Umair, 34, Lahore, Pakistan
After converting to Christianity in 2016, my wife and I fled Pakistan for Azerbaijan. 11 months ago, Azerbaijan rejected our application for asylum. When the airports reopen at the end of August, we will be at risk of deportation back to Pakistan — where we will face jail and possibly death. Here’s my story:
I was raised in a wealthy Muslim family. Not only did I not know any Christians, but I was taught to hate them. That’s the general consensus in my country; Christians can be put to death for blasphemy against Islam. As we saw in the case of Asia Bibi, Christians may even be sentenced to death for sharing a water glass with a Muslim. I truly believed that Christianity was an evil religion…so when I moved to Malaysia for college and met Christians for the first time, I was surprised to find that I liked them.
As I got to know them, I began asking about their faith. Curious about their churches, I eventually convinced a friend to take me. It was different from what I’d been told; it felt peaceful. I sensed a major difference between Christianity and my own faith and wanted to go back the next Sunday, but my friend was afraid to get caught bringing a Muslim to church (Malaysia is also a Muslim country). I never got to go back, but I didn’t forget the experience.
After college, I moved back to Pakistan. Soon after, I met a Christian girl on Facebook. After a few years of dating, she converted to Islam so that we could get married. Everyone — including myself — believed that I’d saved her soul.
My wife tried to follow Islam, but she didn’t understand our prayer customs. 8 months into our marriage, she asked me to buy her a Bible, so she could study and pray in private. I was angry at first, but when I realized that she was really struggling, my heart softened. When I finally found one and brought it to her, she began reading each night. Sometimes, she read to me. For the first time in my life, I heard the Gospel. My wife also began praying for me and whenever she did, I felt that same peace that I’d felt in the church in Malaysia. The differences between Islam and Christianity became increasingly clear. At some point, the Holy Spirit moved in me and I recognized Jesus for who He is: Lord.
I knew that my new faith would put me in danger, but I was at total peace. My wife and I told her mother, who introduced me to her family’s pastor. The pastor invited me to church, but told me that I had to keep it a secret. “If people find out that you’re coming, they will kill me and burn the church,” he said. So, every Sunday, I went to church in secret.
After some time, my family found out. My uncle and cousin showed up at my mother-in-law’s house and began beating me. When she came out to see what was going on, they began beating her, too. In the following months, things only got worse; on top of that, we were also expecting a baby. Eventually, my wife, my mother-in-law, and I left for another city…but my family found us there. At one point, my cousins shot up our house; luckily, none of us were hurt.
The final straw came a little over a year ago, when I began driving for Uber. When I arrived to a pick-up a passenger, he asked if my name was Umair. When I said yes, he and his friends began beating me. I don’t know what weapons they used, but they broke my collarbone; it’s still fractured to this day. As I later found out, the passenger had recognized my face. He beat me because he knew I’d left Islam.
I was hesitant to leave everything behind in Pakistan, but I knew that I needed to get my wife and newborn daughter to safety. We took a bus from Pakistan to Iran, then Iran to Azerbaijan. Once in Azerbaijan, we applied for asylum. Two months later, our case was rejected. As we found out, the Pakistani government has charged my wife and me with blasphemy. They also released a fatwa pardoning anyone who kills me and my wife. In other words, if we return to Pakistan, we can be legally killed for blasphemy…either by the government or by the people. In Islam, killing an apostate is considered a noble act that will be rewarded after death; so, our lives are in major danger. Azerbaijan’s airports are currently closed due to COVID-19, but the country expects to reopen them by August 31st. Unless we’re able to gain asylum in another country by then, we will be deported back to Pakistan.
I know that God is in control; that said, I do want to live. For that reason, I’m calling on the church for help. I’ve visited a bunch of embassies here in Azerbaijan and have been speaking with travel agents and attorneys, but because we left Islam, people are hesitant to help us. I was finally put in contact with a travel agent who is willing to help us get a visa to Georgia (the country), but he is charging us $5,000. I know of other Christians who have been sent to safe places by him, so I trust him, but we simply don’t have that kind of money. We’ve been gifted $2000 so far and I am praying that we can raise the remaining $3000 and avoid deportation to Pakistan.
Though I worry, especially for my daughter, I also have a sense of peace. No matter what happens, I know who Christ is. I have lost everything for my faith — my wealth, my family, my freedom, and now possibly, my life — but I never question my decision to follow Him.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
To donate to Umair’s visa fund, visit his GoFundMe. You can also encourage Umair directly via WhatsApp at +994 50-792-0413. And above all, pray pray pray!!!!!!!!!