Revival and persecution – in one!

Rev Dr Gottfried Martens is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a member congregation of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).

Over the past 12 or so years this congregation has welcomed hundreds of converts to Christianity, mostly former Muslims living in Germany as Iranian and Afghan refugees.

The Trinity congregation is focused on its calling as a mission church, holding regular baptismal instruction with Farsi translation, Persian Bible studies, prayer services and community outreach taking place almost daily, along with care of and advocacy for the community. As the gospel has been proclaimed, the Holy Spirit has daily added to their number so that they now total more than 1500 souls.

But it is not all ‘beer and skittles’.

As shocking as it is, many of these new Christians are subjected to persecution and beatings at the hands of Muslim extremists among the refugee population in Germany, who despise their conversion. But more shockingly, Dr Martens says they are now having their faith questioned, belittled and disregarded by the State.

Late last year, he released his annual circular, highlighting systemic discrimination in Germany when deciding the refugee claims of Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity. ‘The acceptance rate for Christian refugees is being further and further reduced for political reasons’, Dr Martens writes.

Converting to Christianity is a punishable offense in Iran and Afghanistan resulting in imprisonment or execution. And yet, despite these very real dangers, he says German courts are increasingly rejecting the refugee claims of Christian converts from these countries and sending them back to face persecution.

Dr Martens says judges set their own standards for what constitutes Christian belief when ruling on the sincerity of a convert’s faith and regularly ignore the testimony of the applicant’s pastor. ‘State officials determine what the “right’ Christian belief is … and determine who is a “serious” Christian’, he writes. He recounts one refugee who movingly testified that he could not live without receiving the body and blood of Christ, but the judge declared this as irrelevant to Christian faith. Dr Martens says ‘the judge stated that it was “not understandable” why the reception of the sacrament should be so important’, and that the Christian faith was instead merely about ‘values and rules’.

‘Of course, there are also courts that, thank God … make their decision largely dependent on the pastor’s deposition’, Dr Martens writes. But it appears that too often whether or not a refugee Christian convert in Germany gets a reasonable judge and a fair hearing is a pure lottery.

Despite these challenges, Dr Martens considers the ministry to which he has been called ‘the most beautiful service in the world, which I would never exchange for anything else’. And he asks us to ‘pray above all that those who have found their way to our congregation in the last years may continue to hold to Christ and not let their love for their Lord falter’.

Trinity congregation:
German mainline news:
HBO news story:

Based on articles written by Dr Martens and Matthew Block (Lutheran Church Canada) and printed with permission

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