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“We make it clear to asylum seekers who want to convert that furthering their application is not a reason to become a Christian”, a pastor says.
More than 400 Finnish priests, mostly Lutheran, have signed a petition requesting that the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri) make use of the clergy’s knowledge in dealing with asylum seekers who convert to Christianity.
"The parishes have real expertise with people who have converted to Christianity from Islam or another religion", Jouni Lehikoinen, vicar at St Michael’s parish in Turku, says.
The authorities at Migri only conduct one interview when determining an applicant's religion.
The petition will be delivered to Interior Minister Paula Risikko on 20 September.
“FURTHERING AN APPLICATION IS NOT A REASON TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN”
According to Lehikoinen, in some Islamic countries people who have converted to Christianity in Finland may face persecution.
He says the church makes efforts to avoid helping asylum seekers convert to Christianity only to advance their asylum applications.
"We make it clear to asylum seekers who want to convert that furthering their application is not a reason to become a Christian", Lehikoinen says.
MUSLIMS TURN INTO CHRISTIANITY
The Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the national historic church in the country, has previously estimated that hundreds of asylum seekers have converted to Christianity since arriving in Finland.
Some twenty young Afghani men are currently enrolled in pre-confirmation teaching at the Tainionkoski parish centre in Imatra, Eastern Finland, where they have copies of the New Testament in the Dari language at their disposal.
The classes are in English, with a Dari interpreter on hand via Skype.
"Asylum seekers began attending our services so we reacted by starting up the lessons", says pastor Vesa Julin.
DISILLUSIONMENT WITH ISLAM
Many of the new converts cite a dissatisfaction or disillusionment with Islam as the reason behind their conversion. All of them are essentially in exile from their homes countries and have been through a harrowing asylum process.
"I haven't been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I've converted, it would mean trouble for me", Golamir Hossaini points out.
NOT GOING BACK HOME
In order to be accepted into the Evangelical Lutheran Church, converts must attend and pass the religious training phase, undergo the confirmation ceremony and be in regular contact with the parish for three months.
According to Pastor Julin, “the process represents a significant shift in faith and values”.
Many of those who have renounced Islam say they are treated as infidels in their home countries, and all of them say they do not believe they will ever return to Afghanistan.