Friday, October 14, 2016

Muslim refugees: The future of Christianity in Europe?

When I first met Mattias in July at a refugee shelter just north of Berlin, he went by the name Mohammed. He had arrived in Germany from Iran the previous fall, along with thousands of other asylum-seekers—sometimes up to 10,000 arrived in a single day. After the German government assigned him to this shelter, he converted to Christianity. “I wouldn’t say I was a Muslim” before, he told me. “I didn’t go to a mosque for an entire year. Now I am going to church every week.” He expects it will take about three weeks to get off his church’s waiting list to be baptized. Perhaps once he’s more settled in Germany, he’ll be able to change his name legally to Mattias, his chosen Christian name. ...

We sat together in a sparse dormitory room at the shelter with three other Iranians who had converted from Islam to Christianity. They attend a Protestant church together...

Throughout Germany, the pews of churches like theirs are filled increasingly by asylum-seekers. ...

Muslim converts to Christianity that I spoke to in Germany cited the redemptive power of Jesus’s story, and disillusionment with Islam. It’s also worth noting the more earthly forces potentially at work: Germany does not grant refugee status to Iranians as easily as it does Syrians and Iraqis. ... Iranians seeking refugee status must prove that if they are sent home, they stand the risk of being persecuted for their beliefs. In Iran, that often means Christian converts. ...

A week after that meal, I visited Trinity Lutheran Church, which also hosts a large Iranian congregation. ...

Up the stairs and past the Iranian ushers, we poked our heads into the nave. There were few seats available, so we crowded into the choir loft along with the other stragglers. There appeared to be around 300 people in attendance, mostly Iranians, but my translator pointed out that a line of men seated behind us included Hazaras from Afghanistan—also current or former Shia Muslims—like the Iranians. Only a dozen or so in attendance appeared to be German. A woman in the front pews still wore a hijab. ...

[Pastor Gottfried] Martens said his congregation was “lucky” to have its pews filled with asylum-seekers from the Muslim world. Being around them, he said, brought meaning to his life. “It’s such a job to be together with these wonderful people who have risked so much for their Christian faith,” he said. “I can hardly imagine [working] in a normal German congregation anymore.” His church currently counts some 1,000 baptized Iranian and Afghan members with 300 on the waiting list, he said. Before someone is baptized, he must pass a kind of Christian entrance exam by taking classes on what it means to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. It’s one way of making sure people aren’t just becoming Christian for the visa, to ascertain whether “they really understand what the Christian faith means,” Martens said.
--Laura Kasinof, The Atlantic, on the spiritual fruit of the refugee crisis