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The Onyx House helps immigrant families settle into a new life

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The only things Chindanu brought with him to the United States in June of 2016 were $50 and hope.

Like so many others, Chindanu came to America searching for opportunity. He was admitted to the Indiana University McKinney School of Law.

But also like so many others who come for the possibilities, Chindanu found his share of struggles. Immigration paperwork cost thousands of dollars; tuition was expensive; food wasn’t always abundant.

“I had nobody,” said Chindanu, who came to the U.S. alone from Nigeria.

That’s where The Onyx House stepped in to help.

Founded by Uche Christian in 2003 in Nigeria, The Onyx House helps immigrants — most of whom are from African countries — with basic needs while they adjust to a new life in America. That could mean providing a temporary place to live, helping with food, offering support and even handing out cash assistance.

Chindanu said The Onyx House helped with tuition and gave him $2,000 for immigration paperwork, along with food assistance and smaller amounts of money here and there.

“It’s very fulfilling and satisfying knowing someone’s watching your back,” he said. “God can use anybody to make an impact on your life.”

The Recorder is using only the first name of immigrants interviewed for this article, since they are currently undocumented.

Unfortunately, there’s a false perception that immigrants get everything for free, Christian said. There’s this idea that the government just gives them health care, a place to sleep, education, all of that.

“Nothing can be farther from the truth,” he said.

One of the most difficult parts about immigrating to the United States is getting a Social Security number. Until then, immigrants are forced to basically live as much of their lives as they can in the shadows, for fear of possible deportation or other punishment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it especially difficult to get all of the right paperwork and identification.

Cathy, who came to the United States in June of 2018 from Zambia, said she hasn’t been able to get a Social Security number or a driver’s license.

It’s been draining, but of all the help she’s gotten from The Onyx House, Cathy said the greatest has been wisdom.

“You have to strive,” she said. “You have to be strong. You have to trust the Lord. Remember whatever you do, God is on your side.”

The Onyx House came to America in 2008 and is headquartered in south Indianapolis. With about seven staff locally, Christian said the organization can help anywhere from seven to 15 families at a time.

Christian, who also travels the world as an evangelist, came to America as a college student in 2003 with the promise of an athletic scholarship to play soccer at the University of Indianapolis. There was a coaching change, though, and he didn’t end up with a scholarship.

He didn’t know exactly what to do in that situation, given he was in an unfamiliar country.

Christian said he worked long hours to pay his tuition instead of going back home and got his degree in information systems in 2008. He also has a master’s degree in health informatics from IUPUI and works as an architecture contractor for the state.

Christian is the alumni board president at the University of Indianapolis.

“I have it so easy now,” he said while laughing. “All that pain and suffering I had helped me to the point where I have empathy.”

The Onyx House usually helps people for the first three to six months they’re in America, Christian said, but if they ever fall on hard times after that, they’re welcome to come back.

“We can’t change the world,” he said, “but I think we can make a difference.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

Uche Christian, an evangelist and founder of The Onyx House, conducts a revival meeting in Kerala, India. (Photo provided)

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