This article is part of the #flamfaces series.
Here, Oliver Mensah shares a snippet of his story.
I was born in the war-torn West African country of Sierra Leone to a Sierra Leonean mother and a Ghanaian father.
Living in Australia and enjoying God’s blessings, it is hard for me to remember what life was like back home.
I am the first of seven kids and, being the first-born in an African family can be both an honour and a curse. You see, as the first I am required to be the best; do everything right and not stumble, because there are little eyes looking at your every step.
At age 14 I was responsible for my younger brothers and sisters. Our mother was off working, our father was absent. Our Mother was a political reporter – there were endless nights without her around. Our grandmother did the best she could with the little strength she had.
War is something a nation, and especially its children, should never have to experience.
We lost everything.
Our families and our belongings. We were constantly going from one aunt and uncle’s house to another. Normal life for us as kids never existed. We had no electricity, sometimes going days without food.
We were a family in hiding as people were after us. Our Mum went into hiding for five years. Us kids didn’t see or talk to her for the whole five years. I was 14. And when she was found she was put into jail for three years.
After eight years of mum being absent, it was hard to know who she was and how to relate to her as our mother. To this day, that mother and child relationship is a struggle, but we are getting better at it each day and our relationship is at a better place than it has ever been.
One night I recall my brothers, sisters and I were asleep when some soldiers came into our house. I slowly pulled my siblings under the bed so that we were not seen. As the soldiers were leaving, they fired a couple of rounds at the house.
I have seen and heard a lot in my life . . . children dying from lack of food, medical care, neglect . . . boys forced to rape girls, boys forced into war . . . men and women’s hands and feet cut off and left to bleed to death.
Only God can heal my heart.
In the year 2000 we managed to escaped to Ghana with the help of the Ghanaian embassy in Sierra Leone. Life was starting to look normal for us, we started going to school, to church and making friends. After a year we were registered as asylum seekers with the UNHCR, and after five years living at a refugee camp we were granted asylum in Australia.
In 2005 we left Ghana. I had mixed emotions; excitement and sadness. I was leaving all I had known. And what was life going to be like in Australia?
On June 1, 2005, my Mum, three sisters, two brothers and I landed in Sydney at midnight. The Sydney Harbour Bridge from the sky looked everything like the picture I saw on my orientation for Australia.
We arrived in Launceston the next day, welcomed by people from the church I still attend today. I remember walking into my first service at Door of Hope back then; I knew it was my home.
Adjusting was hard, but it got better. I started year 11 at Newstead College and didn’t enjoy it one bit. I had no friends. I liked music but wasn’t as good as the other kids to join in playing music with them, so I just sat in a corner looking on.
I said to myself at the end of the year, ‘This is my new life, there is no going back, I can either embrace this or just waste it!’. Through my church I met other people who went to Newstead and we became friends; they would talk to me at lunchtime and slowly I started coming out of my shell. I was even voted the Vice President of the Student Council!
In 2008 I met this tall, beautiful, blonde, Dutch-Australian girl. I slowly got to know Alicia and started falling for her.
Here comes the turning point for both of us. I was living alone and Alicia was living with some girls. I used to work in bars and night clubs. When I finished work in the early hours of the morning, I would call Alicia to come pick me up as I didn’t have a car.
We didn’t have boundaries in place, and Alicia fell pregnant . . . what to do now?
I suggested to Alicia that we should run away because I didn’t want to bring shame upon her and her family. We had every intention to get married – we’d talked about it before Alicia fell pregnant. But instead of judgement from our family and church family, we found love.
God was there in that time and He is with me now. Psalm 68:5 says, “He is the father to the fatherless”, and when we were afraid the Bible reminded me (in Psalm 23) “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil”.
When we had no food, Matthew 6:25 in the Bible said, “do not worry about tomorrow”, andwhen I messed up with Alicia, He didn’t forsake me, He came through.
Today my wife and I have four beautiful children.
Jeremiah 29:11 reads “for I know the plans He has for me are of good and not evil”. I held on to this as a life verse for some time.
My story is that of healing, new beginning, new faith, new life, new forgiveness and transformation.
Don’t think when things are not going the way you feel they should that God has forgotten about you, or He doesn’t care about you. The truth is, He is working on the next part of your life story.
Photo credit: Sarah Haberle