Charles Nombime

Transcript of Charles Nombime
Interviewee: Charles Nombime
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: February 8, 2014
Place: Edgewater Library, 6000 N. Broadway, Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 35:32 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

ML: This is Mark Lecker. I’m interviewing Charles Nimbime?

CN: Nombime.

ML: Nombime, I’m sorry. We are at the Edgewater Library at 6000 Broadway. The date is February 8th. And it is 9:10 a.m. And your country of origin is from Ghana, correct?

CN: Is from Ghana, correct.

ML: Ok. Did you grow up in a big city in Ghana, or did you grow up more in a small town?

CN: Actually I grow up in a village.

ML: In a village.

CN: Not really grown up. I stay in Ghana until the age of eleven. So until eleven I was in Ghana but I was in the village. It’s not a small city. It’s not a big city. It was really a village. At that time there was no literacy, you know….

ML: What was it like growing up there?

CN: Well everything is different, you know, compared to U.S.…and even compared to some cities in Ghana. When you are…when you were born in the village and grow up in the village, coming to the city it’s like…day and night. Because where I was…at that time you really take the car to come to the city for two things. Me as a child, ever if I was sick, then you’d be going to the hospital…really occasional…and even then you’d be traveling to go to the city for something. In my case I was not moving that much. I can’t say that. It’s not the case of everyone…people live in different places, but I was in the village with my grandparents.


ML: When did you move to the U.S.?

CN: Well it’s a long story, actually. I came here in ’99, ‘cause I left Ghana at the age of eleven…eleven, yeah. So…my parents were in Paris, in France, so I left there and they came and take me. So I really…from the age of eleven up it was like, I grown up in Paris. I came there to study and all of that, and then…I went to school. I did computer science. I did the PhD in computer science software. After that I was just…just after school I was brought by a company here…computer consultant company…to work, work for them. So I came and I was consultant, and so I work for five years for them, then I was a lot of traveling and things like that. But I…yeah that was the purpose was for me to come here. But in between then I was…I was called by G‑d, and I have to, and I have to resign. So I resigned from the work, in a secular job. And then I opened a little computer store here to keep me going in my daily activities. But the whole…the whole idea was to just focus more on the ministry, the ministry work. I studied…studying more and more about the Bible and all of that. Doing a lot of night prayers, and it happens that a change came out of that. So it’s called Faith Victories Ministries. We are located in the Edgewater, just right here, right here. The Bethany Building here, on Thorndale and Magnolia. That’s where we are now. And the computer store is just right here by the “L” Station [laughs].


ML: So you still have the computer store.

CN: I still have the computer store. So I go there, you know, spend few hours there and then I just focus on the ministry work.

ML: Is Chicago the first city that you moved to when you moved into the U.S.?

CN: Yes, I’ve never been living anywhere else. I always lived here. It was interesting because I lived here for I would say at least five years without really knowing the city, because consultant work’s like…you come in, you’re going on Monday, and you come in Friday night, so Monday morning you are…you don’t have really time to do anything and then…when you come you have to get some work done and stuff like that, so it wasn’t…I didn’t really know this city much. But in time I resigned and then, and with the computer store, and I studied and I had a little more time to find out. But I don’t know as much as you guys. I should know, but…so…


ML: You started a ministry here, correct?

CN: Yes.

ML: And do you feel that helps you connect to your community more?

CN: Oh yeah, oh yeah…yeah, definitely, because you start [unintelligible] before you people start to come in because they know there’s a ministry, and you get to know them, get to know their circumstances a little bit…given a lot of counseling, let people know about our G‑d. So yes, definitely.

ML: Do you cater to everyone primarily, or do you focus on more people from Ghana and Africa?

CN: Oh, we are…around seventeen nationalities in the church. Yeah, people are from everywhere, and have many Africans. It’s very mixed.

ML: Do you find that a language barrier may come up if people’s language isn’t primarily English? Do you ever run into any problems with language barriers?


CN: Well we try to…. When we have encounter like that find someone who speaks their language and also English, and communicate, so we try. Edgewater is very rich in that aspect, it’s really good because we have people from different, different places. I was…one time I was saying, I was telling someone in the store, I said, “If I haven’t been here, in Chicago, I wouldn’t have known that there are many people that I never, ever met in Paris.” And probably also the computer store, because not just the ministry, but the computer store we have these international, international phone cards attached. So you see all these people come in to buy phone cards to call their countries, and that’s really a great help to getting in touch with people from all over. People from Nepal, Burma, Myanmar, I mean it’s just…just amazing. It’s a very, very rich community.


ML: That’s what I’m beginning to realize.

CN: Very, very rich.

ML: Do you find it easier to have a sense of community within Edgewater because it’s so diverse?

CN: You know I was surprised, right…I was surprised because I had grown up in a strong community, because we Africans we are really community related. And not just that, but when you… My knowledge of Africa is really from the village, so it’s really intact. It’s like everybody knows everyone. You’ve grown up in the society that everyone knows everyone. You go to my village, you mention my name. My middle name is Emshee.
That’s the name of my grandparents. So as soon as you get there… [unintelligible] the only Emshee (sp?) in the whole village. So everybody knows everyone. It’s a sense of community that is different because Edgewater is very big, the American society is different, and our sense of community is also very different. Someone might be…something might be going on with someone that here you might not really know, but…back home, in our community you would definitely know, because it’s a small community. The way that we interact with each other is…the structure of the community itself is very, very different. Very, very different.


ML: How so?

CN: You know, we…we have like…and it’s something that is…we had different tribes in the country. I’m an Ashanti. The Ashantis have a culture that is organized in seven main groups. So, seven families, if we can…yeah, it’s really they call it ‘family,’ so every village that you do, every village, every city, you going to find exactly that same structure. So in other words, if you are from one village, and you go to a city, that you don’t know anybody, that’s fine, because that all you have to do is find the leader, ask someone to locate the leader of your family. Then you go present yourself to that person, and they will make sure that whatever that they have to do to…because they feel like you are part of their family. It’s seven families, and with specific names, so you know your name…I mean the name of your family. So when you move to one location, and you think you are struggling, you want to find people that are from your… So one way that they are related too, the families are… So, yeah, you might come to my village and find my name. Someone that has exactly the family name as I have, the Emchi (sp?). You might go to a city that is way far from my country, and you want to find that the person has the exact name. You guys never met, never…but you know that one way or another you are related because of the family name that you have. So it’s very well organized, it’s just amazing how they…it’s the whole community’s built, the country structure and all that.


ML: Well it’s really interesting how it goes across the country. It’s very clearly defined what family you’re in, but it removes…where you live. It’s your family, regardless of where you are.

CN: Well you know that’s built…a very strong…I want to say country, you know. Because Ghana has become a very peaceful place, and I think it’s pretty much due to the…they have this sense of…I remember when I was young, and my grandparents for example, they… Every evening that we cook, they would reserve food. They would just put food outside, for one purpose. Because they said that they don’t know that someone might show up in the middle of the night, and this is not the time to start looking for food and all that. So, every single morning we were just, throwing something out, because maybe no one showed up, and maybe we can eat it again, that’s fine. That’s how strong the mentality is. So we were being educated, the children were being educated that way, that…I was really] told, and infused in me that the way you treat someone, that is the way you treat a stranger. That is how maybe you or your children are going to be treated some way. So everyone has that sense of being careful about how you relate to others. Because if someone shows up in your community and you don’t take care of that person, someone from your side might also go somewhere, and be treated that way. So we are very set. People are very much careful about strangers, and…that’s something that is very strong in us.


ML: So I, I’m guessing that moving from Ghana to Paris was a huge change.

CN: Yes.

ML: Was it as much of a change going from Paris to Chicago?

CN: Yeah, it was, because…it was, yeah it was. It was a big change, because Ghana is English speaking country. Paris, France is French. So when I left I have the language barrier but I was small, so I was able to really pick up the language. French…I studied school and all that. I went to school with it. But I believe the barrier, the big barrier was the culture, even though you are small, probably if I grew up in a city of Ghana, the gap wouldn’t have been that big in Paris. But I left the village straight to Paris, so you can imagine there was a lot of funny stuff. Things that I didn’t eat, things that I…just so many things that I didn’t know. But it was a challenge, so slowly those gap were just…filling up. And you end up with French guy [laughs]. Well I don’t really know if I’m French, or [laughs].


ML: Well that kind of leads into my next question of do you identify as being from Ghana? Do you identify as being from France? Or do you identify at this point as being American and this is your home, this is where you identify with?

CN: Well you know the culture is there, you know? Culture is where you really received your values, your social values, really important family values and all that. And I believe that what created my…my grandparents did by infusing the traditional and then the culture in this is… It’s not something that you can get rid of. I remember one time I really forgot my language because my mom was not… my parents was not really around. So you find yourself in the school all the time. School, school, school, so you end up not really speaking the language at all. Especially in the beginning my mom was saying that “Hey, you need to learn French. Don’t speak to me in the language”. So I wasn’t speaking it at all, and she realized that I have lost the language, so… Then it wasn’t their fault that I made… It’s easy to lose the language when you’re young, but… As I was growing up I saw how important it was, because I remember we went vacation once. And at that time we went back to the village and I really realized that I was losing the language. They could speak, I could hear some things, but I wasn’t fluent as I was before. Then when I came back to Paris I studied by buying some African movies. Some Ghanaian movies, and the language. Then I started watching them and I pick it up again. So that was… Yeah, so I feel more Ghanaian because the system of values that I have. When I came to Paris, like you trying to adapt. The language, everything is good. You will learn it, but it wasn’t as strong as what I’d received before.


ML: Have you ever felt like a stranger here? Like an outside person trying to assimilate into the American culture? Or did you move here feeling comfortable about…I mean, Edgewater is a very big melting pot, and lots of different…

CN: You know, one thing about America is that probably because it’s the land of strangers, no man’s land, let’s put it that way. How much you put in it, that’s how much you going to be…because it’s not like Europe, for example. Let’s say Europe, you are there and most of the places, and…well, let me talk about Paris for example. If you live in France and you are not legal, you don’t…I mean legal in the sense of immigration, right? And you don’t…you really never feel like you’re ok. Why? Because people are always having the sense of police stopping you, in the street. And that’s something that they do, they stop you in the street. And ask you, asking you about your papers, your right to stay in the country. So I do know that people had that type of issues, but I didn’t.

But U.S., maybe they have, but it’s not as strong as in Europe. For example as you’re walking down the street the police will stop you and ask you for your documents. Here nobody stops you and asks you, unless you’re really…you don’t know how to integrate. I’m not saying that Americans are living people [unintelligible], no immigrant or anything like that. But I speak…but that sense is there, so you have this inner peace. Inner peace to try to do something. People are also from different places, like as you were saying before. If I wasn’t in this country I wouldn’t have met people that I may know the country, those countries were there on the map, but I never met anyone from there. But it’s a great, it’s a great place. If you are open, how much you give out…so if you open up, you going to…but I feel like maybe it’s the places that I live, and the culture and all that, but I love people by nature, so it’s not something that is a struggle to me.


ML: Would you say that Edgewater, being so diverse, helps solidify the community into a tighter knit community? More like the villages in Ghana, how they were so close knit?

CN: You know, Edgewater is great, but…it’s great in the sense that people come from different places, right? And we all try to be…but they are…the entities are there. You can see the groups are just right there. I see that…it’s rich that way. But in the [unintelligible] communities over there we are all from the same place and the culture is just right there. So…I believe that it’s different. Each one has its strength, let’s put it that way. But definitely when you are…the difficulties are more on the strength of Edgewater where you have…it’s like, communities coming to form communities [laughs]. That’s where it’s stronger. It’s more maybe challenging but…I think we’re doing well.


ML: Would you identify yourself if somebody asked you where you’re from as being from Chicago or being from Edgewater? Specifically in Chicago?

CN: I would tell them that I’m from Edgewater. I’m from Chicago, Edgewater. If they… how much it makes sense to them. But mostly we say Chicago. And if the person is very specific, then we say, “Oh, ok.” They might say, “Oh where do you live in Chicago?” I might say, “North side.” or something like that. If they go in details, I say, “I’m in Edgewater.”


ML: So…would you say that part of your social identity, since you’ve moved to the U.S., identifies with Edgewater in particular more than Chicago? Because that diversity brings the community together?

CN: Yes, yes definitely. Because, first of all the church, the ministry work…we are just right here in the community and so that’s…definitely.

ML: Being focused on the church, do you connect with the other church…either churches or church organizations?

CN: Yeah, yeah. We do. We have colleagues in France…ministers… We [are] trying to also come together, and get things done. I’m very much involved, also in… I’m in their community as a whole; we have some gathering from time to time.


ML: Does that help build community within the individuals who are involved in the churches?

CN: I was surprised because I didn’t really know that there was such a connection, you know, in the community here. So when I was… I actually found out when you were trying to move from one location to another. Then I met with the alderman, Osterman. He’s just such a great guy. Amazing, amazing. He is incredible. Let me put it that way. Because we, the church, want to have relationship with them. They have been very, very, very helpful. The fact that I know them, and we relate to them, it makes things easier because now what is going on in the community, you know what is going on. They have this small group that I also, I’m also a part of it. From time to time you read, and say, “Ok this is the book we are reading, and we’re gonna meet and talk about it.” We do things like that, which is really good.

ML: Going back to the mentality in the villages, do you find that the same mentality of if a stranger moves to Chicago or the U.S., and they can find the leader of the family, does that transfer over into the U.S.? That sense of family and the leader helping out new people who immigrate into the country?


CN: Well, you know that is a great question, because what I was saying that Edgewater community is more like small communities to form…a community. And so if someone comes… let’s say someone come from Ghana, for example, and would find out that we have Ghanese in the community. We try to approach him or whichever way that he knows we around and he will come. So automatically he would be connected, right, because the community is already there and we try to show him where to go to get things done properly, and things like that. And I do believe that it’s also pretty much the same thing for [unintelligible, French word] you know for someone…sorry, that was French, for someone that was [laughs]…

ML: [Laughing] that’s ok.

CN: For someone that is coming in from Ethiopia, for example. Nepal…they might, ‘cause the groups are already there, so it’s easier communication, I mean language barrier is already broken, because we can always try and bring them all…you need to learn the language where to go to do this, where to go and things like that, so it’s great.


ML: Specifically for Ghanese, do you see an expansion from focus on the family to focus on Ghanese? And if you’re from a different family, it’s not as important as being from Ghana? Does that make sense?

CN: Well…

ML: So you were explaining that if you go to another city or village, you would search out your family or your family leader. In the U.S., would you still search for that particular family or would you just look for Ghanese?

CN: You know, I think if they are first approach is Ghanese…because they try to have that, those families over here, but it’s not as strong as back home. If you really get involved in the traditional stuff then you’re going to find out that they have structures here in Chicago not necessarily in Edgewater but I do that the structures that they were…they have, they set it up in the form on kinship, so there’s a kin for that, a kin for this area, a kin so…you can communicate with them but it’s not as strong as back home. But they try to implement the same structure because it helps them…to let’s say someone dies here, they want to take them, the body back home, things like that. They might come up with the fundraising, and so…so they still, we still have that type of community here, making sure that we care of each other and things like that.


ML: Was there a big cultural difference [clears throat], excuse me, in the sense of values between Ghana, Paris, and the U.S.?

CN: Yes. Yes, yes, very much because, first of all, of course the language. When I came to Paris, I was young, so it’s a little different. Bust as we are growing, as we say the kids pick up the language very fast, and…but yeah, it was a barrier because…like I was saying before if I was, if I grew up in the city in Ghana, maybe the barrier would have been reduced a little bit but I was in the village so I was not exposed to so many things. Moving from village to Paris it’s…cultural shock. I just made it. So that was…but I stay in nineteen years, in Paris, so I had time to catch up on so many things. So yeah that was one.

And then afterwards I was moved here. I knew English only by school. I studied in university. So when I came here I know how to write, and read, and understand what is written [laughs]. But then you have… When I go here and you have the accent, the way Americans speak the English. I learned English from the paper and from school, but it’s not, it wasn’t my major or anything like that. I was a computer guy trying to read the computer science books in English, and get my work done, and finish school and move on. So when I came here then you hear people speaking the language that you know on the paper, it was [laughs], I just realized I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t understand anything, and it was really funny because at work I was telling my colleagues, I told them I said, “Listen, you speak. I can hear you, but I don’t understand what you are saying, so…” Then I made things clear. I was making mistakes. I would try to force myself that…there was extremely helpful. So I started taking some ESL classes on the weekends, trying to catch up. And I got…the Lord had helped me, so… But yeah, definitely was great [unintelligible] and things like that.


ML: How would you rate your overall experience…the lifetime of immigration from the village in Ghana into the major city in Paris, France, and almost a step down to a slightly smaller city in Chicago?

CN: Yeah. Well, I see it as the work of G‑d. I really see my life as…because the purpose, my purpose of coming here was purely…it was just career-wise. But everything has been shifted, and changed, and probably…so now I can see that the main reason why I was brought here was for the work of G‑d. Which is not just here but I think the Lord wanted…He wanted me to see…I didn’t know Him when I was coming here, and for the five years that I was working for this company, I didn’t know anything about G‑d and ministry and all that but I really had an encounter.

And the way that I was called into ministry, it was not like I was going to church; someone ordained me or anything like that. I really had an encounter in the middle of the night, I heard the Voice and everything, and once…I just couldn’t deny what really happened to me, and so I have to just drop whatever plan that I had for myself, and just follow G‑d’s will for my life. Which I thank His…and I’m glad I made that decision. It’s not always…I’m still struggling and all that, but I believe when you walk with the Lord, you don’t know what to expect but you expect the best and I know He has a wonderful plan for my life.


ML: What’s the phrase…”My strength will be the strength of ten because my heart is pure?”

CN: “The Lord is my strength.”

ML: Do you see yourself staying in Edgewater? Or moving to another city, another portion of Chicago? Moving out of the city entirely? Going back to Paris, maybe? Or going back to Ghana?

CN: You know, I see my life now, ministering or related and I can see that there is a great assignment ahead…bridging people, bridging… I very, very much see a great relationship between Ghana and the U.S., in the sense of ministry. I know there might be. The structures are there already, I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about what the Lord is doing with me, and what I…the relationship that I built with the Edgewater community. So I can definitely see strong…something really strong coming up between the Edgewater community and Ghana. You know I started that way because that’s what I know most. And then afterwards…and I have great people behind the Edgewater community.

So when something is going on, I would just go to the alderman over there and I…. Like I said before, you have to go there, and talk to them there; they are very much open and really great. So I really see something great. Mr. Osterman really talked to me, gave me hope on that direction, or somehow… He’s really [a] community oriented man. He believes in people coming together and he told me, he said, “Then get your people together, build this strong community over here.” So when you have someone like that behind, it’s good. It makes you feel like home. And you are home. It’s not even about feeling; it’s about what you’re doing, and being integrated and all that.

That’s one thing so great about U.S., is that how much you put in, that’s how much you going to feel. But it’s not like some of the places that no matter how much you put in, they always make you feel like a stranger. But U.S. is not like that. It’s how much you…put in, and how you believe it. So if you are not well integrated, it’s really coming from your side. Some people don’t want to integrate. They just want to come, and say, “Ok, I came here, land of opportunity. Let me have a door opened for me, and then I’ll maybe go back,” something like that. You can still go back, and create that…bringing the world together, that’s what this country’s all about. Bringing people together and U.S. is doing tremendous work in that sense. If you look at U.S., from what I knew before, you might see that something that is so big and very much, but it’s not. It’s big, but it’s well structured.

If you get involved in your community you’re going to find out that people are there, families are coming together, they care about… But if you isolate yourself, then you don’t really know what is going on. So you have to be open up and go find out what is, what is available to you. They try as much as possible within the community to let people know about what is… During the summertime a lot of programs are going on, in the community, in Edgewater community. We try to let people know about it, and it’s good. I also believe that it’s up to the leaders, right, the leaders of different communities…Ghanese…that have to get more involved, Ethiopians have to get more involved…people from Nepal, Burma…everyone have to get more involved and to know what is really going on so you can impart also to your people.


ML: Would you call Edgewater home?

CN: Yes. Yes. Yes, because the ministry is here. Every time I mention ministry, it’s people, right? People coming together…yes, yes. And different religions are also within the community. But we are not fighting. We’re just for one purpose, to serve G‑d, which is very good. Very good.


ML: Thank you very much for your time. I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to your story.

CN: Thank you very much. Thank you.