FOUNDING GROUP MEMBERS’ STORY
The founding members of the first Belong group are 16 young men who were born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but grew up in a refugee camp in Rwanda. After being resettled with their families to Portland, Oregon, they found they had more responsibilities than ever before. Their age and English language level meant they would be one of the few income-earners for their families and the parent contact for their younger siblings at school. Balancing a job, getting a GED or going to college, and supporting their parents and siblings, all while transitioning to a new culture with new pressures, is a lot to carry by yourself. When you’ve been displaced from your home and given the label “refugee,” it’s hard to figure out where you belong.
Born from a commitment to build-up, encourage and engage one another as leaders in their communities and followers of Christ, the first Belong group was formed. Since January 2018, the founding members of Belong have been meeting monthly, and in smaller groups throughout the week, to learn, grow and support each other as brothers in Belong, and a family in Christ.
“If I could share one thing with others about Belong, it’s that our Belong group is a family where we encourage each other to commit ourselves to God. Belong helps me learn new ideas and gain a different perspective in my life. It helps me to dream again. Most importantly, Belong has helped me to fix my attention on God.” – David, D.R. Congo
“In the Gihembe Refugee Camp we grew up in a very difficult life where we felt like we didn’t belong. But fortunately for me, my mom loved God. Whatever happened in our daily lives, she always told us that God knows us and everything happens by God’s purpose! Growing up hearing that made me think that there is one who knows my life and is working things out for my good future.” – Fiston, D.R. Congo
“A sense of belonging is important because when you belong somewhere, you feel comfortable, loved and safe. Everyone needs to belong in something or to someone.” – Claude, D.R. Congo
HISTORY & FOUNDER
Taylor Smith, the founder of Belong Together and the first Belong group, was born and raised in Portland, Oregon, but considers Rwanda home, too. After traveling to Rwanda for the first time in 2015 and visiting the Gihembe Refugee Camp, where the founding Belong group members lived, she instantly felt a kinship with the community who understood parts of her own story: loss of family and loss of home. Through her relationships within the refugee community, God taught her how great pain doesn’t eliminate great joy. Her subsequent trips to refugee camps in Rwanda, and her adoption into the resettled Congolese refugee community in Portland, inspired her to start the first Belong group, and later to found Belong Together.
In her interview on the BoldIdea Podcast, Taylor shares her story of how refugees have changed her. You can listen to it here: https://boldideapodcast.com/061-taylor-smith-on-how-refugees-have-changed-me/