Jean-Marie Nyilimbilima and his family were prosperous middle-class citizens of Rwanda. He was a civil servant and his wife was in an exporting business. Even when a civil war broke out in 1990, Jean-Marie and his family were doing okay. Then in 1994, a presidential jet was shot down, killing the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. Regular activities came to a sudden halt, and everyone stayed in their homes. Bombs dropped and killings escalated. Jean-Marie and his family were afraid to leave home, and soon they ran out of food and water. They wanted to leave the city, but the roads were not safe and they had no vehicle. Finally, a family friend who was a military commander, helped them escape.
After many difficult experiences, they made it across the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo, running for their lives with hundreds of thousands of other refugees. They had no possessions, no documents, and nowhere to go. Finally a pastor let them stay in a home that was still under construction, with no windows or doors. Refugees by the thousands were dying from hunger, cholera, and other diseases. Jean-Marie decided to go find a job in a refugee camp 10 miles away and move his family there. He felt very blessed to get a job as a security guard for $10 a month because it came with a 25 pound bag of cornmeal and 2.5 pounds of biscuits--enough for his family to stay alive, start some food storage, and help others.
The refugee camp had 500,000 people living in it, and Jean-Marie's family built a shelter out of plastic sheeting provided by the UN--hot and muggy to live in. However, during the rainy season, the plastic would leak or be blown away. When the camp leaders discovered that Jean-Marie was educated and had studied in Europe, they had him send for proof of his qualifications, and he was promoted to be a manager, making $180 a month.
But after a year in the refugee camp, security began to deteriorate, and people were being killed mysteriously. The Nyilimbilimas decided to go to Kenya, and with the help of Jean-Marie's friends in Europe, were able to make it. In Kenya, they still had no money and no documents, and they were refugees, but Jean-Marie started a school for the refugee children.
Eventually, the government in Kenya ordered all refugees to leave within 30 days. Jean-Marie discovered that in South Africa the government gave refugees asylum status, so they would have legal documentation. But to get to South Africa, they had to travel across many country borders without documents, and their children caught malaria from sleeping on the side of the road in Mozambique.
They finally arrived in South Africa, sick and penniless. Through many miracles and the help of many good Samaritans, they were able to survive, living on cornmeal, beans, and peanut butter. They went from begging to guarding cars to managing a restaurant, and it was in Pretoria that they discovered the LDS Church and were baptized.
Jean-Marie's family had always been religious and had relied on God to help them through their trials. After being baptized, they prayed for a better job for Jean-Marie so that he could attend Church, and eventually he got a job working in the Area office as a translator. All through their travels and trials, Jean-Marie had kept one small piece of paper that had 17 of his ancestors’ names on it, so he was able to do the temple work for them.
Jean-Marie tells how he felt the hand of the Lord leading them along throughout their trials:
'Being who we are today was not a result of our strength, but was through the grace of the Lord. These ups and downs we experienced were for our good; they helped to shape our character and put us on the right path to achieve our full potential in this life. Through this experience, I felt endowed with supernatural power that helped me overcome the natural man’s tendency to complain when facing dark times. There is always sunshine after rain!'
Excerpted by Collette Burgoyne