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By Bruce Pfadenhauer, Central Region Executive Director of Open Bible Churches

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March/April 2018 Print Message Cover

March/April 2018 Print Message Cover

Peter Mahoye Shandakwa and Sarah, his wife, have lived much of their lives on the run fleeing civil wars, surviving life in refugee camps, and enduring heart-wrenching separation. Yet Peter has never run from the vision and the call God placed on his heart as a young man.

Both Peter and Sarah, who have five biological children and three adopted children, were born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). The DR Congo is a nation rich in natural resources; however, like many of the nations in central Africa, it has faced brutal civil wars.

After being educated as a teacher, Peter taught high school in Kiliba, Congo, for 11 years during which time he and Sarah were married. In 1993 Peter decided to receive training with the Red Cross. While pursuing this God spoke to him about going to Bible college and becoming a pastor.

When war broke out in 1996, Peter and his family fled to a refugee camp in the neighboring country of Tanzania. They remained there for two years and then returned to Kiliba while negotiations for peace were taking place. In a prayer group in 1997 someone spoke to Peter about leaving Congo someday, but never could he have imagined how that would come about.

From 2000 to 2003 Peter attended a Bible school in Kenya while his family remained in Congo. God gave him a vision about planting a church in every African nation. While he was away, the rest of his family moved to Uvira, a larger city nearby. Peter rejoined his family in Uvira in 2003. There he evangelized until he had enough people to begin a Bible study group that eventually became a church. He and Sarah also started an orphanage.

Sadly, Peter’s time together with his family was short lived. One year later a civil war broke out in Uvira. At that time churches were safe places, so a family from war-torn Rwanda came to the church for protection. However, warring rebels heard about the church protecting the family. Peter was forced to flee to neighboring Burundi for protection without saying goodbye to his family. His family escaped to the forest where Sarah cared for their children until a friend hid them for protection. Peter traveled around to neighboring countries but could not return to Congo as he would be killed. Finally the family fled to a refugee camp in neighboring Kenya on the borders of Kenya, Sudan, and Somalia, where Sarah and the children lived from 2006 until 2014.

Education was challenging in the refugee camps, with 150-200 children in each class.

Education was challenging in the refugee camps, with 150-200 children in each class.

Conditions at the refugee camp were horrific. The weather was extremely hot and windy, making life in a tent difficult. (Eventually the family was able to move to a mud house, which was cooler.) The family had to defend themselves from scorpions, spiders, and snakes. Education was very poor, with 150 to 200 children in each class. Tribal wars within the camp broke out often.

For Sarah, living as a single mom and raising kids in the camp was an enormous burden. With no husband to protect her, simply obtaining food and water for the children was an overwhelming task. A group of men tried to sexually molest her, but thankfully she was able to run to the police for help. During all this time Sarah had no idea where Peter was, but she held onto her faith and believed that one day she would see him again.

Meanwhile Peter had no idea where his wife and children were. When he heard that he could go to the Burundi Embassy and request a visa to go to America, he did so. His request was granted and he arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on March 6, 2005. He eventually relocated to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where other Congolese refugees were gathering, and God gave him a vision to start a church there. He found a job assembling appliances at Whirlpool Corporation in nearby Amana, Iowa, and began to form a Congolese church in the area.

In 2006 Peter’s prayers were answered when he received an email from a friend informing him that his family was living in a refugee camp in Kenya. Then in 2007 a pastor friend made it possible for him to speak to his family. What a glorious moment!

Peter arranged to call his family weekly and to send them funds. (He kept all the phone cards he used to communicate with his family. They filled a whole bucket!)

In 2014 Sarah and the children relocated to Nairobi, Kenya. Although they lived in the dirty slums, conditions were better than in the refugee camp. There were fewer dangers and they had electricity and water.

The Shandakwa family: (left to right) Enoch, Rebecca, Peter, Sarah, and Joshua.    Photography: Heidi & Troy Eiffert of studioU photography

The Shandakwa family: (left to right) Enoch, Rebecca, Peter, Sarah, and Joshua.
Photography: Heidi & Troy Eiffert of studioU photography

In December of 2015 Peter was finally able to make a trip back to Africa for several weeks. He flew into Nairobi, planning to meet his family at the airport. Because of the years that had passed, neither Peter nor the rest of his family knew what the other looked like. As Peter searched the faces of the crowd, he heard a boy calling out in his native language, “Daddy!” Peter joyfully responded, “I am here!” and the family began their marvelous long-awaited reunion.

Peter returned to Cedar Rapids and began the arduous process of arranging for his wife and children to join him. After his petition was rejected twice, he began planning to return to Africa to rejoin his family. Yet he stepped out in faith to try a third time to get his family to Iowa.

In the DR Congo, couples often participate in three marriage ceremonies: traditional, civil, and religious. Because of confusion on their marriage certificate, the Shandakwas had to secure approval for a civil marriage and undergo DNA testing to prove the children belonged to Peter. The process was complicated due to corruption by some officials. Sarah and the children had to travel from Kenya to Uganda to Rwanda to Burundi to DR Congo to secure clearance to come to America.

A typical church service in the refugee camp.

A typical church service in the refugee camp.

On May 2, 2017, the family was interviewed in Kinsasha, the capital city of DR Congo. Eventually they could begin the trek to the U.S., flying from Kinsasha to Morocco to New York City to Chicago. Unfortunately Peter had been in a very serious car accident and was unable to travel to Chicago to pick up his family. Other church members met Sarah and the children at the airport and brought them back to Cedar Rapids. Finally on August 5, 2017, Peter was reunited with Sarah and three of their children at their new home in Iowa.

They still have contact with their adopted children although they are scattered in various places. David lives in South Africa; Mary is still in a refugee camp in Kenya; Ruth is in Canada. The Shandakwas’ biological children are doing well. Esther is married, has two children, and still lives in a refugee camp in Kenya. Alice is married, has one child, and lives in DR Congo. Joshua has just started working at Whirlpool in Amana, Iowa, where Peter and several of the church leaders also work. Enoch and Rebecca both attend school in Iowa.

I first met this amazing man in August of 2014. He had connected with INSTE (Institute of Theology by Extension) and was interested in affiliating his church, Community Evangelical Pentecostal Church, with Open Bible. (The church was granted affiliation in February of 2015. Peter was granted a ministerial credential with Open Bible Churches in January of 2016.)

Peter has a goal to plant a church in every African nation and in every state in America. Currently his team is planting a church in Lexington, Kentucky. He is an amazing man of God who is very humble and gentle in spirit.

Peter said, “I have seen many ministers that have turned people to themselves and not to God. It has been my desire to never turn the people of God to myself, but to always teach them to walk with, trust in, and depend on God.”

Executive Director of Global Missions Vince McCarty actually met Joshua Shandakwa, Peter’s son, while Joshua was still in Kenya. Joshua Shandakwa (second from left) and other refugees meet with Vince McCarty (third from left) in front of the main Open Bible church in Bungoma, Kenya.

Executive Director of Global Missions Vince McCarty actually met Joshua Shandakwa, Peter’s son, while Joshua was still in Kenya.

Vince had met Peter Shandakwa at Open Bible’s Central Region Conference. He told Peter he would be going to Uganda and Kenya in May 2016 to visit the work there and host a special conference in Kenya for pastors and leaders. Peter then notified his son Joshua of Vince’s upcoming visit. Joshua, along with a small group of refugees from Congo who attend an Open Bible church at the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, traveled 310 miles (a ten-hour trip) to the conference to meet Vince.

There are approximately 172,000 refugees from Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia at the Kakuma Refugee Camp waiting for placements to countries that would receive them. The Open Bible church at the camp has 150 members. Vince said, “It is amazing what these people have lived through.”

Bruce-new-webBruce Pfadenhauer is the Central Region Executive Director for Open Bible Churches.

About The Author

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