Young Life Lite

This Time for Africa.

Two YoungLives moms discover a shared past as African refugees and a shared future as friends.
By Stacy Windahl
Young Life camps love to shine a spotlight on campers. Bringing campers up front at club or on the stage in the dining hall gives them a chance to receive the cheers and applause of leaders and fellow campers. So when the program team at Timber Wolf Lake’s camp week for YoungLives learned they’d be welcoming a young mom from Indianapolis, Indiana, who was an African refugee — and who also L-O-V-E-D traditional African dance they knew they had to invite her up to show off some moves. Mutoni was invited to the stage as the sound tech was asked to find some “African music.” The best the tech could find on such short notice was Colombian-born Shakira singing “Waka, Waka (This Time for Africa).” It wasn’t exactly part of Mutoni’s traditional dance repertoire, but the word Africa was in the title, and it did have a good beat.

Undaunted, Mutoni did what she loves to do. She danced. And there was something about Mutoni’s movement that seemed familiar to another young mom watching her. This mom, Rose, had traveled to camp from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but her birthplace was Uganda. Like Mutoni, she was also an African refugee. She recognized that movement. Almost immediately in a customary expression of support, Rose joined Mutoni on the stage and the two of them connected performing Rwandan dance moves to the official 2010 FIFA World Cup anthem.

Rose’s journey to YoungLives camp that week had begun years before. She and her family lived in Nakivale, a refugee settlement spanning 71 square miles and home to more than 100,000 refugees in Southwest Uganda. Rose was born there and at 14 she became pregnant by her boyfriend, John. Her unexpected pregnancy had severe ramifications. Rose said, “My dad was very respected. A lot of people looked up to him and so it was very humiliating for him. We couldn’t stay at the refugee camp because I would have ended up having an abortion and my boyfriend would have been locked away.” Rose and John ran away seeking asylum through the United Nations Human Rights Council. For days, they camped outside the UNHRC building until someone listened to their story and helped them get into foster care in Grand Rapids.

Like Rose, Mutoni was born in a refugee camp, but this one in Rwanda. She left the camp at 14 with her parents and brothers, and together they moved to Indianapolis. She became pregnant at 15 after being drugged and sexually assaulted at a wedding, and the identity of her baby’s father is still unknown. Mutoni describes being a teenage mom in a foreign place as lonely. “When I came here, it was really, really difficult to have a baby and go to school at the same time. I love to connect with people. You still want to do the things you used to do.”

And that’s something Rose understands. She speaks five languages because, as she says, “Everywhere I go, I want to be able to talk, so I learn all the languages.” When Rose and Mutoni danced together on the stage that evening, Rose leaned in to ask, “Do you speak Kinyarwanda?” Sure enough, Mutoni did. And so began a friendship, albeit a long-distance one, that continues today.

“It doesn’t happen every day,” said Rose, “to just meet someone and you are friends right away.” Mutoni agreed. Because God knows the language of our heritage and the language of our heart, He answered Mutoni’s cry. “I was feeling lonely. God said, ‘I will send someone to help you, if you feel alone.’” On a stage dancing to “Waka, Waka,” or journeying through motherhood in a place far from home, two YoungLives moms have discovered a friendship and heard about a deeper relationship with God to remind them that they’ve never been — and never will be alone.