How one volunteer goes above and beyond for fellow immigrants
By Bailey Clark
In 2009, Arrey Kelvin Bissong made the long journey from Cameroon to Atlanta, alone. He left behind his mother and father, his five siblings and his high school sweetheart in order to be able to provide a better life for his family.
The journey to immigrate to the U.S. was a long one, fraught with challenges, and, once here, those challenges didn’t stop. From going to the post office to going to the grocery store, even mundane tasks became new and different.
When he got home at night, he was alone with no family to talk to, no friends to console him. Today, his high school sweetheart, now his wife, has joined him in the U.S., and they have been blessed with two children. This past year, Arrey’s mother joined them as well, but his early days in America have had a profound impact on his life and that of others.
“It’s not easy to be lonely. You come home from work and there’s nobody to talk to, it’s painful,” Arrey said. “Some days I would cry to God ‘Why? Why can’t you bring my wife here?’ You see people in the church, but it’s not the same.”
His first-hand experience with the loneliness and isolation that accompany an immigrant’s arrival in the U.S. are what drew him to give back to others in situations like his, and, when he heard about World Relief Memphis during a church sermon one day, he felt God's call to get involved.
“While I was in church, I found out that World Relief helps refugees come to America, and I said ‘Wow, this is me,’” he explained. “I’m not a refugee, but it’s almost my story, so if I’m able to help other Africans who may not know how to speak English like myself, who may not have any background, any education—why not?”
Yet it wasn’t at this moment that Arrey became involved with World Relief, for God had a different plan for him. Rather, it was a few years later when he was going door to door in hope of sharing the Gospel with others that he met Ruth, a Congolese woman pregnant with twins who had been separated from her husband during the immigration process.
Ruth had arrived in Memphis in 2016 with her mother, sister and brother. Since she had filed her paperwork before her marriage, however, she was separated from her husband when it came time to leave the refugee camp. During the medical examinations that are conducted before immigration, she found out that she was pregnant with twins.
When she arrived, World Relief helped her and her family begin to get settled into their new life. It was Arrey, however, who took them under his wing and welcomed them.
“I was drawn to invite more people to the church, not just to promote the church, but because it was what Christ asked us to do and when he was living, he commissioned the disciples to win more souls,” said Arrey, who is an active member in his church. “Every weekend, we would go out to evangelize, and that’s how we were sent to the apartment where they were.”
Ruth and her family were thrilled to meet to meet a fellow immigrant from Africa, and they eagerly accepted Arrey’s invitation to come to his church. From there, their friendship began to blossom. He soon learned that she was pregnant with twins, and the church became aware of her refugee status.
“She said that they were in a refugee camp for almost two years because they were escaping war in their country, and she said her husband and siblings were still back home,” Arrey said. “Cameroon had never had any wars, and I had never been in a situation like that, so I was drawn by the story.”
Nurses, doctors and police officers at his church all began helping Ruth as if she were family. Because she had no car, they took turns driving her to doctor appointments and her English classes with World Relief.
“We made a schedule, and I was the main guy because I was still working night shifts,” said Arrey, who is now a police officer. “I scheduled myself for mornings so that I could take her to her appointments, and one of my church members who does not work in the afternoons was taking her back home.”
At times, even the pastor’s wife was helping as well. Through one person, a community had arisen around this young woman who volunteered to take care of her when her husband was thousands of miles away as she prepared to give birth.
When her children were born, Arrey was there to welcome them into the world.
“The doctors even told me ‘Dad, congratulations!’” Arrey said with a laugh. “I told them I was not the dad, that he was in Africa, and they couldn’t believe it.”
Because of his help, Ruth named her children after Arrey, Kelvin and Kelvine. To this day, he still has the photo from the day the babies were born.
From there, Arrey worked with Ruth and World Relief Memphis to file the proper paperwork to ensure that Ruth’s husband, Dieudonne, could come to Memphis as quickly as possible. He became an official WRM volunteer, welcoming other refugees to Memphis as one of our Good Neighbor Teams.
At the same time, he continued helping Ruth and her family and visited them weekly. When Dieudonne arrived, Arrey rushed to welcome him, taking him on a “Boys Night Out,” to show him the city: where to buy groceries, where to find African food, etc.
Today, Arrey is “like a big brother to him. Anytime he’s making a big decision, like taking a job, he would ask my opinion.” When it came time to buy a car, he helped Dieudonne learn to drive and eventually choose one.
He’s continued to welcome other refugee families alongside World Relief so that they will not have to experience the same loneliness that he did. Four families have come and gone, but Ruth and Dieudonne remain the exception, and they’re still close to this day.
“My story is what drew me to them, and it was heartbreaking to see a young girl separated from her husband with two children, and how difficult it was,” Arrey said. “God works in mysterious ways, and I’m always willing to help in any way I can.”
We cannot thank Arrey enough for coming alongside us and the refugee community to welcome them to Memphis, empowering them to build a new life for themselves. Our work only goes so far, and the help of our incredible volunteers is what truly makes a difference in the lives of these men and women and helps them to build a home.
If you want to get involved like Arrey, whether it’s on a Good Neighbor Team or as a conversation partner or a youth mentor, get started today by filling out your application. Along the way, you just might make a new friend or two, and we promise that you will be making a difference in the lives of our new neighbors.
Bailey Clark serves as the Communications Coordinator for World Relief Memphis. With a background in journalism and advertising, she is passionate about storytelling and its power to make a difference.
Photos by Emily Frazier