“I am 16 years old.”
“Wait, what? That means you left home when you were only 13.”
We met Malik* on chilly Monday afternoon in a square where recently arrived refugees hang out. He did not fit our typical picture of a refugee: clean jeans, t-shirt, black winter coat and shoes too small for his feet.
Originally from Senegal, Malik left his home three years ago. His journey took him through Mali, Algeria, Syria, Italy and then France just four days before we met him.
Realizing that he only had the clothes on his back and whatever he had in his backpack, we offered to take him to the grocery store for some food. Not understanding our English, the local missions pastor with us translated, and Malik’s face lit up in a painful smile. He was dealing with a horrible toothache.
We put bananas, mangos and a soda into the grocery basket, soft foods for his teeth. But after that he shook his head, no more. He didn’t want too much because he needed to be able to fit it in his small backpack. He would be sleeping outside for the next few nights.
Afterward we stopped at a cafe, and over coffee heard more of his story.
Malik left home three years ago in search of a better life. His grandmother had been caring for him, after both of his parents were tragically killed when he was a young boy. Without telling her that he was leaving, he just left. While he was in Italy, Malik heard that she had passed away and was overcome with guilt.
We were surprised to hear that Malik claimed to come from a “Christian” background. But he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus or know anything about what it meant to live as a Christian. Jesus’ forgiveness and healing were foreign concepts to him. For years, he had been burdened with the shame and regret of leaving his grandmother behind to die alone. So we shared the story of Jesus with him. After hearing that Jesus has taken on these burdens for himself and that he could live free of them in Christ, Malik prayed a prayer of salvation!
The next day we invited Malik to come along as we visited a Jewish neighborhood and looked for people willing to talk with us. He joined us as we sat down with a Jewish bakery owner and read Isaiah 53 together, a prophecy of the crucifixion and conquering of death and sin in us.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
Malik saw us engage people in conversation and ask them if we could pray for them. It was a picture of disciples making disciples who make disciples. It was the best training he could receive after accepting Christ into his life.
Unfortunately, it was Sunday before we could see Malik again. But when he saw us, the first thing out of his mouth was, “I was nostalgic for you!” Of course, this is not a typical English sentence, but what Malik meant could only be captured with this literal translation. He walked back with us to the church's cafe and we discussed Acts 8:26-39 together, a story of salvation and baptism.
In this passage, the prophet Philip came upon a eunuch reading the very same Scripture we read with the Jewish bakery owner. Prompted by the Spirit, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The eunuch responded, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Then Philip shared with him the good news about Jesus and baptized him.
Malik, much like this eunuch, was thirsting for someone to help him understand. On Monday afternoon, a week after we met and he accepted Christ, we were able to see Malik again, buy him a Bible and explain more of the gospel story.
Our encounter with Malik is an incredible glimpse into missions across Europe: engaging people in conversation, building relationships, looking to find where God is already working in the hearts of people, following up the next day, asking questions, loving people, making disciples.
*name changed to protect privacy