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Refugees reunited in Cedar Rapids after more than two years of separation

Patrick Nehemiya, a refugee from the Democratic Congo, is reunited with his wife and daughter after two painstaking years apart.

On what was otherwise a dreary day in Cedar Rapids, a lone bright spot emerged at the Eastern Iowa Airport in the form of a smile on the face of Patrick Nehemiya.

Nehemiya, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo, has called the City of Five Seasons home for five years, and for those five years, he's been thousands of miles from his wife, who has remained in a refugee camp in Rwanda.

Other than occasional visits to his native continent, Nehemiya has been unable to see his wife.

During one of those trips home in 2015, Nehemiya discovered he would become a father.

In September of 2015, he reached out to Helen Armstrong, the director of African Ministries at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Cedar Rapids, for help.

"When [Nehemiya] first came to see me two years ago," Armstrong recalled, "he was like, 'My wife is expecting a baby. I have to get her here. We need to be together. Please help.'"

Armstrong agreed to assist, but much like Nehemiya, she was making discoveries about the rigorous application process along the way.

"We're learning as we go as we help them sift through bucket loads of paperwork," said Armstrong. "There is a lot of paperwork."

Passports, birth certificates, tax returns, and many other documents were required for Nehemiya's application -- a Petition for Alien Relative.

With each and every document came an attached cost, a premium worth paying to be with loved ones.

Nehemiya has spent roughly $2,000 in paperwork and processing, according to Armstrong, with the documents beginning at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The paperwork was approved after eight months, and then more paperwork was required, this time a packet submitted to the National Visa Center.

Seventeen months went by between the initial application and Nehemiya's wife's approval.

"In January of 2017, it was approved," said Armstrong, "so for the last nine to 10 months, we've been waiting for a visa spot to open up."

In September, the visa finally came through.

Nehemiya's wife then was subjected to an interview at the U.S Embassy in Rwanda before being issued a visa for her and her daughter, allowing the family to finally be reunited.

"He has had lots of ups and downs," Armstrong recalled. "He has sat with me and said, 'I pray everyday. I need my wife. I need my baby. I need my family to be together.'"

Nehemiya's prayers are finally answered.

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