César M’nyampara was a mining-industry lawyer in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but when his father, a political activist, was murdered in 2003, he decided to find a safer place for his family.
In 2011, M’nyampara, his pregnant wife, and their four children came to Illinois on diversity visas. There, he found work as a packer at the Solo Cup plant. “I’d never worked this kind of job,” M’nyampara says of the manual labor. “It was very hard, very painful.”
Still, the family thrived, thanks to the warm welcome they received at the First Presbyterian Church of Champaign. Congregants took M’nyampara under their wing, taught him English, and helped him find his feet.
“They taught me how to live in this society, and the rules of the country, and how you can serve people in need,” he says. “I’m a product of that church.”
Inspired by their kindness, M’nyampara left the factory and became a full-time pastor. “Now I’m working for God,” he says. “I count on God to provide.”
M’nyampara ministers chiefly to Champaign County’s booming immigrant population. First Presbyterian’s congregation was almost entirely U.S.-born when M’nyampara arrived, but these days around 300 African immigrants attend bilingual weekly services. “God has sent me a lot of people to take care of,” he says.
That has provided an influx of younger faces for First Presbyterian’s previously aging congregation, M’nyampara says. “We brought a new life, a new energy, and a new style of worship,” he says.
In addition to his flock’s spiritual wellbeing, M’nyampara also helps congregants find work. Every Wednesday, he drives around Central Illinois, often as far afield as Danville or Gibson City, to meet factory foremen. Through that outreach, M’nyampara has secured manufacturing jobs for more than 200 newly arrived immigrants.
They always call me, and ask me if I have more people to send to their companies. It’s good for the economy and for all the people here, immigrants and U.S.-born.”
That’s good news not just for the workers, but also for the companies, which M’nyampara says often struggle to find labor. “They always call me, and ask me if I have more people to send to their companies,” he says. “It’s good for the economy and for all the people here, immigrants and U.S.-born.”