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A Spirit of Welcome: The Incredible Journey of One of Grace’s International Students

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One of Grace’s many international students, Welcome Kabayiza has always had a knack for languages. Born in Kigali, Rwanda, her native tongue is Kinyarwanda, but she is also fluent in English, French and Swahili. While her linguistic skills are impressive, Kabayiza is most passionate about using her voice to make students from all backgrounds feel welcomed at Grace. Her passion comes from her own story; she knows precisely what it’s like to be immersed in a new culture. 

Growing up in Kigali, Kabayiza’s father gave safari rides to tourists. Kabayiza would often join him, serving as a translator for his English-speaking clients. One particular day, a South African pastor came on a tour. She didn’t think much of it. But three years later, the pastor got connected with her father and offered her the opportunity of a lifetime. To this day, she still has no answers as to why.

“I remember my dad sitting me down and asking me if I would want to move to the United States to pursue my education,” says Kabayiza. “I was more than excited, so immediately I said ‘yes.’”  

Kabayiza was only in fifth grade at the time, but her documentation wasn’t approved for another four years. Looking back now, Kabayiza knows it was divine timing. 

Being raised in a Catholic family, Kabayiza attended mass every morning before school. In her rush to get ready one day, she realized her uniform wasn’t dry. Showing up out of uniform would reflect poorly on her, so she decided to sneak into the Protestant gathering instead. 

“The message really spoke to me that day,” reflects Kabayiza. “It was about the power of the Holy Spirit and being able to hear His voice. Through worship, I was able to really connect with God and feel His presence in my life.”

Unsure of what her family would think, Kabayiza continued to secretly attend the Protestant services until the paperwork was finally approved for her to move to the U.S.

As a freshman in high school, she settled into her new home with Eric and Maci Doden, a strong Christian family residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was enrolled at Blackhawk Christian Academy, and the seeds of faith planted in Rwanda began to grow. The following summer, Kabayiza was baptized.

“It was a huge manifestation of God in my life,” said Kabayiza. “I never signed up for anything. I never applied for anything. I was just living my life, and God came knocking on my door.” 

As senior year approached, Kabayiza had a lot of questions about the future. Would she be able to go to college in America as an international student? Would she go back to Africa? She had no clue what was next, but she made a list of schools to visit, and Grace was at the top. After her first visit, she knew Grace was where she wanted to be. But similar to her experience moving to the U.S., documentation for international students proved to be an issue. 

“There were days that I felt it would not be possible,” she says. “I prayed constantly that God would make a way, and I’ll never forget telling God, ‘If this works out, every morning for the rest of my life I will say thank you to you.’” 

Now a freshman at Grace, Kabayiza still thanks the Lord each day. As a student liaison for Grace’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion, she seeks to use her platform to be a voice for others who find themselves immersed in a new culture on campus.

“My job gives me an opportunity to bring diverse groups of people together, hear their stories and speak for those who can’t speak for themselves,” said Kabayiza. “Embracing diversity on campus is an opportunity to prepare for heaven — when people of all races, cultures and languages will worship God together.”

More than anything, Kabayiza hopes to live up to her name and embrace every unique individual with a spirit of welcome. 

Grace welcomed international students from 36 different countries in 2022. If you’re an international student interested in attending a Christ-centered institution, learn more about being admitted to Grace and read this blog written by our International Admissions Counselor, Ben Miles, with 6 Tips for International Student Admission.

Tagged With: Admissions, Student Stories