Throughout our life we are given experiences that impact us so much that we remember the details vividly – never to be forgotten. I had one of these such experiences yesterday, March 28th, that will stick with me throughout my life. It all started back on March 23rd when I received an email from a good friend of mine requesting assistance in gathering donations for a family that was in need. In short the man who now goes by Roy, faced terrible circumstances in his home country of Congo and had to quickly flee the country leaving his family and seeking refuge in the United States. When he got here he was able to move his family to a safe location in Uganda and stay in contact via phone, but never was able to see them. He fought over and over in the court systems to get them passes to come but with no success. Finally after a long drawn out process and lots of prayers and assistance from friends here in the USA, he was able to get them permission. This was after 6 years of not being able to see his family. The last step of the process was fulfilled this week when the embassy in Uganda issued his wife and four kids visas to come to the USA. They packed up everything they could from their home and prepared to take a flight just a few days later to finally be reunited with their dad and her husband.
When the family arrived in Dubai they were hardly able to move. Rachelle (the mom) had 9 extremely heavy suitcases and 4 kids all under the age of 10. She had no way of moving all of her belongings and children by herself and did not know where to go. She waited for a long time, not knowing what to do. The youngest son, Joseph, 5 years old, started screaming and crying. He created such a scene that security came up to see what was going on. Joseph cried to them “No one will let me see my daddy! I want to see my daddy!” The security then helped them get to where they needed to go. By this time, they had missed their flight and had to catch a different one to LA. The next day they caught a flight to Los Angeles and had planned to grab a short flight from there to Phoenix to be reunited on March 27 at 6:00pm. Roy and a group of all his friends, including myself, were anxiously awaiting for them to arrive. The flight arrived, but unfortunately they were not on it. Instead, they got held up for 4 hours in Customs in Los Angeles and once again missed a flight. By now his wife and 4 kids were intensely tired. They were lost in a new country, they had 9 suitcases that were incredibly heavy and no way of communicating with Roy. Back in Arizona, the group was down that they had not made the flight – but the sense of hope was tangible. We all believed that it was just a matter of time before the reunion would take place. Calls, emails, facebook posts all went out trying to find someone that might be able to help locate the family at the LAX airport. Before long a bishop in the LDS church was at the airport and found the family. He took them in for the night, and provided them the care they needed after a long couple days of travel. Roy was informed and anxiously plans were made again for the reunion the next day at 11am.
The next morning rolled around and all I could think of when I woke up was how excited I was to see this reunion. It reminded me time and time again the true importance of family. They really are everything! Excitedly I jumped in my car and headed down to the airport for the second time – this time with the confirmation they were on the flight and ready to land in Phoenix at 11:06am. As I arrived, I saw the same amazing group of friends there to support Roy and his family. These friends came in from all over (Virginia, Utah) to be there at this incredible occasion.
Knowing his wife and 4 kids were definitely on the flight, we all gathered around extremely anxious to see them. I think we were all nervous with sweaty palms and weak knees. Every time a group would exit out of the security we’d ask, “We’re you on the flight from LA?” “Nope,” we would hear time and time again. Finally we heard the answer YES and now we knew were just minutes away from the reunion. The crowd of friends kept inching closer and closer to the exit as onlookers began to gather and ask about the special occasion. Roy maintained his eyes locked down the aisle looking for the first sign of his family, not a second without his huge smile!
Then suddenly it happened. The family appeared – about 75 yards away. At first they looked in every direction trying to figure out which of the hallways they should follow next. You could tell they were puzzled on how to exit. Within seconds the group started screaming and yelling, “Over here!” “Here, here, here!” “Come this way!” The energy was unreal. The family spotted the excited crowd and began moving towards us however I could tell at first they still had not spotted Roy among the crowd, his small stature blended right in from so far away with the jumping crowd, waiving signs and yelling people. But as the family approached and got closer there was a moment when it happened. (I get watery eyes just writing this down as I remember the moment.)
It suddenly happened. Rachelle recognized Roy from among the crowd of people. Suddenly like a sprinter taking off from the blocks she raced towards him, dropped all her bags, threw up her arms as if she just crossed the finished line and embraced Roy like I have never seen two people embrace before. Six years! Six long years of living apart – and here they were finally together again! The rest of the kids hurried in to hug and from that instant the floodgate of emotions opened. Before I display the rest of the photos from the reunion, please keep the following in mind while viewing them. His youngest son, not yet 6 years old, never once has seen his Dad, yet there is an instant connection between the two of them. His oldest daughter of the four children, was only 4 years old when he saw her last, the other two even younger. So for the children this might just be the first memory they really have of their Dad – and yet when I saw them connecting there it was simply magical. The love that Roy had for all of them was intense and I could feel the same radiating from the kids towards their Dad. His wife, who has all this time raised the kids on her own, telling them stories of their father – is now able to raise them together as a family. It truly is such a beautiful occasion to see them all as a family. Here are the rest of the photos from the day I will never forget.
While photographing the reunion, each time I would drop the camera down my eyes would start to water up, and then I would realize I needed to be ready to capture the next moment so I’d position myself and take ready to fire off more photos. I guess you could say I was never really able to take the whole experience in and really let my emotions absorb it. However on the way home, I unpacked my camera and while sitting at a stop light started scrolling through the shots on the back of my camera. It was then that the emotions hit. My eyes welled up with water and tears streaked down my cheeks. I had to pull over and try to dial back the emotions. It was then that I realized how special an event I was able to just witness and capture in my photos. At that moment, I realized how special families truly are and blessed I was to see something that will stick with me throughout my lifetime.
Many blessings to Roy and his family! Albert Einstein said it best, “May you rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life.”
Huge thank you goes out to an incredible photographer, Matt Barr at http://www.barrphoto.com out of Utah. See Matt (and his wife and kids) were not only at the airport to capture the reunion as well. But they were actually one of the instrumental pieces in Roy’s life here in America. Matt and his family helped him find a place to stay, work and assistance in the process of reuniting him with his family. When travel plans for the family went awry on their way from Africa to Phoenix – Matt was the first one on the phone making arrangements for them. When I first heard about this event back on March 23rd and volunteered to photograph it. I found out Matt (a photographer) would be there to take pictures – and yet he was kind enough to extend the invitation to have me join him and shoot as a second camera. What an amazing person Matt is and I would encourage anyone that is looking for a photographer up in Utah to be sure and check out his website – and contact him – he will take good care of you. Not to mention the guy has an amazing Australian accent! Thanks Matt for letting me help out on this amazing event!