to improve his circumstances by fleeing to Ghana where the brotherhood gave him help to settle, but he and his family were soon deported back to Benin. It was there I that I asked him if instead of trying to go to Canada, which until then had seemed the only other possibility, he would be predisposed to go to Guyana. He replied: “Bro Clive, given our circumstances and condition here in Benin, I would gladly go anywhere to alleviate the suffering of my family." I did mention at that time that this might be an exercise in futility and that nothing was certain, but if it is the will of our Heavenly Father to be gracious unto us we will prevail.
Plan of Action
The strategy we employed was for Abedi to see if he could obtain travel documents from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and at the same time I would go to explore from my end in New York the requirements for obtaining visas to travel to Guyana. Sister Sonia, in France, was prepared to assist Bro Abedi in the application process, thanks to her experience with visa-seekers of various types. It is very difficult to enter Guyana legally, but once inside the country conditions can be very favourable. The problem was to convince the Ministry of Home Affairs to issue visas to this family. Being a former Police Officer in Guyana I was quite familiar with the process, but this certainly would have been a most unusual application.
The process begins
UNHCR began processing the application and in a matter of a few weeks I received an e-mail from Abedi who could not contain his excitement. “We have received our travel documents!” he exclaimed. Meanwhile my investigation from New York revealed that applications for visas to Guyana must be done in triplicate and forwarded to the Consulate with the required fees. I sent the visa applications to Abedi for him to complete and to return them along with the travel documents for the entire family that he had by this time received.
While we were occupied with the travel documents and the visa application dear Sis Sonia was working on the logistics. She had determined that if everything went according to plan we would have to devise a suitable route for the family to travel to Guyana. This was the most difficult and time-consuming part of the entire process, since almost none of the industrialized countries were willing to issue transit visas.
The Brethren in Guyana
Sis Lorraine Mitchell of Guyana and my wife Daphne are more than sisters in Christ to each other, they are friends and confidants who truly enjoy being in each other’s company; for me, I call her my ‘Buddy’. She was the first person to whom I broached the subject of this family travelling to Guyana and she loved the idea. In fact, while Lorraine was in the UK earlier on, she and Sonia had been introduced to each other by telephone, by Sis Jo Cottrell, French Sunday-School teacher to Abedi’s children, Lorraine encouraged me to contact Bro Ted and Sis Delores Sleeper and put the idea to them. This I knew had to be done but I was wondering if it was not a little too early to widely inform brethren of the plan, not being certain that the process would ever get off the ground. I opted on the side of caution and followed the advice of my ‘Buddy’ and informed Brother Ted of the plans for this family. True to his word Bro Ted and his lovely wife Sis Delores travelled to Guyana, galvanised the brethren, and set a plan in motion that involved a house for the family to stay and funds set aside for the purchase of furniture and their upkeep for a year. I was so impressed with Bro Ted’s enthusiasm. We had the prayers of of the many brethren and sisters who by this time were aware of our efforts to help this family.
A visit to the Guyana Embassy
Having received the completed application from Bro Abedi, along with the travel documents for the entire family, I made my way to Manhattan, New York to file these applications. The costs for filing these documents were very expensive, I even had to pay for the postage of the documents to Guyana via DHL, but this was tolerable because I had a very good discussion with the Consul General about the Hope of Israel. He was so taken with the Scriptures that he advised me regarding the application that was before him. This I thought was none other than the hand of God in this matter and further strengthened my resolve. I left him a copy of Bible Basics that I had in my possession and said a silent prayer as I exited the building.
That was the text of the e-mail that I forwarded to Abedi, Sonia, Lori, Ted and Duncan who had us on his prayer list for some time. Abedi was the happiest person on earth. It was during this time that I received the most loving e-mail from Abedi that his wife, and my new sister in Christ, had accepted the Truth and was baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ. I guess if he never left Benin, that alone was most consoling to him.
The Big Wait
Meanwhile Sis Sonia was having her hands full in working out the travel route. Benin to Guyana via London was out, the British Immigration was not issuing transit visas, neither was United States and Canada. We tried Benin to Guyana via French Guyana and Suriname but soon ran into difficulties. We finally settled for Benin to Paris, Paris to St. Maarten in the Caribbean, St. Maarten to Antigua, overnight in Antigua, and the following morning we would leave for Guyana via Barbados. Abedi was to obtain the necessary visas for Paris and St. Maarten in Benin with the assistance of Sister Sonia. I would contact the Antigua and Barbuda Embassy regarding the in-transit restrictions on travel.
The hand of Providence
Well, the allotted time for the visas from Guyana had passed and all calls to the Embassy were met with concern from the person who helped me to process the initial application, he promised as soon as any information was available he would inform me. My contact in the Guyana Police Force informed me that they had processed the request and returned the application with favourable comments to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Meanwhile Sis Lorraine Mitchell, who knows a former brother in Christ whose brother is in the Ministry of Home Affairs, began making some telephone calls to contact this brother, who as it turned out was not in Guyana, but on assignment in New York.
A Dinner conversation
My contact at the Guyana Embassy was having dinner with an official from Guyana and he was expressing concern about our application to this individual. The gist of this conversation was that a group calling themselves Christadelphians had made an application on behalf of some of their brethren in Benin, Africa, to travel to Guyana and until now the Ministry had been dragging their feet with the applications. The visitor replied, "I AM A CHRISTADELPHIAN AND THEY ARE GOOD PEOPLE." As providence would have it the same person that Sister Lorraine was trying to phone in Guyana was a guest in the home of my contact from the Embassy in New York. The guest promised to look into the matter on his return to Guyana. True to his word, he called Sister Lorraine who was only too joyful to hear from him. He asked her about these people before she had a chance to tell him and it was affirmed by our sister, the end result, without divulging too many details, was a call I received from my contact at the Embassy in New York. “Mr. Solomon,” he said, “please bring in the passports of the family from Africa, I was directed to issue the visas without delay,” and then he added, “boy you have contacts in high places” I guess he was thinking of the Ministry, but I added, “VERY, VERY HIGH SIR!” The following day I went to the Embassy and the travel documents were about to be stamped, when one of the officials asked what kind of passports they were. I totally confused him with my answer that they were issued by the United Nations to citizens who are protected by them. The look on his face told me that he was confused. My contact joined the conversation and said, “the Ministry had directed that these visas were to be issued without delay; forget your concerns or curiosity and get on with it”. With the travel documents stamped I thanked my contact and left the building. As I was walking to the subway to take the train out of Manhattan I remembered a hymn that we used to sing every time we commenced CYC: “He who would valiant be gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master. There's no discouragement shall make him once relent his first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.”
Breaking the News
The whole team were ecstatic, I remember Sis Lori being so happy that she made a phone call to express her happiness. Bro Abedi and Sis Sonia were elated with joy; for the first time we were beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Bro Ted was overjoyed at the news and immediately asked me to start looking into funding. I remember someone saying to me that this should have been the first thing I should have looked into, but I thought otherwise at that time. All the travel documents were returned to Abedi and a travel date of October 16th was set for this family to leave the desperate situation in the refugee camp.
Preparations to Leave
A member of the team forwarded funds to Abedi to purchase clothes for the entire family that would be suitable for international travel and to have what was left to use in the event of any unforeseen problems that might arise. Sis Sonia meanwhile was also working the phones in contact with the Dutch Embassy in Benin where they were making difficulties for Abedi because he was a refugee. When they discovered that Sister Sonia was a relentless person and that others overseas were concerned about the welfare of this family, they quickly relented and the passports were stamped for transfer in St Maarten.
The funding came from two sources the KAMF and WCF. On behalf of Bro Abedi and the entire team we are eternally grateful to Bro Don Styles and the directors of WCF, especially Bro Norm; these brethren took us at our word and set about the task of funding this project. Again brethren our profound gratitude. All funds were centralized with Bro Charlie Brinkerhoff until such time that payment was to be made to the travel agent.
The journey begins
After almost 13 months of planning, well over 700 emails ec,etc.,Bro Abedi and his family at last left Benin for Paris. On that same day I left New York for Antigua to lay the groundwork for the arrival of the family. On his arrival in Paris, Sis Sonia tried to contact me in New York with the information, but I had already left for Antigua. Bro Duncan eventually got me in Antigua with the news.
Oh! LIAT Airline, where are you? Bro Abedi and family arrived in St. Maarten at 1:35 p.m. on 15 October 2005 and were to leave on a connecting flight to Antigua at 4 p.m. What we did not know was that LIAT Air had changed their online software before they had a chance to work out the kinks, as a result they had some of the family on two different flights. I realised this when I was in New York and left immediately for Antigua to resolve the situation before Abedi arrived in St Maarten. In Antigua I contacted LIAT and they finally had all of the family on one flight, but the family had to spend almost nine hours in St. Maarten before arriving in Antigua about 10 p.m. We had some minor immigration problems and some of Abedi’s luggage had not arrived. We were spent the night with Sis Iris Shawt.
Oh LIAT! Not again…Next day we headed to the airport early enough to see if our luggage had arrived. The flight was scheduled to leave at 9 a.m. for Guyana via Barbados. I was issued my boarding pass, they were claiming Abedi and the family were late and as a result they would have to go as standby. When it was realized that I was with Abedi they became very concerned. I asked to see the manager who was very gracious as he apologised for the situation we were in, he gave us vouchers for lunch and promised to put us on BWIA on a 5 o’clock flight. Well 5 o’clock came and went and the manager was very dejected as he informed us that LIAT could not produce tickets for us since their system was not up and running, and BWIA was charging them $1000 per person. To make life easy for him I said we would wait until the following day. He was so relieved that he put us up at one of the best hotels on the island courtesy of LIAT.
Dinner at The Royal Antigua
We had a wonderful dinner, after which that we retired exhausted to our rooms with Abedi concerned about his suitcase with books that had not arrived. Sister Iris came to visit us to bring some articles that the girls had forgotten; I know that the roads from her home can be treacherous at night but was comforted that she came with her brother and his wife. The following morning we headed for the airport and this time we had no problems and soon left Antigua for Guyana via Barbados.
Oh Beautiful Guyana!
We touched down at Cheddi Jagan International Airport, the plan being for us to congregate on the tarmac until everyone in the group came off the aircraft. Since there were only about 30 passengers we spent very little time at immigration. I had collected all the passports and went to the Immigration Officer, who processed my documents first and asked me how long I would be staying in Guyana. I replied two weeks at the most. He then looked at the remainder of the documents, examined the visas and began stamping them, not as per the requested time in the visas which was six months, but based upon the information I gave which was two weeks, we were so happy at the time that we did not realize this until two days later. As we left Immigration and looked for our suitcases we were still missing one containing Abedi’s books. We were assured by LIAT in Antigua that it was going to be on the flight but it was not, yet that was the least of our concerns as we were embraced by Sister Lori and Brother Jerold (JJ) who had come to meet us. The conversation lasted for 26 miles as we headed to the city. We left for Mocha after taking Sis Lori to her house. We were to sleep the night in Mocha as guests of the Josephs. Bro Eric and Sis Alice Joseph are getting on in years and the brunt of the preparation was left to Sister Ana Lou and her lovely daughter.
Arrival at last! Left, Sis Loraine Mitchell; Right, Bre Clive Solomon and Jenold Joseph with the Abedi family.
A dinner fit for kings
After we had a showered and washed we were
treated to a dinner fit for kings, and later reviewed the activities
planned for the following day, but we were all tired and soon retired for the nigh. The next day we expected to leave for Berbice but the CYC from three ecclesias had planned a welcome evening for the family at Eccles Hall which precluded our travel, but it was well worth the stay. The meeting commenced though the area had a power failure, so we had to read by candlelight, sang with joy and feeling and had a great time in fellowship with brethren and Youth Circlers. Brother Abedi sang with Diane and Rose, two of his daughters, and then he spoke on behalf of his family expressing his profound gratitude for all the brotherhood had done. It was a joyous time that ended too soon.
Home at last
By mid-morning the following day we took our leave of Mocha and headed for our final destination at Kilcoy Corentyne, Berbice after some 6 or 7 hours of travel. We were greeted by Brother Jimmy Hart and his family, as they were in charge of the preparations to welcome the family. It was a lovely home with lots of land for farming and poultry rearing. Bro Jimmy and family had prepared dinner and after giving thanks we left nothing to waste. Bro Abedi and family are well pleased with the home and the surroundings and vow to make the best of the situation by the grace of God. Yes! there is still a lot to be done, and even as I am writing, I have received information that the children have been registered in school.
Outlook for the future
Application was made to the Ministry of Home Affairs for an extension of stay, which was to be issued. Some help is being given by the CBM till they have settled down. If any kind brother or sister is willing to assist this family please contact Brother Solomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bro Abedi and family now in Guyana [Abedi looks rather different from the cut and beaten brother in the earlier pictures].
Bro. Clive Solomon (USA, ex-Guyana)