At first, pursuing the American dream was a nightmare for former Nigerian immigrant Emmanuel Ajide.
He said it was like being “in a war.”
He won the Green Card Lottery at the expense of being separated from his family.
For seven long years.
But the story has a happy and tearful ending as the Trinity Evangelical Covenant Church at 9230 S. Pulaski in Oak Lawn, rallied to help Ajide reunite with his family after being separated from them for all that time.
Rev. James R. Sandberg, known by his congregation as Pastor Jim said: “I promised Emmanuel I would help him. Our entire congregation pulled funds together to answer the call.”
That was a good call. It rang to the tune of $3,400 and change to help him reunite with his family.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the Green Card Lottery is administered annually. It’s meant to diversify the immigrant population in the United States by selecting applicants, mostly from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
“I wanted the opportunity to live a better life,” Ajide said. “I didn’t know I’d have to fight for it like I was in a war.”
Ajide said when he entered the lottery in Nigeria, his paperwork reflected a single status.
“When you’re selected, it’s a long process. By the time I was approved to come to America, I had married my fiancé, Olayemi, and had a daughter named Ayomide, whom was only six month’s old.”
What does one do in this situation?
Ajide chose to keep quiet about his family status.
“I thought it would be an easier process for my family to come to America once I got here. I was wrong.” Ajide said, “The strain of being apart nearly broke us.”
There was a war raging alright, most of the time, over the phone.
“Olayemi didn’t understand,’’ Ajide said. “She felt abandoned. Every day on the phone she cried, some days from sadness and others out of anger. She cussed me out-a lot!”
Due to the expense, Ajide said he could only visit his family once a year, staying only two or three weeks each time, which he said made the separation even more agonizing. During one of those trips back, Olayemi conceived their second child, a son named, Olawale.
“I didn’t meet my son until he was 14 months old.” Ajide said, “When we met, he looked at me like, ‘Who is this man?’”
The church sat across the street from Ajide’s apartment.
“I’m slow about getting around to things. I lived there three years before I visited.” Ajide said, “Pastor Jim became like a father to me. He helped me cope with what I was going through. My marriage gained strength again when I met him. He helped me to recognize my wife as my partner and told me if I stayed committed to our partnership, we’d make it through any situation.”
Sandberg and his wife, Charlene, have been married 39 years. “I wasn’t trying to give Emmanuel marriage advice,” Sandberg said. “I just counseled to his need.”
Ajide left Nigeria in June 2008, his family arrived in the United States in June.
To support himself and his family while here in the states, he worked as a certified nursing assistant while he completed a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix. He is now a case manager for a nursing home.
“The first time I arrived home from work to my family, the kids pounced on me,” said Ajide. He teared up. “My son screamed, ‘My Daddy! My Daddy!’ They truly are my happiness and my joy.”
Olayemi said the time away from her husband was especially difficult on the kids.
“It was hard explaining to the kids why their dad was away. But now, we’re all happy. There are no words to describe what it feels like to lay down and see my husband beside me.”
Olayemi’s sentiments were equally pleasing toward the Oak Lawn church.
“We are forever grateful to Pastor Jim and this church for the love they’ve shown us,” she said. “Not even in Africa have we experienced this kind of love.”