After church last Sunday, the congregation of Rock Bridge Christian Church passed around a white construction hat at the groundbreaking for their new sanctuary. Instead of going toward the building project, the money filling the hat was used to buy a mattress and box springs.
The furnishings were the finishing touches in an apartment that will be home to a family of six refugees from Liberia who arrived in Columbia late Monday night.
Moses and Annie Glay, along with children Anthony, 24; Gaye, 9; Debo, 8; and Alex, 5, arrived at Columbia Regional Airport after their journey from the Ivory Coast, where they had been living as refugees for almost 12 years.
The family stepped into the airport amid the flash of photos and vocal welcomes from members of Rock Bridge Christian Church, which is sponsoring the family. “Tired,” was how Annie Glay described the family’s feelings after spending their first day on U.S. soil waiting in line for hours at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for their immigration papers to be processed.
The youngest children held tightly to teddy bears given to them by church members and gazed at the well-wishers, more than 20 in all. University of Missouri hats were placed on Moses and Anthony Glay and yellow daises were given to Annie Glay, who made the long journey while pregnant.
The family went home Monday night to their new apartment, which was stocked and furnished by the church and Refugee and Immigration Services, a resettlement agency that is part of the Catholic Diocese. In the past weeks, the Rock Bridge congregation and the agency gathered everything the family would need to get started, from furniture and clothes to dishes and sheets. Members of the resettlement agency and the church spent Monday building bunk beds and stocking the kitchen with food.
Moses Glay said he was looking forward to finding a job and seeing his children get the education that they could not obtain in Liberia. “I will be very happy to find some small work, and when my children are in school.” Anthony Glay said he left school after the fifth grade to help his father farm and hopes to return to school, if he can.
Refugee and Immigration Services hopes to help Moses and Anthony Glay find jobs in the next 90 days, but much of the family’s time in the next few weeks will be spent adjusting to life in the United States, said Kerri Yost, who is assisting the agency with employment placement.
Culture shock can be especially acute for people from Africa, Yost said.
“This will be much more challenging because the Glays are rural people,” she said.
They will be focused on everyday tasks such as learning how to operate a washing machine, how to drive a car and how to use American money, she said.
Although the family is from Liberia, where the official language is English, Moses, Annie, and Anthony Glay do not speak the language well and the children speak almost no English at all. The entire family speaks Krahn, a language that also bears the name of their ethnic group.
The family arrived without EliHelena, their 16-year-old daughter. The family was separated from EliHelena before leaving Ivory Coast and hopes to locate her in the next few days so she may join them in the United States, Moses said.
The Glays fled their home in rural eastern Liberia in the early 1990s shortly after the beginning of a civil war. The area they fled to in Ivory Coast is populated by about 30,000 Liberian refugees, according to the United Nations.
Earlier in the year, the Nicla refugee camp, near where the Glays were living, received international attention when officials of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees visited the camp. The visit came amidst reports that violence in the area was increasing due to the civil war in Ivory Coast. There were reports of children in the area being forced to fight in the Ivory Coast civil war and of young girls turning to prostitution in order to obtain food, according to the United Nations.
The situation prompted a major effort to move families from the region to either another country, a safer part of Ivory Coast or back to their homes in Liberia. The Glays were among the fortunate few whose application for asylum in the United States was granted.
Liberia was founded in 1821 by freed African-American slaves. The country has been embroiled in fighting since civil war began in 1989 when then-president Samuel Doe was usurped by Charles Taylor’s forces from Ivory Coast. Charles Taylor was elected president of Liberia in 1997 and rebel groups have been fighting for his ouster since then. The rebels succeeded earlier this summer, and the last 30 U.S. Marines departed the country Tuesday as peacekeeping responsibilities were transferred from West African forces to United Nations forces.