GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Congolese family stepped off the plane at Gerald R. Ford International Airport on Thursday to start their new lives after spending the last 16 years in a refugee camp in Burundi. 

The family was welcomed with embraces and flowers by a group of 20 former refugees and workers for Bethany Christian Services and the Fifth Reformed Church. 

“It’s the first day of the rest of their lives,” Dave Lubber, a volunteer at the Fifth Reformed Church, said. 

Lubber said the church along with Bethany Christian Services works to help refugees adapt to life in the United States.

“Our church has been doing this for 5 1/2 years now with 75 people we’ve welcomed from seven different countries,” Lubber explained. 

The groups offer services to refugees like financial support, housing and trips to doctors’ appointments. 

“We spend a lot of time with them,” Lubber said. “We give them tours of West Michigan. We invite them to our church.”

As the Congolese family was welcomed at Ford Airport, emotions ran high for everyone in attendance. 

“They just, they just mean a lot to me,” Lubber said. “I know them. I know many of these people. I’ve heard some of their stories. I know what they’ve gone through.”