Interview: Bringing Hope and Healing to a War-Torn Homeland, One Footstep at a Time

Why one Congolese refugee believes shoes are a key ingredient for broader change.

In his first three decades of life, Emmanuel Ntibonera has been on many quests. Writing in his memoir, Congo Sole: How a Once Barefoot Refugee Delivered Hope, Faith, and 20,000 Pairs of Shoes, he describes being a preteen in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he dreamed of forming a boy band with his brothers. But then, as a series of civil wars erupted in the late 1990s, his hopes shrank down to simple survival. When Ntibonera and his family became refugees and fled to Kenya, many days were consumed with the desperate search for food and shelter.

Only after years of living in the US and studying at Liberty University did his calling finally became clear: He would invite the church in America on his boldest quest yet—to bring hope and healing to his war-torn homeland for the glory of God. To date, this has taken the form of establishing a foundation that distributes used footwear and other forms of relief to those in need. Freelance writer Craig Borlase spoke with Ntibonera about his memoir and his ongoing humanitarian efforts in Congo.

After six million deaths, the Congolese civil wars have finally stopped. Is it too late for people to help?

The war has stopped, but the killing remains. It rarely receives any media coverage outside the country, but women are still getting abused, and the rebels are still attacking the villages. I escaped with my family, but there are millions left behind, and it is not too late to help them. I believe that is one reason I’m alive today—because God has a plan and purpose for me to bring his love to my homeland.

You took 20,000 pairs of shoes over to the Congo, as well as many other resources. What’s next for your foundation?

I love shoes because they’re …

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