Woman escapes Congo, reunites with mom after 18 years

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Julia Kanumbi waited calmly at McGee Tyson Airport with flowers in hand for a couple of hours. It was 18 years since she last saw her mother.

Kanumbi's story to America began in 1997. With death all around her, she fled a civil war in the Congo with her sister. She walked all the way to Mozambique at the age of 11.

"Its very very far, it's 1,000 miles.You walked that distance! Oh yes," she said.

That distance is the equivalent of the distance between Knoxville and Miami.

With a lack of food and water, Julia's sister met her death in the refugee camp. But 11-year-old Kanumbi was determined. She was sent to Arizona to resettle and then migrated to Knoxville with the help of friends.

Then at 29-years-old, Kanumbi waited for her mom's arrival after a 26 hour flight. She was joined by 20 members from Eastminster Presbyterian Church.

"She has been adopted by us and now she's a daughter to all of us. She calls most of us women, she calls her mommy," said Margaret Crews, a friend and church member.

"I am so, so excited to be here. Yes, it's like my dream come true now, prayers everybody from my church family, I don't know what to say," said Kanumbi.

There was 18 years of separation and not knowing if a mother and daughter were alive. Now there is plenty of shared tears of joy and a permanent connection.