The sport of distance running has taught Come Nzibarega, ’18, to be tough and to endure pain, and to remain disciplined and focused. He has applied these lessons to his everyday life, even when he was kidnapped in Burundi, his native country, and tortured by rebels, who cut a tendon in his foot so he couldn’t escape. Even when he lived, hungry and aimless, for six years in an Ethiopian refugee camp. Even when, in 2012, he boarded a plane bound for America, weeping tears of anguish for his family and homeland behind him, and tears of joy and gratitude for the destination ahead.
Four years after resettling in Spokane, Nzibarega joined the Whitworth track & field team as a middle-distance runner, and he began earning a degree in educational studies through the School of Continuing Studies.
"Being on the track & field team has been a huge blessing," says Nzibarega, who is 29. "I feel like we are family. I love that every day before practice we all pray together. That brings joy in my heart and is what matters most for me. Competing is my way to glorify God with the gift he has given me." Head Coach Toby Schwarz says Nzibarega is a blessing to the team in equal measure.
"Come is helping to make our team better by not only his athletic ability, but also by his example of godly character," Schwarz says. "He has a spirit about him that is calm yet confident, compassionate yet courageous, intelligent yet thoughtful, and talented yet humble."
A speedy stride is just one of Nzibarega’s gifts; another is languages: he speaks five fluently. In Burundi, a small, francophone country in eastern Africa, he had earned a university degree in English and intended to teach high-school English.
"I have six siblings," he says, "and my dad sacrificed everything for us to go to school." Nzibarega enrolled at Whitworth to upgrade his education and to honor his father. "The degree I am going to get will be dedicated to him."
"I have seen God make a way
where there seems to be no way."
Nzibarega also chose Whitworth because of its Christian values and for the "awesome community" he found here. "I wanted to join a community of people who have high goals, as I do," he says. "That way I am always inspired and motivated to keep pushing toward my life goals."
After graduating, Nzibarega plans to earn a master’s degree in education studies at Whitworth and to teach French at a college. He currently teaches three levels of French and oversees the high-school French program at Northwest Christian Schools, in Colbert, Wash.
"I value education so much," says Nzibarega, who will apply for U.S. citizenship this year. "I believe in the words of Nelson Mandela when he said that education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. I love teaching and I think it will be a great way to equip and shape the minds of future leaders of this nation."
While he values education highly, Nzibarega’s faith is the foundation of his life: God’s presence sustained him throughout the hardships he endured in the refugee camp.
"He has a spirit about him that is calm yet confident, compassionate
yet courageous, intelligent yet thoughtful, and talented yet humble."
"I have seen God make a way where there seems to be no way," he says. "I am a living testimony of his goodness and power. For sure he will never leave us or forsake us. Yes! He is mighty to save."
For videos and an article on Nzibarega’s inspirational life story, click here.