KINGSPORT, Tenn. -- The name "Chikomb" is fairly well-known in the Holston Conference.
Rukang and Fresie Chikomb are missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Rukang is a pilot who transports bishops, mission teams, and supplies throughout central Africa. He also serves as a translator for five languages and was a delegate to General Conference 2019. Fresie assists with management at the Jamaa Letu Boys' Orphanage in Lubumbashi, DRC.
The Chikombs have three children: Andre, Sally, and Selena. While the couple lives in Africa, all three of their children live in Tennessee. Their middle daughter, Sally, is a senior at Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport and is already showing signs of following in her parents' missional footsteps.
Among several scholarships she is applying for, Sally hopes to receive a scholarship from The United Methodist Church. She hopes her academic record along with her extracurricular activities will make her stand out among others who also hope for financial assistance provided by churches for United Methodist Student Day on Nov. 24.
Learn more about United Methodist Student Day.
The Chikombs came to the United States when their bishop sent Rukang to Elizabethton, Tennessee, to get his pilot training. All of Chikomb children were born in Elizabethton. The family worshipped at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City.
When Sally was 9, the family returned to the Congo to live.
“I thought my transition was terrible until I saw how others lived,” Sally said. “The people I saw on a daily basis had nothing. The kids that I talked to were so content, yet they never questioned what they were going to eat that night. It’s something I took for granted.”
In the DRC, many of the homes are made of clay and rock with either tin or thatch roofs. However, Sally's family lived in a cement home and had three meals a day. The children went to school, played games, and didn’t question their safety, despite times of civil unrest.
“Obviously we had to be prepared at a moment’s notice if we had to leave. We were in contact with the U.S. Embassy. There was conflict there. I knew in a time of need someone would be there for me, but we would have to leave the people behind,” she said.
In 2014, the Chikombs knew they wanted their children to have a stronger education. They made arrangements for the oldest two to study in the United States. They turned to members at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.
Their dear friends, Kevin and Mary Whitaker, offered to help. They were raising their own daughter Callee but had room for two more children in their home. The Whitakers assumed legal guardianship of Sally and Andre.
“We were in Africa. Our dad called us into the living room and was like, ‘So, we’re going to send you guys back to America,'” she recalls. “I was shocked. In time I was accepting. We all knew why we were going, for something great. I am so blessed for their willpower.”
The Whitakers were not strangers to Sally; they were old friends. However, leaving Africa meant leaving her parents and little sister behind. Sally says it was one of the hardest things to have to do, but she knew it was for the best. She says there was only one way she was able to take the leap: With God's help.
“He made everything possible,” she said. “When my parents sent me and my brother to America by ourselves in 2014, I didn’t think I could make it without my mom. I prayed every day. People ask us all of the time how we do it, and it’s because of God. We pray every day.”
With the help of modern technology, Sally video chats with her mother daily. Communication has improved, she said, since she first arrived in the United States and had to rely on Skype.
“Last year, I got to go to prom, and I talked to my mom and she was a part of that day. It was a big deal, ” she said.
The soon-to-be 18 year-old also helps support Jamaa Letu orphanage in her own way from a distance. In August, Sally led a drive for school supplies through her high school and one other school.
“Everyone needs a basic pencil, a notebook, and I had to do something,” she said.
The senior also raised money for uniforms so the students could attend school. She had a modest goal of $150 but ended up raising $1,000.
“You have to buy the fabric in bulk, and then they take it to a tailor. They will take the individual sizes of everyone and make their uniforms. It is costly. You are not only paying for the supplies, but also for them to be made,” she explained.
Aside from helping her parents with the children’s home in Africa, Sally is involved in several school and community activities including Beta Club, National Honors Society, and the Mayor’s Youth Council. She is a mentor for younger children and a color guard captain at her school.
She says she often hears other kids say they can’t do anything, but they can if they try.
“There is always a way. They may use those excuses to build up a wall. Anything can be broken down," she said. "You have to have the energy for it, be driven to do something good. You can’t just want to do it. That’s the only way you can achieve something completely."
Looking back at her life and the transitions between the Congo and the U.S., Sally is thankful her parents were selfless and gave her opportunities to advance her education. Her brother Andre has since graduated high school and attends the University of Tennessee. Her little sister, Selena, has followed her older siblings and now lives in the U.S. with another family while attending school.
"I have an amazing story, but that is only possible through the community that has raised me. They never gave up on me. That is what fuels me. I will never give up on my future,” she said. “It really does take a village. Everyone plays a vital role in someone else’s life whether they know it or not.”
Sally intends to attend East Tennessee State University with a focus on health science so she can one day become a pharmacist.
To support students like Sally, please give to United Methodist Student Day at your local church or give online now.
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a Home Deaconess Missioner based in the Three Rivers District.
Early on a Sunday morning, Rukang Chikomb meets at Starbucks in Johnson City to talk about his calling as a missionary pilot. He already has his coffee and is sitting outside in sunglasses, dress shirt, and tie, dressed for worship at his church, ...