Family is Given a New Beginning in a New Land

The cramped two-bedroom apartment in a three-story Revere walk- up may seem modest to some. But for Asende Bembeleza, it is salvation.

His six-year odyssey from the heart of Africa to the North Shore of Massachusetts ended three months ago, when a plane carrying Bembeleza, 34, his wife, Mwashite Kotongo, 30, and their five children landed in America.

“I give thanks to God,” Bembeleza said.

His father, a Methodist minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was murdered by Congolese soldiers in 1999 for sheltering Tutsi refugees from Rwanda in his church, Bembeleza said. The soldiers also killed his mother. Soon after, the soldiers came for Bembeleza, a peace activist and elementary school teacher.

At his insistence, Bembeleza’s wife fled with their children. Soldiers bound and beat him and left him for dead. But a bloodied Bembeleza escaped Congo by hopping a boat to Tanzania, and then a truck to a refugee camp in Mozambique, where he searched for his wife and children for two years. They were in a refugee camp in Tanzania, and believed he was dead.

The family was reunited in Mozambique with help from United Nations workers in 2002. Their jubilant reunion was tempered by fear that soldiers would still find them through military informants in the camps, Bembeleza said. Finally, the UN arranged passage to the United States in September.

Today, Bembeleza works for an airline food service company at Logan International Airport. The couple’s children, from 1-year-old Vidinic to eldest sister Andjelani, 14, are learning English. All but the baby can spell their names for a visitor.

“Here in America,” Bembeleza said, “children don’t have to run away [from soldiers].” A mental health counselor from MGH Chelsea HealthCare Center, who is a refugee from Bosnia and knows firsthand about post traumatic stress, said he has helped many refugees settle in, but this family stands out.

“There is a dignity, pride, and respect,” said Adnan Zubcevic. “After all they have gone through, they are so full of hope.”

By Kay Lazar, Globe Correspondent | December 22, 2005