TWIN FALLS — Instead of giving gifts this year, Monie Smith and three of her friends decided to help others in need. Now a newly arrived refugee family has an entire Unitarian Fellowship helping them acclimate to their new home in Twin Falls.

Smith reached out to the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center and found out a family of seven would arrive Dec. 14. She quickly realized she would need more help.

When she reached out to her church, the Magic Valley Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship, the entire congregation pitched in and quickly rounded up donations and helped prepare a home for the incoming family.

On Dec. 15, members of the Fellowship met Emmanuel Kasombwa and Sofia Makelele and their five children for the first time. The family was originally scheduled to arrive at noon Dec. 14, but a missed connection in Chicago and a winter storm later caused them to land in Twin Falls at nearly midnight.

The family of seven has lived in Tanzania for 20 years but is originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The children — one girl and four boys — range in age from 7 months to 19-years-old. In the refugee camp, they lived in a hut made from trees from the forest. On Dec. 15, they answered questions from Fellowship members who came to meet them inside their new home.

“We are so glad you are finally here,” said Marion Wallace, a Unitarian Fellowship member. “And we are looking forward to getting to know you.”

“We are happy to see you, too,” Kasombwa said through translator Emile Wilondja.

Magic Valley Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship members spent days preparing the house for their arrival. And not just putting items in their proper places, but making the house into a home.

A red banner hung from the wall that said, “Merry Christmas.” A dining room table was decorated with two Santa figurines and candles. The family is Christian but never had a Christmas tree before. The tree twinkled in the corner of the living room with a handmade star wrapped in foil on top. A shelf was filled with toys, a stuffed fox, dog and cat. A sign said, “God Bless Our Home and All Who Enter.”

“The home is good,” Kasombwa said.

As fellowship members prepared the home, they learned there were a lot of other people who wanted to help.

Costco donated new winter coats, gloves, hats, socks and towels for each person in the family. The winter gear was waiting for the family when their plane finally landed in Twin Falls. A random shopper who gave Susan Bachtold, a Fellowship member, information on space heaters at Home Depot also handed her $70 to purchase the heater after hearing about the arriving family. It was the last one on the shelf, Bachtold said, and will be used to heat a cold back bedroom. Then, a woman who gave Bachtold advice on baby items, winded up buying a child booster seat and a child car set for the family.

“All these wonderful people played a part in helping this new family start a new life here,” Bachtold said. “I call you all ‘My Beings of Light.’ Miracles happen all the time, one just has to be open to them and believe.”

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Wilondja told the Fellowship members that the family didn’t sleep last night after their long day of traveling. As cold rain turned snow into ice outside, Smith asked the family if they had gone outside to touch the snow. Kasombwa said they learned about snow in videos, but this was the first time they saw it in person.

“You have to touch it,” Smith said.

Kasombwa and Makelele smiled, but no one moved toward the door. Makelele wore sandals and a long skirt. When Monie asked if they had enough blankets, they said they found the blankets, but it was still too cold.

Robin Romney, another Fellowship member, also helped collect donations. Romney said she plans to check on the family from time to time.

“I love the generosity of this area,” Romney said. “I love the kindness of the heart and willingness of people to jump in and do whatever is good for anyone else.”

Romney has been a member of the Magic Valley Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship since 2007. Every second Sunday the Fellowship takes collections gathered at services and donates them to a charity or family.

“We call it ‘Pay it forward,’” Romney said. “We collect it in the hopes that they would be in the position to help someone else.”

Romney held back tears when she talked about meeting the family for the first time.

“I don’t know the words,” Romney said. “You feel like your heart is this huge light. That’s how I felt anyway.”

The family speaks French and Swahili. When Micheal Johnson, Smith’s husband and a Fellowship member, arrived, he introduced himself in French. But he told the family he only knew a little.

“So I will have to learn to speak Swahili,” Michael said. “I know one word: Hakuna Matata.”

Kasombwa threw back his head to laugh loudly, as Makelele smiled wide.

“When we came here,” Smith said. “The house was empty. It’s been a really incredible experience for us to set this up. It shows that our community is kind and progressive.”

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