Rod Dreher summarized several reports that many Muslim refugees have converted to Christianity when they arrived in Europe. Harriet Sherwood at The Guardian reports: “At Trinity church in the Berlin suburb of Steglitz, the congregation has grown from 150 two years ago to almost 700, swollen by Muslim converts, according to Pastor Gottfried Martens. Earlier this year, churches in Berlin and Hamburg reportedly held mass conversions for asylum seekers at municipal swimming pools.”
Similar claims have emerged from 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. At Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral in the UK, a weekly Persian service attracts between 100 and 140 people. Nearly all are migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and elsewhere in central Asia.”
According to an account from Nadette De Visser at the Daily Beast, “Hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans have been lining up at a local swimming pool in Hamburg, Germany, to be baptized as Christians. In the Netherlands and Denmark, as well, many are converting from Islam to Christianity, and the trend appears to be growing. Indeed, converts are filling up some European churches largely forsaken by their old Christian flocks.” De Visser concludes, “judging by reports from different media outlets, it is safe to assume the number runs into the thousands, maybe even tens of thousands who say they want the Gospel.”
The Guardian piece focuses on an Iranian convert, Mohammad Eghtedarian, who has become a curate at Liverpool’s Cathedral and is helping refugee converts with their asylum applications as he catechizes them. Eghtedarian’s own story is a dramatic one: “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. Before being granted asylum, 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.’”
Some converts were already questioning Islam before migrating: Johannes, another Iranian, left Tehran 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?” He was beaten for attending Bible studies in Tehran, and jumped at the chance to migrate to Austria when the opportunity opened.
Christians can be gullible about conversions, and there are plenty of reasons for skepticism here. It looks a little too convenient that Muslims become Christians while they await word on their visa applications. De Visser is skeptical, but also points out that conversion comes with costs as well as benefits. A convert could be in serious trouble if he returns to his home country. And conversion doesn’t necessarily help a refugee get settled in Europe anyway: “conversion to Christianity can actually damage one’s chances of asylum in the Netherlands.”
These reports encourage the hope that the painful upheaval of recent migration, the crush of refugees in Europe, and the many political, logistical, and other challenges that come with that—that it all may have a silver lining: God is bringing a hardened mission field to the doorstep of the church, and many churches are taking up the challenge.
It’s not the first time that “Europe” has been overrun by invaders, and it wouldn’t be the first time the conquering invaders were conquered by the gospel. Converted invaders, in fact, were the makers of Europe.