As theological debates on sexuality and marriage become more and more central, many Christian denominations are being asked to clarify their views.
An article by The Guardian documents new conversions. “Jesus Christ said ‘those who use the sword will die by the sword’. This really changed my mind”, a refugee tells the British newspaper.
Well-known UK newspaper The Guardian has been the latest secular media in suggesting that many refugees coming from an Islamic background are becoming Christians in Europe.
Stern magazine already informed about a mass baptism in Germany, whereas a study by Uusie Tie published at Evangelical Focus confirmed that at least 235 asylum seekers became Christians in Finland in the las few months.
The article of The Guardian mentions the case of Trinity Church in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz, where “the congregation has grown from 150 two years ago to almost 700, swollen by Muslim converts, according to Pastor Gottfried Martens”.
In Austria, “the Austrian Catholic church logged 300 applications for adult baptism in the first three months of 2016, with the Austrian pastoral institute estimating 70% of those converting are refugees.”
Meanwhile, in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral (UK) “a weekly Persian service attracts between 100 and 140 people. Nearly all are migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere in central Asia.”
“One in four confirmations conducted by the bishop of Bradford, Toby Howarth, over the past year were of converts from Islam. Most were Iranian and most of those were asylum seekers”, the Guardian writes.
STORIES OF CONVERSIONS
An Iranian new Christian who now serves as curate at Liverpool Cathedral told his own story to the British newspaper. “His own journey, from the Iranian city of Shiraz to the UK, took him through half a dozen European countries, by truck, train and on foot. Destitute and terrified, he was offered practical and emotional support from Christians along the way.”
“Eghtedarian spent four months in Tinsley House detention centre, near Gatwick airport. ‘Every day was challenging and beautiful. Challenging because I didn’t know if they would deport me; beautiful because I was in the Lord’s hands. I promised the Lord: if you release me, I will serve you.’”
Johannes, another new Christian, left Teheran for Vienna. “Born into a Muslim family, the 32-year-old – who was previously called Sadegh – began questioning the roots of Islam at university. “I found that the history of Islam was completely different from what we were taught at school. Maybe, I thought, it was a religion that began with violence?
“A religion that began with violence cannot lead people to freedom and love. Jesus Christ said ‘those who use the sword will die by the sword’. This really changed my mind.”
While still living in Iran, Johannes already had showed interest in the Christian faith. He actually, “was ambushed with a group of others leaving a bible class but managed to escape and went into hiding”, the article says. “When the Austrian visa he had already applied for came through, he left the country. Now waiting for the outcome of his asylum application, he has not told his parents of his conversion: only his sister knows his ‘secret’”.
REAL FAITH OR JUST A SHORTCUT?
The article continues to question if asylum seekers converting to Christianity do it to have easier access to a refugee status.
Several church leaders respond by saying faith introduction courses can be one year-long and many leave them before being baptised. Churches have no interest in “proforma” Christians, an Austrian church leader is quoted as saying. Therefore, they take time to make sure the people they are serving have a real and sincere understanding of the gospel.
An Irani refugee in Belgium explained her discovery of the Christian faith in an interview with Evangelical Focus: “God brought me all the way from Iran to Belgium so I could know Him”
Read more about how refugees are turning to Christ in Germany and Finland. You can also see what churches in Europe are doing to serve refugees and migrants seeing the “Refugees in Europe” interviews.