Meet Omar, a Gambian refugee currently residing in Barcelona. His journey to Spain is complete, but his spiritual journey is just beginning.

Omar grew up in Gambia. He was the son of his father’s second wife, and when he entered adulthood, he realized there would not be enough land for him to live on the family plot. This created such conflict with his family that he feared for his life. At the encouragement of his mother, he chose to take his chances and try to make the journey to Europe and start a new life.

His first stop was Agadez, Niger. He then paid for passage on the top of a truck to make the three-day trip across the Sahara Desert to the country of Libya. There he stayed for nine months, working to raise money to cross the Mediterranean.

For Omar, Libya was a difficult place. He kept his money in a hidden place in his room, but one day while he was at work, someone stole it all. To make things more difficult, people know immigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa are mostly alone and vulnerable, so many are held hostage. Because Omar’s family was not in the position to pay anything, he escaped kidnapping. However, he does have scars and a missing tooth to remember Libya.

When Omar finally had the money to cross the sea, he was swindled out of it, and he was back to square one. This happened to him twice. Finally, through the help of a friend, he climbed into an inflatable boat headed to Italy.

This trip was much shorter, only four or five hours, though still very harrowing. The Italian Coast Guard is not permitted to assist people from a sound vessel, so the passengers slit the bottom of the raft when they spot the Coast Guard. Once the raft starts sinking, the Coast Guard steps in to rescue them. Sadly, since most Africans have not grown up around water and do not know how to swim, many immigrants drown. Omar was one of the fortunate ones; he was rescued and brought to Italy.

His journey, though, was far from over. He stayed in Italy for about a year but was unable to secure a job and housing, so he decided to go to Barcelona. I met him in the park about three months after he’d arrived. He was lonely and happy to have a conversation. Because he’d seen such hardship and I was willing to listen, our discussion quickly drifted to spiritual things. I was able to share with him a short story that covered the whole plan of salvation. His response was that big changes are taken by small steps.

I met with Omar three times while I was in Barcelona and introduced him to a believer from our partner ministry who lives there. Omar has not yet chosen to follow Jesus, but I still pray for him, and we still communicate over WhatsApp.

By Rick Maples, AIM  International