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FAITH IN ACTION: Boise woman befriended refugee family

The following story appeared in the November 5 Idaho Catholic Register.

Martina Ngabonziza came to the United States as a refugee from Rwanda. She and her family had to spend seven years in Tanzania before they could enter the United States. (Photo courtesy of Martina Ngabonziza)

By Martina Ngabonziza

For the Idaho Catholic Register

My family and I came to the United States in 2007 to live in Boise. I have a husband and four children. Our country of origin is Rwanda, but we were refugees in Tanzania for seven years. I want to share a story about my two friends, a mother and her daughter, and I ask you to read it carefully please.

One Sunday, I went to Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. I met a friend named Charlotte Mallet. It is not easy to explain how good she was. She was a beautiful woman outside and inside. The first time we met at the church, it was at the 8:30 a.m. Mass and she asked me to go have coffee with her. I said no, because I didn’t speak or write English. I wasn’t comfortable going with her without talking.

The following week, Charlotte asked me to coffee again. This time I went. Charlotte talked the most to open up conversation, but I couldn’t understand her words. Language was a barrier.

Despite that barrier, Charlotte became the best friend for me and my whole family. Charlotte asked me for our address, and then she came to my house. Communication between us was difficult at first. Charlotte became my friend and my teacher at the same time. She helped me to learn more about America and Americans. She brought more children’s books and read stories to my children. She went with us to the library and helped me to get a library card. She took us to the zoo. She taught me how to cook American food. Charlotte showed us how to color and hide Easter Eggs. She showed me how to make corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day. We baked turkey for Thanksgiving, and so on.

Charlotte took me to the Learning Lab to help with my English. She paid for my Certified Nursing Assistant classes in 2010. Charlotte always sent each of my children a birthday card, brought a birthday cake, along with new clothes and new shoes. She taught me how to do those things. Charlotte was an important person in my family and a follower of 1 John 3:18 – “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.”

In April 2014, Charlotte had a stroke. She was paralyzed and couldn’t talk, but she was happy anyway. When she saw my family, she was smiling and hugging, but because she couldn’t talk, she was also crying and we were, too. During visits, my family would sing different gospel songs to her. She liked them. In 2020, Charlotte passed away. We cried like babies. It is hard for us to handle her death, even now.

Charlotte has a beautiful daughter who has a good heart just like her mother. Her name is Brenda Simpson and she lives in Bend, Oregon. When Charlotte was sick, she was not able to celebrate birthdays for my kids. Brenda surprised me by sending birthday cards to all of my kids and $40.

Earlier this year, Brenda was diagnosed with cancer. When I heard that, my heart broke

again. But as someone who prays to God, I decided to pray for her. I have a prayer group and I shared with them my request to pray for Brenda. I asked Brenda to help us pray. I wrote a short prayer and sent it to Brenda: “God, forgive me all that sins I have done. Save my life, and I will serve you.”

Brenda was praying the prayer I sent to her. Listening brings healing. My prayer group started to pray for Brenda in June of 2021. On that day, God spoke with us and promised us to heal Brenda. I reminded God of all the good works Charlotte and Brenda had done. Later I asked Brenda how she was feeling. Her answer wasn’t good. She was feeling very sick. We prayed more prayers and fasted for two days. I sent gospel songs and Bible verses to bring her comfort.

On August 17, Brenda had surgery. The surgery went well, but it was not easy. She asked me to pray an extra prayer before that and I did. Since the surgery, she has to be tested every six months for the next five years. Three weeks after her surgery, Bren-da texted me and told me some good news. She said, “I heard from the doctors that there was no cancer in my lymph nodes or margins of what they removed, this means that they got all of the cancer. Now I just have to heal and find where God wants me to serve. Thanks for all of your support and prayers.” Wow! My entire prayer group praised God for the miracle.

God is still doing miracles. 1 Peter 3:13, “Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good?”


Editor’s note: Charlotte Mallet, who passed away on Sept. 28, 2020, converted to the Catholic faith while teaching at Bishop Kelly High School. Her son, Joe, and his wife, Amber, are parishioners at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Boise. Joe reports that his sister, Brenda, is doing “unbelievably well.” Martina attends Redeemer Lutheran Church in Boise.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.

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