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From terror to Tenison Woods
BY TRISH BOGAN
When Riziki (Sofia) Machozi and Theophile
Balebanga fled the Republic of Congo
many years ago, they could never have
imagined they would be participants in the
Christian Formation Course at the Sisters
of St Joseph Lochinvar's Tenison Woods
They fled their homeland for safer lives,
escaping to a refugee camp in Tanzania. At
one stage in just one area, there were three
camps housing over 70,000 refugees.
It's difficult to comprehend their daily
reality, but their strong Catholic faith kept
hope alive. They were both permitted to
work in the camp, Theophile in the hospital
dispensary. Sofia was "a Social Worker; I
worked with Community Services."
After twelve long years, Theophile, his wife
Washikala and family arrived in Australia.
Sofia, her husband Clement and their
children, waited a shorter time, only eleven
years! The two families arrived in Newcastle
within several months of each other, over
two years ago.
Theophile Balebanga and Sofia Machozi in the library at the Tenison Woods Education
How did they come to Australia? Theophile
said, "Many people would like to come
to Australia, but they don't know the way
to follow to get there. When Australian
Immigration people came to the camp we
wanted Australia." Sofia added, "It was our
chance to get out."
Theophile said, "I received a letter, but I
didn't know of Newcastle, the only thing
I knew about Australia was Sydney." The
couple didn't speak English.
Theophile and Washikala were first to arrive
with seven children, while Sofia and Clement
followed four months later with their seven.
But now they have eight; Paschal was born
on Palm Sunday a few months after their
The families have undergone a Mass culture
shock. Theophile says, "There (refugee
camp) it was so joyful, we are dancing, we
are singing all the time. Each one loved
to come to church." They still enjoy doing
so, and two children from each family have
become altar servers in their parish of
Deep faith has been instilled into their
children, though Sofia says, "All the people
who come to church ask, where are the
young people in the church today? We ask
them many questions about the church in
Their decision to undertake the Christian
Formation Course was not difficult. They
worried about their English, but were
encouraged; in Theophile's words, "We did
receive affirmation from everyone; they felt
we would be ready for this mission, and we
Sofia and Theophile both have Bibles.
Theophile says, "When I get home I get out
my Swahili Bible, read the English then the
Swahili, that way I learn it sooner."
Theophile and Sofia have similar hopes on
completion of the course. Theophile agrees
the course "will be so helpful to learn more
experience about our faith, so after this
maybe we could be teaching others. I like it
very much, it is wonderful."
Sofia says, "For me, when I finish this, I can
teach people about faith. I can talk to my
friends about church if I have experience of
this course. I want to help many people from
my country. This is a new country for people
from all Africa; that God has blessed you to
come here. Wow!"
Wow indeed! Resplendent in traditional
Congolese dress, both are delighted to
be here. The faces of their fellow course
participants lit up when they saw Sofia and
Theophile, the camaraderie they share is
Faith has played a prominent role in their
lives and now they want to help others
share that faith. After the lives they lived in
the Republic of Congo and Tanzania, they
have found acceptance, safety, welcome
and support in Newcastle and the tranquil
surrounds of the Tenison Woods Education
To learn more, visit www. twec@ ssjl.
org.au or P 4930 9601 or E twec@ssjl.
Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle www.mn.catholic.org.au
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