The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
Christian weekly newspaper Uusi Tie (Finland) made a survey of the number of Christian baptisms among the new immigrants in the country.
Last autumn almost 30,000 Muslims arrived in Finland as part of the continent wide wave of immigrants coming to Europe. Many churches faced a surprising new experience as Muslims were coming to churches with questions about Christian faith.
The national historic church in the country is the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Marja-Liisa Laihia, the specialist on immigrant issues in this denomination says the interest has been greatest among Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians.
Baptism classes have been offered to those who indicate that they want to become Christian, but not all take the step to be baptised. These last normally several months and, therefore, there is plenty of time to consider the possibility of getting baptised.
Teaching is given either in English or through an interpreter. Bible and Catechism is used in the language of the students. One senior pastor in the Lutheran church describes that those coming to baptism are tired of the violence in Islam and are attracted by the love and grace in Christian message.
OVER 100 BAPTISMS IN LUTHERAN CHURCHES SINCE AUTUMN
The survey covered 165 Lutheran churches, selecting those where there is a reception centre within the parish area. The senior pastors were asked how many Muslim asylum seekers had been baptised among those who arrived to Finland in the autumn of 2015.
128 responses were received. In these churches a total of 117 Muslims had been baptised.
One Lutheran pastor, who speaks Arabic as his mother tongue, has baptised 18 Muslims since last autumn in the Helsinki area, and five persons are in the process of getting baptism. These are all Iraqis. He gives them a baptism course, which is about 45–50 hours long. There are more people hoping to join the baptism classes than what he can take.
“Even 40–70 baptisms would be possible, but I can’t teach them all by myself, because it takes time. I would need more people to teach them”, the pastor said.
Muslims are tired of Islam, he says. Now, in a foreign country they are free to choose Christianity. Some families accept the conversion, but other families disown the baptised member.
PENTECOSTALS ACTIVE IN EVANGELISM
The survey focused on the Lutheran church, but for getting some comparison, 17 Pentecostal churches were also approached. 13 churches responded.
In these evangelical churches, 108 Muslims had been baptised.
The general understanding is that the Pentecostal churches have been more active in evangelising the newly arrived Muslims.