Pastor Zahid Kenny, now living in Barnstaple, talks about how he was forced to flee his home in Pakistan in fear for his life.

A pastor who was forced to flee his home country fearing for his life following religious persecution has been granted residency in the UK.

Zahid Kenny, 36, a Christian pastor from Pakistan, arrived in the UK seeking asylum in October.

He has now settled in Barnstaple with his wife and four children, after the Home Office granted him a five-year residency.

He said: “About two years ago, we had to leave Pakistan to save our lives as a family.

“So as a result of that we were living in Bangkok but for us, going back to Pakistan every three months to renew our visas meant the threat was still there – it is still there.”

Zahid said he had three fatwa (religious rulings) on his head and could be killed at any time.

Prior to their request for permanent residency, Zahid, 36, and his wife Mahreen, 34, were invited to the UK to speak about their work as missionaries.

“We originally came on business visas – I was invited to speak at a conference back in 2014 and then two years later, my wife was also invited to speak about her work pioneering schools for slave children back in Pakistan,” he said.

However, due to the constantly changing visa policies in Thailand, combined with the imminent death threats in Pakistan, the family were forced to travel to the UK in search for safety.

Zahid told the Gazette: “I am very, very thankful to the Home Office for their decision.

“When we came, we travelled all around the UK – Scotland, Wales, the Midlands, London, and then we came here to North Devon and whenever we passed Barnstaple my wife said ‘oh, this looks like home’.”

Zahid became a Christian pastor after experiencing a difficult childhood as a street kid in Pakistan.

He said: “I started drinking at eight-and-a-half, I was a street kid selling drugs, doing drugs; and I got saved and became a Christian at the age of 14 in my school.

“My principal invited me to become a Christian and that changed my life, inside-out.”

Every Sunday, Zahid continues his pastoral work by preaching at different churches around the UK, including in North Devon.