When Innocents and Flavia Hagumimana and their four children, Asheri, Hodari, Grace and Sifa, lost everything in an apartment fire in September, Southeast member Candy Konkler gathered the body of Christ together and watched God meet their needs.
More than a dozen others from all over the community gave generously to the immigrant family who, despite all they’ve been through, still praises God.
Coming to America
Innocents and Flavia were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the country’s civil war and fled to Uganda with their families when they were young. They lived as refugees in Uganda for more than 20 years.
In 2010, the Hagumimanas began the application process to come to America, and after six years of waiting, they received a visa and flew to Kentucky with their two children.
The family was connected with Kentucky Refugee Ministry, a local nonprofit that helps resettle refugees who are new to the United States.
It was through KRM that the Hagumimanas met Jon and Sarah Nelson.
The Nelsons, who had recently begun volunteering with the ministry, picked up the Hagumimanas from the airport and mentored them for about six months.
In those six months, the Hagumimanas learned a whole new way of life. They learned how to use a coin laundry, a microwave, a cell phone and a debit card. They settled into an apartment in the Buechel area and found jobs.
What began as a mentorship quickly evolved into a friendship.
“We just became friends organically,” Jon Nelson said. “Looking back, it’s hard to imagine our lives without their friendship.”
The Nelsons eventually introduced them to their families, including Jon’s mother, Konkler.
“Jon and his wife have become our friends,” Innocents Hagumimana said. “Jon’s mom is like my mom.”
Both families celebrated holidays and birthdays together, and if the Hagumimanas needed anything, the Nelsons and Konkler were just a phone call away.
Gone in an instant
Sept. 10, 2019, turned the lives of the Hagumimanas upside down.
They had been living in an apartment off Fegenbush Lane. Innocents was working day shift, and Flavia was working nights so both parents could work and raise their four children.
That day, Innocents had to work late and Flavia had to leave for work before he got back, so he asked his neighbors to watch the children until he got home.
As he was leaving work, he heard the news that there was a fire in his apartment.
“I was told, ‘Something has happened to your place. We will go see it together,’” Innocents said. “I didn’t know if my children had survived.”
Police cars and fire trucks blocked the street when Innocents got home. The apartment was gutted by a fire caused by a faulty stove.
News cameras caught the shock and devastation on Innocents’ face as he saw his apartment. Nothing inside survived. All their furniture, clothes and personal belongings were destroyed. All they had left were the clothes on their backs.
But by the grace of God, Innocents said, his children were safe and unharmed.
“We had lost everything we owned, but nobody was in the house,” he said.
The Red Cross stepped in and offered the Hagumimanas immediate help. They fed the family and put them up in a local church gym for two nights. They also offered money to find a new apartment, but the Hagumimanas were far from out of the woods.
After leaving the Red Cross shelter, the family spent a night in their car, then stayed in one room of a neighbor’s apartment for a few days before they found a house to rent. But once they paid rent for the house, they had no money for food for their children.
Still, they knew God would provide.
Konkler found out about the fire on the evening news.
“Seeing how devastated he was when his apartment burned down, I felt like that was one of my own children,” Konkler said. “I knew I had to do something to help them and not wait on agencies or even the church to provide. I felt like this was an opportunity for Christians—the body of Christ—to come together to provide.”
Two days after the fire, Konkler visited the Hagumimanas at the church gym where they were staying. They were still wearing the same clothes from the day of the fire.
“It was overwhelming to think of all they needed, and I knew I needed to rely on the Lord,” Konkler said. “I began praying that God would restore to them more than they lost just as he did to Job in the Old Testament.”
Konkler began sharing the Hagumimanas’ story with anyone who would listen.
“I began telling their story and my prayer to neighbors and friends,” she said. “They began telling their neighbors and friends. God provided more than they lost. One friend shared their story in her Bible study, and the next day, a lady called me to tell me to order them a new refrigerator, and said she would pay for it. Another shared in their book club and a donation was given. Another lady said she had received a blessing from the Lord and had been holding on to $1,000 to give, just waiting for the Lord to show her where. These aren’t rich people; they were just giving what God had already given them.”
In addition to monetary gifts and gift cards, Southeast members and members of other churches provided appliances for the house, furniture and clothes. Others helped deliver furniture and install appliances. Some helped organize the house. Others watched the kids. A local furniture store donated beds and mattresses.
“Whatever you see inside our house, it’s because of (Konkler),” Innoncents said. “When we moved here, we didn’t have beds; we didn’t have a fridge; we didn’t have anything. But she said that it’s all because of Jesus and people who follow Him. They decided to do that for us. God knows me, and He knows my suffering, and He still did all this for us.”
The Nelsons were astounded by the generosity of Konkler’s friends, as well as the generosity of the refugee community.
“What surprised me most was the community among refugees,” Nelson said. “It was other refugee families who were feeding and clothing them, for the most part. The community they have is unlike anything I’ve seen in our Western culture. They would give one another the clothes off their backs and not think twice about it. They’ve taught me a lot about what it means to be generous.”
A God worthy of all praise
The Hagumimanas grew up attending church in Africa. Innocents’ father, Moses, who moved to America shortly after his son, was the pastor of the church in the refugee camp where the family lived in Uganda. Moses now pastors a church for African refugees in downtown Louisville. The church has grown so much in recent months that church members are praying for an opportunity to move into a bigger facility.
“I was a choir member as a boy,” Innocents said. “I eventually became one of the elders. My wife sings, too. We have to continue to sing to God. Whatever we go through, we praise Him because He is the One who protects us from everything.”
After seeing all that people had provided for them, the Hagumimanas wanted to thank God and His people the best way they knew how.
On Dec. 7, the family hosted a worship service at their church, which currently meets at Sojourn Community Church’s Carlisle Campus, to praise God and honor all who had donated their time, effort and resources in the wake of the fire.
“I think the most impactful thing for me has been the contentment that this family has,” Nelson said. “Their happiness isn’t determined by what they do or don’t have.”
Konkler has seen the joy of the Lord in the Hagumimanas, no matter their circumstances.
“It’s hard to believe how joyful they are, given all they’ve been through, but seeing their joy has made me so much more grateful for all God has done in my life and in the lives of the people around me,” she said. “God has shown me over and over that we don’t have to do some extravagant thing to have an impact on someone’s life. If we are meeting people’s needs one person at a time, God can do amazing things.”