Hello. My name is John Calvin, and I need your help. We’ve never met, and we probably never will, but please don’t stop reading.
I’m going to tell you a little about myself. But first I want to be totally up front with you and, before we go any further, you should know that that I have a favor to ask. A huge favour: as big a favour as any person can ask of another.
Ok, here goes.
I need you to save my life.
That’s sounds crazy, right? I know it sounds crazy when I say it, when I read it and when I think about it. It sounds crazy when it’s the last thing on my mind when I finally fall asleep, exhausted and afraid. It sounds crazy when it slowly dawns on me while I wake up from a dream wherein I’m safe.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a scam. I’m not asking for money, or a spare kidney. But it isn’t a joke either. There isn’t a punchline. I really do need your help.
Let’s start from the beginning. My name is John Calvin, and I’m a Christian, gay, Palestinian. I wasn’t always called John Calvin, though – not many kids in my neighbourhood were named after the 16th century reformer – and I wasn’t always a Christian. I can’t tell you my birth name but if I tell you that I was born into one of the most pro-Hamas families in the West Bank, you can guess the religion in which I was raised.
From as early as I can remember, I was taught that Islam was the one true faith, that violence was the only answer, and that the Jews were our enemies. These were facts, as real and obvious as the fact that the sky is blue. These were “facts” and deep down I wasn’t sure if I believed them.
I know that lots of people lose their faith and change their minds when and where they least expect it. In Christianity, we talk about “the road to Damascus,” referencing Saul’s conversion in a part of the world that for much of my life was almost on my doorstep. My moment arrived in an Israeli jail, after I was arrested for illegally crossing the border, escaping from yet another argument with my family and the violence of my father. I was looking for answers to questions when and where I least expected them.
It was in an Israeli jail where the doubts I had about everything I had ever been taught were finally silenced. Another man, a Palestinian man, hurt me in a way I could never have imagined, in a way that just isn’t talked about in our society. If that was unexpected, that was nothing compared to what came next. The Israelis who worked in the prison – “the Jews” – looked after me and took care of me, making sure the story never got out to those who would use it against me. The Palestinians I had been taught to die for had hurt and abandoned me while the Israelis I had been taught to kill acted with compassion and helped me heal.
Shortly after this I began my journey of conversion, opening my eyes and heart to a religion that denounced violence and hatred. When my parents found out, my father attacked me with a knife. I escaped, but when I later I met him, he beat me up and had me arrested. I’m not entirely sure how I survived being jailed with men who knew of my conversion but somehow I did. But I also knew that my time and luck were running out.
Which is how I ended up in Canada, on a paid scholarship at a Christian college, in a country where no one was going to kill me for who I was, what I believed, and whom I loved. Isn’t that what everyone deserves?
That’s where my story ought to end. I could tell you about the friends I made, the jobs I did, the life I built for myself, but these things would be as boring and average to you as they were amazing and unexpected to me. I changed my name, and I hoped I could put everything I’ve told you about behind me.
But I can’t. Because, due to my being born into a Hamas family, the Canadian government decided to deport me back to Palestine. In January 2015, I gave an interview with the Times of Israel about my situation. Speaking to Israelis! That is a death penalty. Converting to Christianity! That is a death penalty. Being open about my sexuality! Again, that is certain death. If I am deported, sent back to where I was born and raised, it’s only a matter of time before I am found dead.
So that’s why I’m writing this. I know that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a good friend of Israel and I believe him to be a good man. I know if I could speak to him he’d be able to help me, and probably willing, too. But I’m running out of time, and the only thing I can think of is to let as many people know about my deportation and the consequences which will follow.
Hello. My name is John Calvin, and I want to live in a place where I can be free to be Christian, gay, and Palestinian, and a hundred and one other things. My name is John Calvin, and I want to live in a country where I’m free to forget about the circumstances of my childhood. My name is John Calvin and, most of all, I want to live.
My name is John Calvin, and I need your help, desperately.