Hi, I’m Aimee.
I wanted to share my story with you about how this all got started… It is a crazy journey, and looking back, I can see God preparing me for this almost my entire life!
You see, I became passionate about missions while taking a high school missions class at the Master’s Academy in Oviedo, Florida. I was so inspired by my teacher, a former missionary, that told us stories of her time on the mission field and taught us about cultures and people groups. I wanted that so much for my life, too. I had no idea how that would play out and my parents weren’t super keen on the idea. I also wanted to be a ballerina ( another crazy career path my parents weren’t thrilled about, haha).
So, I went to college like any other high school graduate. I kind of gave up on my dreams because I figured I needed to fit in and get a normal job like “everyone else”. But looking back, I see that God didn’t give up on my dreams, because they weren’t really mine to begin with. They were HIS DREAMS for me.
I received a degree in Human Development and Family Studies and minored (almost, just one class shy) in French. While attending college at Samford University, God was at work on my mission dream, without me even knowing!
Every day during my college years, I would spend several hours worshiping, journaling and in prayer. My favorite band at the time was called SELAH. I loved their rich tones and I really loved that they were missionary kids that started the band. I learned that they grew up in Congo and some of their albums had songs recorded in the native dialect. This intrigued me. I was always fascinated by foreign languages and cultures, so I learned the SELAH songs in the African dialect for fun.
I didn’t know God’s plans for me, but I always dreamed that I would be a missionary to a French speaking country. I assumed that meant that God would want me in Tahiti, soaking in the rays on the beautiful South Pacific beaches and getting to know Tahitian people. I also thought God would place me in France, where “Jesus is desperately needed” and, of course, I loved the Parisian culture… I mean, there’s the Champs Elysee, Fragonard, the Louvre and the Paris Opera Ballet.
So, Africa was NEVER on my RADAR!
Here is a sad truth I wish I didn’t have to admit to:
*I grew up kinda spoiled and thought those pictures everyone sees on infomercials of starving people in Africa were just propaganda.*
But 2009, a friend, Brandi, started sharing stories about Africa and her love for the people there. I listened to her heart and immediately fell in love. My family began sponsoring several children and learned all I could about poverty, war and anything Africa.
I was so passionate, I taught my kids everything I was learning and took that to their middle school to educate their classmates. With my children, we started an Africa club, raising awareness and medical supplies for vulnerable school children in Ethiopia.
In 2011, Brandi, birthed her ministry. I got to help her from the very beginning stages of developing businesses for mommas in Uganda. I wanted so much to be part of that, but the timing wasn’t right and my voice for her organization wasn’t heard. No matter how much striving I put into raising awareness or funds, I could not generate any interest among my circle of influence. It was very disheartening. I felt deeply discouraged and wondered if I could ever be used by God.
I didn’t forget my dreams, though. I kept praying and BEGGING GOD for AFRICA!
Fast Forward 11 years from college graduation. On September 19, 2014, I met my first refugee family. I was in heaven. I fell in love with the family (Isidore family, that is YOU) and I was so thankful that God heard my prayers. Even though He didn’t bring me to Africa at the time, He saw my desire and He brought Africa to me. The crazy thing was that this family was from Congo.
I began to meet more and more families in the Orlando area that were from Congo. Due to language barriers, struggling upon arrival, and difficulties in the resettlement process, I felt so much compassion for these sweet families and knew I needed to do something, anything, to help them. So, this is where ARISE for FAMILIES was birthed.
We started mentoring them, held a Bible study, and provided for their needs when one agency was unable to meet them. We paired larger needs with churches to assist the resettlement agency with housing, and transitional skills. I always wanted to be around them because the PRESENCE of GOD was with them and I was chasing after HIM, too!
BUT….Wanna know something absolutely CRAZY???
The official language of Congo, happens to be FRENCH! So, that almost minor in French that I didn’t receive from college, has proven itself to be beneficial to assist me with some very broken communication with my new Congolese friends!
Because most of the families that arrive here do not speak any English, the ONLY way I have been able to communicate with some them outside of gesturing, is through the music I learned from listening to my favorite band way back in my college years. That’s right, that African dialect that SELAH’s songs were written in, was a CONGOLESE DIALECT!!
How cool is it that the ONLY WAY I could communicate with some of these sweet people, was through WORSHIPING GOD? It felt so Sacred and so Holy to worship with them. Hanging with my Congolese friends, became my heartbeat. I could feel the presence of God when I would spend time with them. Truthfully, my love for some of the friends I have had the honor of knowing is purely sacred to me. (Nathalie, you know I am talking about YOU… and Zena, you, too… I LOVE YOU BOTH SO VERY MUCH).
This is where working with our MOMMAS in Nakivale comes in. I met Rev. Bukuru Mihayo in June of 2015. Our families quickly became friends. They came here as refugees and we just wanted to love them and walk beside them while they were learning the ropes here.
Let me share some of Rev. Bukuru’s story and just how we got involved with 175 widowed Mommas and nearly 1,000 kiddos in the camp:
Meet Rev. Bukuru Mihayo.
This man is a very dear friend of ours. We absolutely love him like he’s our own blood. Who wouldn’t though? Look at his magnetic smile that radiates His love for Jesus and for people!
A former millionaire, businessman, pastor to many, became a refugee nearly two decades ago when war broke out in his home country, Congo.
The war stripped him of his titles, his dignity, his humanity. Being a refugee, brought him low, as he was herded like cattle, became a number, and lived as the least in deplorable conditions in a foreign country.
But he didn’t let that hold him back. He built a church, tilled the ground, fed thousands, and led people to trust the Lord each week in Nakivale Refugee camp for nearly a decade.
In 2015, he was divinely chosen, to resettle in America. I say divinely, because it’s truly a miracle to ever be selected for this great privilege. That’s where we fit in. We loved his entire family from the minute we met them in June 2015.
Bukuru has worked hard here and is now able to travel back to the camp to meet his people. Only this time, he won’t be treated like cattle or a number…or seen (by outsiders) as deplorable. He will receive the treatment of Kings, as most Westerners are.
Rather than staying in a hand built home with dirt floors, he is welcomed to stay in the United Nations Guest House. He will drive in cars to reach his destinations and he will be granted access to the places and things that only Westerners have privileges to.
He has not forgotten where he came from. But now, with authority and power, he is returning to help the people he loved, pastored and walked through excruciating circumstances with.
Isn’t this a beautiful picture of the gospel? Can you see Jesus’s story in his? I can.
“Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am ABOUT TO DO SOMETHING NEW; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? Indeed, I WILL MAKE A way IN THE WILDERNESS, RIVERS in the DESERT. Wild animals — jackals and ostriches — will honor me, because I PROVIDE WATER in the WILDERNESS, and RIVERS in the DESERT, to GIVE DRINKS to my CHOSEN PEOPLE. The people I FORMED FOR MYSELF will declare my praise.
This, Dear Friends, is how God has walked with me most of my life, preparing me- even when I didn’t know it, and how He is making a way for HIS DREAMS to come true through me and my amazing husband, Michael, who has always supported my dreams!!!
As we work with Mommas in the camp, I will always see my precious friends that were fortunate enough to come here, in the faces of our Mommas. It is because of them, that I already have such a deep, deep love and connection to our Nakivale Mommas.
YES, Lord, I am willing. May I never, ever move out of line from your will, but wait upon you to direct each and every step of this incredible JOURNEY. I am honored that you chose Me to know our Mommas and all of the precious people I have been privileged to call my friends.
With ALL MY HEART,