The news moves so quickly and we gorge ourselves on it so mindlessly, that I sometimes wonder if anyone really remembers the 21 Coptic martyrs created just last February, and whose deaths moved us as much and as deeply, back then as the deaths of Aylan and Galip Kurdi are moving us now.
Have we forgotten the 21 men, all Christian save for one whom, is was reported, watched the Christians die proclaiming Jesus and declared that he was taking their savior as his own.
Tertullian said “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” I couldn’t help but remember that, and the Coptic Martyrs, as I read this report from the AP: At a Berlin church, Muslim refugees converting in droves
Mohammed Ali Zonoobi bends his head as the priest pours holy water over his black hair. “Will you break away from Satan and his evil deeds?” pastor Gottfried Martens asks the Iranian refugee. “Will you break away from Islam?”
“Yes,” Zonoobi fervently replies. Spreading his hands in blessing, Martens then baptizes the man “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
Mohammed is now Martin — no longer Muslim, but Christian.
Martens recognizes that some convert in order to improve their chances of staying in Germany — but for the pastor motivation is unimportant. Many, he said, are so taken by the Christian message that it changes their lives. And he estimates that only about 10 percent of converts do not return to church after christening.
“I know there are — again and again — people coming here because they have some kind of hope regarding their asylum,” Martens said. “I am inviting them to join us because I know that whoever comes here will not be left unchanged.”
Being Christian alone does not help an applicant, and Chancellor Angela Merkel went out of her way this week to reiterate that Islam “belongs in Germany.” But in Afghanistan and Iran, for example, conversion to Christianity by a Muslim could be punished by death or imprisonment, and it is therefore unlikely that Germany would deport converted Iranian and Afghan refugees back home.
A dicey story. John Burger asks a fair question: Is conversion sincere, or just a way to secure asylum status?
We want sincere converts to Christianity. On the other hand, no one can predict how Christ will penetrate any heart, and so we count every convert as Christian, particularly those running from barbarians intent on killing them, either way, whether they are Christian or Muslim.
It is striking that these conversions of Iranians and Syrians are all happening in Protestant churches all around Europe. Of course, we Catholics do make entry into the church a more arduous and time-consuming practice, which might be one reason why people who feel like they are running on borrowed time might go elsewhere to be baptized.
Who knows whether these new Christians are being influenced by plain fear and opportunism, or the new martyrs of their region, or some combination of both?
Interesting things are happening, that is for certain. I wrote earlier today of how Europe’s Christian sensibilities are being put to the test. What might these newly-styled-somewhat-suspect Christians might bring to the answer.