Freshman Smyrna Pervez Masih was born in Pakistan and lived there until age 13 when her family was forced to leave their country due to religious conflict. Her family lived as refugees in Thailand for two years, then relocated to Sri Lanka where they lived as refugees for another five years. During those seven years, Smyrna and her three sisters took part in overcrowded refugee programs. Smyrna longed for an education and continually begged her parents to send her to school, but they did not have financial resources.
In the third year of living in Sri Lanka, Smyrna’s family learned they would be emigrating to the United States. Despite the financial barriers to education, Smyrna set out to learn the English language before arriving in the U.S.
She found an English KJV Bible from which she learned the alphabet and taught herself to read. Her house only received internet from 12-7 a.m. Smyrna would stay up all night listening to American preachers on YouTube and Googling words that she didn’t know, memorizing the definitions. She would spend that morning teaching her sisters what she’d learned that night.
Smyrna’s family arrived in the U.S. in June 2020, and educational barriers continued to arise. She could not attend traditional high school due to her age, so she sought to receive her high school education through online night school. After seven years with no formal schooling since age 13, Smyrna finished the entire high school completion program in less than 18 months, an unofficial record for the program.
Now pursuing a Christian ministry major and Psychology minor at Bethel, Smyrna’s desire to learn is stronger than ever. She’s thriving learning from real professors who invest in both her education and well-being.
“Smyrna is one of the most organized, eager-to-learn students I’ve ever met and is on track for a 4.0 in every class,” says Rachel Kennedy, Center for Academic Success director. “From our class devotion time and her responses, she clearly has deep Biblical insight and loves Jesus.”
“I’m from a Muslim country and have always suffered from religious conflict,” says Smyrna. “My number one reason for choosing Bethel is the fact that it is a Christian college. I wanted a school that cared about and respected my relationship with God.”
Smyrna has always been active with her father in international ministry, translating his sermons from Urdu to English. After she graduates, she hopes to continue ministering with him.