Names have been changed.
Converting to Christianity put my life in danger, but it also helped guide me to safety.
I grew up in Conakry, the capital of Guinea, in West Africa. My mom died when I was 7, and after that I lived with my dad, my two brothers, and then my stepmother. My family was Muslim, like 85% of people in Guinea.
But even when I was very young, I felt more Christian than Muslim. I had more Christian friends than Muslim friends, and I loved going to church with them.
The Christian kids seemed more positive. I liked that the pastor said God loves us all. I loved the singing and praying. My closest friends Alphonse and Francois were Christian, and their father Jean was my father’s best friend.
My father raised my brothers and me with freedom. He told us that we could do what we wanted as long as it wasn’t bad. He never told us that we had to be Muslim. He said, “No matter what religion you are, if you just believe in God, you are saved.”
He also said, “Everything you are doing without loving that thing, you are making a mistake.’’ That gave me the confidence to worship as a Christian.
Not all his friends agreed with him. I heard one say, “If you do not pray the five daily prayers of Muslims, you are going to hell.” My father asked the man to show his evidence that God ever said that. They continued to debate and it got hot. I was listening from the living room and laughing to myself.
I loved seeing my dad express himself to his friends with confidence. Those are some of my favorite memories of my childhood.
When I was 14, my father got sick. He quickly lost weight, became partly paralyzed, and had dementia. A year and a half after he first got sick, my stepmother and my brothers left. My stepmother said they were going to a village called Kankan to visit her parents, but nobody I know saw her there, and they never came back.
I was left alone with my sick father. It was sad and scary to see him get worse. Sometimes he forgot my name, and then he was not able to speak at all. I was the only person to take care of him. Jean, my dad’s best friend, brought us food and money, but still I cried every day.
Loving God or Angry God?
Jean and some of my father’s other friends sent my father to a smaller village called Dabola for traditional medication. He stayed with the traditional doctor and his family. Because their house was small, though, after two days, I had to go back to Conakry to stay with my uncle.
My father was more open and loving than my uncle, who was a strict Muslim and said that only Muslims are the children of God. He lived with his wife and their four children. I soon realized it was a bad place for me. He didn’t let me go to school. Instead he made me work in the house. He hit me. He acted like I wasn’t his family.
The way my uncle treated me or other people in front of me didn’t seem how a believer should act. He cheated people in his business, and he got drunk and abused people he had power over.
I felt like an orphan living with my uncle, working for him and not going to school. It’s still painful to think about that time. I did not get back in touch with Francois and Alphonse or any other friends because I was depressed and sad.
But after a year and a half at my uncle’s house, I ran into Alphonse and Francois in my neighborhood. They were happy that I was back in Conakry, but surprised that I had not gone to their house yet or been in school. We decided to go together to
a football game at the small stadium in our neighborhood.
They felt my sadness. After the football game, I showed them my uncle’s house. I didn’t tell them what was going on with my uncle, but because they were my friends for a long time, they could tell something was wrong.
Francois said, “Don’t worry. You will be fine.” We continued to their house, and I saw their father, Alphonse. He asked why I didn’t come straight to his house when I got back to Conakry. I said my uncle gave me a lot of things to do and he didn’t like me to walk around.
He asked me about my father, and I said I’d heard he was doing better.
A couple of months after we went to the football game, Francois and Alphonse came to my house. They were looking good and clean and wearing formal white shirts and black pants. They were going to the church. My uncle wasn’t home, so I joined them.
It was good to see the church I went to when I lived with my dad. It was like our recreation area. There was a big ceremony that day; seven people were going to be baptised. I suddenly decided I wanted to do that too, and asked if I could.
Francois said, “Of course it is possible. But will your uncle accept it?”
“It’s my faith, not my uncle’s faith,” I said. I was 16 years old, and I realized I’d been waiting for this for a long time.
Some people thought that I wanted to convert because of my uncle’s abuse, but that wasn’t it. I had been drawn to Christianity; it felt like my faith. I feel nothing, good or bad, about Islam.
I was excited. We went inside the church and met the pastor. I told him that I wanted to be baptised. He said, “Welcome.” Someone brought a long white dress for me to put on.
I put on the dress and joined the line with the others. When I got up to the altar, the priest sprinkled water on my head, and said something I did not understand.
After the baptism, I sat with my friends. I felt like a newborn, and I felt happy. My friends were also happy for me.
Tortured for My Religion
But then I had to go back to my uncle’s house. Within a few days, people in our neighborhood discovered that I’d been baptised and they told him. He kicked me out. I slept outside for three days. I read a Bible that my friends gave me, and that gave me strength to survive.
Members of the mosque my uncle belonged to said it was his fault I had converted. They said he hadn’t shown me how to be a good Muslim.
That made him angry, and he sent his children, my cousins, to find me. When they did, they beat me. Looking at their angry faces, I thought it was going to be the end of my life.
They dragged me back to their home. My uncle kept me tied up in a room for several weeks. He beat me to try to make me say I was a Muslim, not a Christian. He said if I didn’t change my mind, he would kill me. I was scared, but I was ready to die for my faith. I had chosen my way and nothing could change it. I prayed often. I believe God responded to my prayers and helped me.
People in the neighborhood knew that I was locked in the room by my uncle and someone told Jean. On a day that nobody was home, I heard a window breaking. It was Jean breaking in, and he took me out of there.
I stayed at Jean’s for a few weeks. I felt lost, and scared that my uncle would find me. Francois told us that he was still looking for me and wanted to kill me. The police wouldn’t help me because they called it a “family problem.”
Jean could be hurt for helping me, so he decided to send me out of the country. Over the next few months he raised money for my flight while I stayed with his sister in a distant neighborhood. I stayed inside the whole time so no one would know I was there.
Finally, in December 2018, Jean had raised enough money for a plane ticket to Ecuador. He told me how to take a taxi from the airport to a bus that would take me through Central America.
From there, I went to Mexico. I met a Christian in a church in Tijuana, and I told him my story. He said, “You have to write that down.” And now I am.
Then I crossed the border into California and gave myself up to Homeland Security.
They asked why I was there, and I said my uncle back in Guinea wanted to kill me. They put me in a detention center where you couldn’t tell if it was day or night.
After four days, they sent me to Chicago, where I lived in a shelter for five months. In Chicago, people first started talking to me about asylum (working with lawyers to prove I was in danger in Guinea and should be allowed to live in the U.S. legally).
Then I flew to New York City and entered the Jewish Childcare Center Association’s (JCCA) unaccompanied minors program. Unaccompanied minors are immigrants younger than 18, who come to the U.S. without parents or other adult guardians.
I live with a foster family in the Bronx, and I just found out I will be moving to Syracuse as part of a program for people up to age 24. I don’t have asylum yet, but lawyers in Syracuse will keep working for me to get it.
I talk to my father once a week on the phone, but I know I can’t go back to Guinea. I have little control of my life now.
As I pass through so many different countries and homes, the Bible and my faith keeps me going and connects me to other Christians. I know it can help others, too. Some Sundays, I work on my art, and on others I go to church.
Psalm 121 is one of my favorites, and I like to share it. It starts: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
The psalm’s final verse seems like it’s about my life, because God has guided me through so much: “The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”