John Yves Bizimana, a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, considers himself to be a citizen of the world. He was born in Kigali, Rwanda where he lived with his widowed mother and two younger siblings. He and his family spent nights with their mattresses propped against the walls in the hallway of their house to shield them from stray bullets. They were eventually evicted from their home at gunpoint and forced to live in a stadium with thousands of people and no food.
In 1994, just months after his father was killed in a car accident, seven-year-old John and his family fled the Rwandan genocide. The only earthly possessions that they had were the belongings which they were able to carry with them. Horrific scenes of death and violence surrounded them as they made their way to Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). From there they traveled through Tanzania and Zambia, and finally found refuge in Harare, Zimbabwe. Prior to his father’s death he experienced a life of wealth, and so, the new life as a refugee would prove to be a harrowing experience for him.
Tragedy would strike the family once again when John’s mother died from cancer and malnutrition. At first, John and his two younger siblings (a brother and a sister) were cared for by some of their mother’s friends, but eventually the children ended up in an orphanage, the Emerald Hill Children’s Home, where they would live for five years. They eventually immigrated to Brussels, Belgium where they were legally adopted by an aunt and uncle. At a street basketball tournament in Brussels, John met Mormon missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who taught him the doctrines of the gospel and about the Lord Jesus Christ. John accepted what the missionaries had taught him and later became a member of the Church. Concerning his experience he has said:
For me, it’s the religion that brings me closest to God…It has given me answers…that I yearned for when I was a younger teenager. . . .My dream is to just one day be a good member of the Church. I’m not there yet, but one day. That’s my goal. (Erin Barker; “Exclusive: Escape from Rwanda: The Impossible Story of John Bizimana“; LDS Living Magazine; October 2010).
Despite his humble beginnings, and the impossible odds against him, John has managed to achieve many of the goals that he has set in life. While in Belgium he set his sights on one day coming to America and studying at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He and his sister pooled their resources to pay the fee for the Standard Achievement Test on which he scored well enough to be admitted to BYU where he earned a Bachelor degree in economics in August 2010. The amazing part of this story is that John never graduated High School, but yet he became the first in his family to attend college, and he did so while his family was still living thousands of miles away in Belgium.
John is a very humble person and when asked of all of his accomplishments what he is most proud of, his reply is not about himself, but rather about the siblings whom he loves. He has said:
They were younger than me…and went through the same things I went through, but they remained good kids. They maintained their composure throughout the whole process. (Erin Barker; “Exclusive: Escape from Rwanda: The Impossible Story of John Bizimana“; LDS Living Magazine; October 2010).
John resides in Provo, Utah, where he enjoys performing African cultural dances, songs, and traditions with his friends in Voice of Africa, a Utah Valley performing group. He is also a motivational speaker and particularly enjoys speaking to youth because as he says, “they still have their lives and dreams before them.” When he is not working full-time, performing with Voice of Africa, or speaking, he enjoys playing soccer and basketball, cooking, and spending time with his friends.
John is also the author of a book titled “Escape from Rwanda” which not only tells the story of his childhood experiences in Africa, but also his life as a teenager growing up in Europe. He actually had no interest in telling or writing his own story even when an older woman who was impressed with his story volunteered to write the story if he would dictate it to her. Although he was impressed by her willingness to sacrifice her time, John refused her offer. It wasn’t until months later while doing an internship in Switzerland that he finally considered writing his story.
John realizes that the life experiences that he has had, and his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has helped to prepare him for whatever lies ahead. In his short lifetime he has known the joys of prosperity and plenty, and he has also known the anguish of poverty and desolation. He has tasted the sweetness of victory, and he has also tasted the bitter dregs of defeat. Of his life experiences he has said:
It gives me faith, gives me hope. . . .It makes me fearless. Like, I can be in a bad situation right now, and I would be like, it’s OK, it’s going to work out. I don’t know how, but it’s going to work out, because, we didn’t know how we were going to survive (escaping from Rwanda), we didn’t know where the next meal would come from. We didn’t know anything. But we survived. (Amy Choate-Nielsen; “Survivor of Rwanda horror is fearless, upbeat“; Deseret News; Saturday, Aug. 28 2010).