In 2010, Paul* came to the UK to earn a degree, planning to return to his fiancée in his home country where they would start a better life. Instead, he found Christ, and now he can never return home.
Paul had made many friends at his university, and found his life full with school activities. One afternoon, Paul took the tram to meet a classmate to discuss an assignment. When he returned to the station to ride back home, he realized he had lost his ticket and couldn’t get another one without coins. Since he only had paper bills and a debit card, there was no way for him to purchase another ticket. Upset, he asked a passing man for change. The man, a Christian, gave him more than enough, and when Paul asked for his address so that he could pay him back, the man refused.
“He said, ‘No, don’t worry about it,’” Paul remembers. “I don’t know exactly the words, but, you know, he said that if you do good for others, God does good for you.”
Paul went home and searched the Internet for the verse (Ephesians 6:8) the man had referenced. He admired the man for his kindness, and he was curious about Christianity. Several of Paul’s classmates were Christians, and he casually discussed their beliefs with them. These conversations brought up more questions. Paul reached out to several organizations, including the Church Army at christianity.org. This site eventually connected him with Andrew and Jane* at the local Church of the Nazarene.
When Paul first visited the Nazarene church, he was surprised at the friendly welcome he received.
“I really felt very good because it was [a] really warm welcome, especially for me because I was [a stranger] for everyone, and especially because of [my] ethnicity. And so, but, you know, I really realized that there is something … attracting me.”
Jane gave him a New Testament. Andrew, a lecturer of the Old Testament, helped Paul overcome the language barrier of reading in English. As Paul continued to research Christianity and belief, the couple answered each question he brought to them.
Jane remembers with amazement when Paul decided he wanted to become a Christian.
“[I]t was within about three weeks that you said, no, this is what I really want to do,” Jane recalls. “I think you said that this was the main reason for you wanting to change your religion, because you’d experienced and seen love that you hadn’t seen before.”
“But every time there was an issue or just a problem,” Jane went on, “you would say to me, ‘Jesus will do better.’ And that raised my level of faith. I agree. Jesus will do better.”
Paul decided that he wanted to start following Christ right away and change his name to reflect his new faith. However, he knew that his family would not be happy with this decision. Paul had left his family of 10, extended family, and fiancée in his home country, and he didn’t know how they would react to this change. Still, the freedom and forgiveness Paul had found through the Christian faith was worth the risk.
Paul wrote a letter to his father to tell him that he had chosen to become a Christian. In the letter, he asked for his father’s blessing. His father refused, and the family swore to kill him if he returned home. They cut off funding for his schooling and expected that the UK would revoke his student visa, forcing him back to his home country. Paul sought asylum to save his life. This also would allow him to continue his studies at school and in his faith.
The separation from his family and fiancée was difficult for Paul. Andrew and Jane started acting as his new family in faith and encouraged him through the asylum process. After bringing a great deal of evidence to the government, Paul was granted five years’ refugee status in 2013.
He is a regular attender at the Nazarene church, where he was baptized, has been elected to the church board, and befriends other asylum seekers of his former faith who find their way into the church.
Paul has rarely heard from his family since he was granted asylum. In 2014 he received an email that his birth mother had passed away, and that several family members had a dream in which she told them that Paul was in the right faith and place and they should follow him. To his knowledge, they haven’t, however.
Paul still misses his family and fiancée in his native country.
“I [was] born and brought up there,” Paul says. “[S]o I really pray for everyone, yeah, all the time.”
Paul continues to search and pray, like many asylees, to be fully employed. He knows that it will take time to build a life in the UK, but he has hope in someone greater now. While he waits, he rests in the trust that Jesus will do better.
*Name changed and some details omitted for security reasons.
-- Interview conducted by Gina Grate Pottenger.