Citizen of Heaven
My name is Yves. I was born in the war zone in south of Congo. My family left because the war that had been happening affected my family in a very personal way. We had soldiers come into our home one night and pretty much beating up my dad up in front of us and asking questions he knew nothing about. They told my dad that if we try to move, they’ll kill us and they’ll put soldiers outside in the streets to make sure we don’t leave. So we didn’t know if they were bluffing or serious. My dad made a call right after they left for somebody to come and pick us up behind the house. So we had, I don’t know, 20-30 minutes to get our stuff together and get whatever we could and go and got out, you know. We left that night. And that’s how we ended up in a refugee camp.
So there were seven of us that lived in a 10 by 10 tent. And it’s the kind of tent that you have to hunch to get in and out. It became normal for some reason. Because it was normal for everybody who was in that camp. I considered us pretty lucky to be able to fit ourselves and everything we had all in that small space. Every month we had to line up to receive a portion of meals. Sometimes that will take two or three days. And we keep replacing each other in line, wait to get our rations. So it was just then when we realized we couldn’t survive life in a refugee camp, because we’re dealing with people are coming from Somalia in a camp, people from Rawanda soon after the genocide happened in Rawanda, so you have, there’s Rawandans in a camp with us. We have Congolese who came from war, also ran out from war. You get people from Angola who were also going through a civil war at the time, all in that camp.
Then my dad decided that we can sell half of our portion of our meals, to the surrounding villages outside of the camp, so that we can start accumulating some money so we could get out. Which means that we had to eat once a day. For a whole year, we ate once a day. Because we took half of our food away. We sold it and that was my job to go and sell rice. I’d walk with a rice sack, as a 12 year old, on my back. I’d walk about 10 to 15 miles a day. And that’s what I did. And I loved every moment of it. Because there were times it was really hard because I had to get up at like four in the morning. There were places I ended up, where I should have never ended up, doing a lot of scary things. All the wild animals, there’s all these kinds of things that I had, I had run into. But there was never fear. It was always a joy because I knew that this is one way we get to get out of this hell we were trapped in. And eventually we ended up getting out of the camp.
We sneaked out one morning, never looked back. Went through Mozambique and ended up in South Africa. This was just after apartheid. Nelson Mandela just became president. This is first time facing racism. First time being looked down upon because of your skin color. I didn’t understand it. This is 1999. I was 17 years old. Our family was torn apart in all sorts of ways spiritually, emotionally, even physically in some ways. It was in September, and there was this organization, ministry called with Matt Redman and Mike Pilavachi from England, they’re called Soul Survivor. A friend of ours, a family friend came and he invited us, invited me and my older sister to this dinner. I was like, “free food?” And we haven’t, you know, we didn’t have any food in our house. I was like, “yeah, I’ll go.” And that was the first time I encountered love because South Africa at the time, had been a place where apartheid just ended a couple years back. So segregation was so pronounced in the culture. So for the first time experiencing acceptance with the guys from Soul Survivor, we ate and broke bread, and the next day, met, they came up to me and, and invited me to this camp thing they were doing. I didn’t really know what it was about, but I knew I wanted to be around them. Because I’ve never experienced anything like that. Not from my family, not from anybody.
So I remember, Mike Pilavachi got up and preached about Jesus and His disciples. I was a teenager, they were teenagers. So there was like a point of understanding. I didn’t know this was a fact. And he went on and preached about Jesus, great King of kings, and who died for me. How that impacted me? I think changed everything because I grew up thinking I was nobody. I was born in a war zone. Forgotten. As far as I’m concerned, I was supposed to be dead and forgotten. Knowing that this King died for me. And here I was trying to even convince some people that I am human. So that transformed my trajectory in life. I find my purpose in life on that moment with God and I wept the whole week. I was literally crying at…It felt like, like waves coming in of understanding of how much He loved me. I just like, how, how is this possible? Yeah, my salvation was never about – I was a sinner and I did this and I was in drugs. And I did that – I was just lost and, and He gave me meaning, and put a robe around my body and told me that I’m His and He is mine. And that was the beginning of that.
After I graduated from school, high school, I went to college, university of Natal in Durban, South Africa. Towards the end of their first year in college, God told me to, to change my major into Media and Communications. And I’ve always tried to stay true to the call of God no matter what it cost. And I didn’t realize how much it would cost me later, when, in my third year in Media and Communications – because this prompting of moving to the US was always so strong. It is almost like falling in love with a girl. Every time you hear her name, this, your stomach will be filled with butterflies and it will just like, freeze you a little bit and you lose your breath for a second. And I couldn’t explain it. An opportunity came where they were offering two Fulbright scholarships for two South African students citizens to move from the, from South Africa to Southern California to go and finish and complete their studies there. But the caveat was that it was only for South African citizens.
And I remember sitting with my Dad, one of the most optimistic men I know. We were sitting in our one bedroom apartment rentals. You know, all seven of us. Him and I are watching soccer. And I was telling him about this opportunity and how awesome it would have been if I was a South African citizen. Because we had refugee status. We had no passport. We had nothing. And he said, “Well, why don’t you just apply for it?” I never really understood how I said it, because it pissed me off. Because umm, just the fact that, “Don’t be ignorant! I just told you why.” But he’s like, “No, I’m not being ignorant.” He said these words that literally changed my life too. He said, “I’ve taken my family from war torn countries into refugee camps, on a promise of God, for you guys.” And I remember praying that morning, the next morning and God saying, “This is what I’m calling you to do. This is you…” I remember God saying, “This is yours.” And I just felt so scared. I’m like, What?! How is that even possible? Because I’m standing on this side, there is a giant sea down below and there is a huge mountain across it. I don’t see how this is possible. But the more I challenge God, the more He challenged back. He said, “Go and apply.”
So those two weeks, and I made it a point to go to the scholarships office every day, a couple times a day, to let them know that I want to apply and for them to accept my application. They hated me. I mean, I went there every day. My friends thought I was an idiot. Some other family members thought I was an idiot. But I was, I just know that I knew that the Holy Spirit was prompting me to do so. And the more I did it, the more crazier it became. I remember going in the last day, they actually accept my application. There were a couple of hundred students that apply for it, they were only selecting two students. I didn’t even want to imagine winning this thing because so much that was, was against me. And it would be out of, it wouldn’t be man made, if that was gonna happen. And, and I’d say to God, “I’m gonna let go of the responsibility of making this happen. And literally just became obedient to what You told me.” And that was that. I forgot about it. Two months later, the news came out. The two students had been selected. They released one name that morning, I was in class, and everybody was freaking out – who’s the other student? And I remember running to the scholarships office, right after class, and came to find that my name was the next name on the list.
And you know, that was, you know, we serve God, right? We go with, we…We do life with Him every day. But in moments like those, it’s, it’s actually real. Oh, God, God, your really, really, really are real! This is, this is insane. This is crazy. I mean, it was so shocking that a lot of people couldn’t understand it. We had friends who wanted to double check and make sure, are you sure you are not crazy? I’m like, “No, it happened. I got the scholarship.” And then so it’s like, okay, that’s half of the battle, right.
Let’s go back to the facts. I was a refugee. I wasn’t a South African citizen. That means I didn’t have a passport. According to the South African passport, I couldn’t get a Congolese passport. If I tried, it would violate the fact that I had refugee status in South Africa. So time was going by, and I was starting to miss, I’m starting to miss the first week of classes in California. And I’m freaking out. I don’t know what to do. And everybody around me was like, “We told you this is crazy. What are you doing, even if you got the scholarship, so what?” And again, I was leaning a lot in the Holy Spirit than I ever did before. My faith in God was uncompromised, because I knew that only in Him things made sense. So we lived in Durban, South Africa, there was a couple of days left, A week left. I remember talking to my parents, “I’m gonna go to the capital city, which is in Pretoria, and see if I can come up with some sort of passport. So I can get a visa and go. And when I got in Pretoria, I remember the Holy Spirit prompted me to, to go, go to the Congolese embassy. And I knew what that meant. That meant I would violate my refugee status and I could be kicked out of the country and there’s no one coming in. There’s no way to come back in. And yet, there’s so much peace. I know, my, some of my family members freaked out. It’s like, what are you doing? You know, they genuinely thought I was, I was having a mental breakdown. Maybe I was, I don’t know. But maybe I was mentally, but spiritually, I was fit. I was on point. I had so much clarity and peace in making those decisions. I mean sometimes my emotions would freak out. But I knew that leaning on God would get me to where I needed, I needed to go.
I remember going to the embassy and telling them my story. And they told me I could apply, but at my own risk. And, but this is like, well, this was like a Tuesday and my flight was for the next following Tuesday. And so there is, there was a question, how long is this passport going to take? And that day was the last day, they told me that if I apply I’ll get my passport two days later. It was a program that had going and it’s never happened again. I got my passport two days later. I got in a bus, all night long and got back to Durban, to get to the embassy – the US consulate in Durban. But the, it happens to be an American holiday which was a Friday and they told me I have to go back on Monday. So a whole weekend goes by, freaking out, my bags half packed. I don’t even know if I’m gonna get it because Congolese passport was problematic because Congo is at war. Most of the time, the US doesn’t really give you a visa if your country’s at war. Because it’s, it’s a weird thing. I don’t understand it fully.
I waited for six hours before I got an interview with an immigration officer. I mean, it was, it was tough for an hour and a half. I was exhausted, really walking out feeling like, yeah I probably didn’t get it. And they told me that I needed to call my school, for them to send an additional fax. And they can work on my decision and let me know on Tuesday morning, whether I was going to get my visa or not. My flight is for 3pm out of Durban, South Africa. At 9am, I’m at the US consulate waiting for them to tell me what’s gonna happen. And I remember walking in. That morning, actually, before I went in, I woke up at 5am. Outside our little apartment, I was pacing back and forth literally, praying. I’ve, I just remember feeling heaven close to me, in that place. I’ve never felt so much faith, so much favor in God. Because I knew that’s the only place that made sense. My physical, physical realm was questionable with everything that has happened thus far. But even though there were signs that God was saying, “I came through there, I’ll come through here.” I’m like, do I have faith for that though? This is a large one. This is huge God. This is, I’m just not going. This, this is gonna change my whole life right now.
Anyway, I’m standing in front of the booth and the guy comes with, “What can I help you with?” I’m like, “Well, I’m here because I wanted to know if the fax came through and what’s the decision in my case.” And he’s like, “What fax?” He felt, the immigration officer felt a little bit annoyed with me for some reason I didn’t understand. And he walked in the back for like, five minutes – it felt like eternity honestly. I was praying and sitting under my breath, just praying to God, “I need you here. I don’t know what I’m doing.” And I felt, I couldn’t feel my legs. I couldn’t feel my body. I was just, I felt, I felt so disconnected. And I remember he put all of my stuff on his booth, on his desk, and he looked at me firmly. It’s like, “Okay, Mr. Muay, it’s only going to take five minutes to process your visa.”
In the fall of 2006 I left Africa. And just how God promised, He provided. No matter what happens in my life, I could always look back and say, “God, You, You were there. You came through on, only the way that You could because there was no human hands could have done what You did for me.”
The truth is, this is truly God’s story. There was nothing about it that’s based on luck, no matter what we’ve been through.
My story is not complete and is far from it. I moved here from Los Angeles to Dallas. He gave me a wife and a son. And yet, we still don’t know what the future holds for us. That’s why it comes back again to being anchored in God, now more than ever. And I say that to myself over and over because it’s something that my human mind needs to be reminded of every day, every minute of the day. You know, as a kid, you always thought you did something wrong. So I always thought I did something wrong. There’s something wrong with me. And that’s the narrative that was played in my head. And so it’s really interesting to be 38 and in America, supposedly one of the freest countries in the world – I believe it is. Yet in some ways, you still are reminded that you’re just a black man.
I’ve never been part of the black American history. I don’t have ancestors here. But yet we still all, you know…I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been pulled over by cops when I lived in Los Angeles. ‘Is this your car? Are you selling something?’ You know, and there has been times where I remember, I was in San Diego at a friend’s and we were staying somewhere and I’m like, I’m gonna go into the grocery store real fast. I had bags with eggs and stuff for us to eat for the night, because we’re spending the weekend there. I was walking through this one park and I get a bunch of cops jumping from the bushes. – It was the weirdest experience. – Taking me down really violently. My eggs broke, everything. They pin me to the ground. I had no idea what was going on. I was freaked out scared. Putting hands in my pocket, they pull my phone out, pull my wallet. Luckily had my ID on me. I’m always so freaked out if I don’t have my ID because that’s the one thing that sometimes it’s a lifesaver, in this case, it was. They pulled my ID and said, “Oh. It’s not him. It’s not him”. They didn’t apologize. It’s, “Oh, we thought it was someone else”. Left me on the floor, I had to pick up broken eggs and everything else. And I couldn’t even explain to my white friends what just happened to me. I need to carry this guilt, like I did something wrong. There’s something wrong with me.
So those issues, I believe, are real. You know, we… My wife is white, my son is mixed. And it breaks my heart that this is a fight I don’t want him to go through. And I don’t know who said this, but I’ve always liked this line. “Every generation has its battles.” My father fought some of his battles. But because he didn’t finish his battles, and I’m fighting my battles and his battles. This whole thing of Black Lives Matter – when, I want us to win this conversation of why this really is an issue. That it’s a separate issue. My life is not political. It should not be used as a pawn for the Left or the Right. But the fact is that I’m just somebody who lives in this country, who deserves to be appreciated and acknowledged as any other white folks who live in this country. Winning this battle for me is a big one because I don’t want my son to fight this battle.
I mean, I grew up in a mostly white church in South Africa and I experienced racism there, too. I mean, I experienced God’s love the day I got saved like I never had before. His acceptance and what He did for me. And it got murky for me when I saw people that I looked up to, but would never acknowledge me. And I would serve them and I’d serve in their churches week in and we out, but they would never acknowledge me. That became, “Is this Heaven? Is this how Heaven is gonna be for me?” I struggle with that a lot where it wasn’t, “God, I don’t I don’t understand this.” I was, I mean, I, there was just so much compound from hurt, from identity, from growing up in a warzone in the refugee camp, and all those things. But when it comes to church, it was always performance based. It was always, whenever the pastor would talk about the picture of a man of God, it was everything that I wasn’t – white, grew up in a decent family who wasn’t poor. I mean, there was this notion, if he’s still poor after all these years, then there must be a sin, a living sin that’s in you, or in your family, or a curse that’s been eating you up. And we know it’s kind of the general understanding of it. You know, if people refer to me it’s, ‘oh that poor black kid,’ It was never, ‘he is our equal.’ We are called to love the poor, you know, “oh our little poor boy,” you know, that was the sentiment of growing up in those environments.
It’s almost gaslighting, if you think about it, where that sentence that goes, “There is equal footing at the foot of Christ.” I mean, the very existence of Christ and His death is so contradictory and offensive to what we see now in our world today, in the church especially. You know, in how people are treated. And you question your own sanity, because at the end of the day, when you see people excelling and gaining and accumulating – without even trying – yet, you’re on your knees, you’re praying, you’re doing all the things that you know you ought to do, and you’re trying to be content. You’re trying to be all these things. At some point, your humanity questions everything, of what am I missing here? What’s wrong with me?
I listen to some preachers and I buy the book, because I’m like, I’m desperate and I need to figure it out. Because I don’t see it in the Bible. Maybe you have 10 steps, and I did those ten steps. I’m not nowhere near… nothing actually happened it turns out. I’m so unique in the way I was made and you’re so unique in the way you are made and it’s, it’s such a lie for you to tell me, “If you do this, this and this, it’s going to happen for you too.” And it defeats the very principle of who Jesus is and what Jesus taught. Who you are is not like anybody else, you know. We can take it back to even Psalm 139 about how we are wonderfully made, knit in our mother’s womb, and there’s all those things. But when you listen to people that you respect, who feed you the message Sunday in and Sunday out and are doing things that make you question your own reality. Yeah, that’s really gaslighting.
Yeah, I think there’s a, I think it’s something that a lot of Christians are struggling with. As far as I’m concerned, our citizenship is in heaven first. You know, yeah, God loves this country and blesses it every day and fights for it. Because of YOU, not because of anything else, you know? Some Christian circles it’s, do you believe in the Holy Spirit? Do you believe in this, this, and that, before I can actually extend an olive branch to you. And I think we can go merry go around over and over until we stop judging and start loving. And I think that’s kind of where it’s going to be the biggest challenge for us as Christians, is having that discernment of the Holy Spirit, now than ever before. That, that deep love for one another now than ever before. That deep love for the ones who don’t think like you, don’t believe what you believe, or sometimes even hate your existence.
Because, we are dealing with a generation of people who are hurting, who are confused, who are needing to be acknowledged. And that’s not going to come from the government. We’ve given them too much power. We’ve given them responsibility that was never theirs to bear. We’ve given them the weapons, the moral fight, instead of us fighting it from the other side. And until we start doing those things, we’ll see this wedge of separation will get deeper and deeper and deeper and nothing good will come out of it, because everybody will lose, I believe. And it’s gonna take us to go deeper with God. And I’m saying that to myself, because I’m nowhere near – these are things that I’m haunted by early hours of the morning, or before I go to bed at night. I think the one question I’m starting to ask is, “Jesus, where are You? I want to feel You right now. I want to be with You right now.” And, and I’m really starting to believe Jesus is like, “I’m here”. He really says that at any given time, in any given moment. And it sounds so cliche, but it’s so so true.