As Europe struggles to manage the migrant crisis, some church leaders in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are saying that some refugees are ‘fed up with Islam’ because Gulf countries aren’t offering them help. These leaders’ message to the European Church is ‘be prepared’ to welcome the many Muslims who are impressed by finding that, rather than countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, it is the West that is offering help.
The leaders do, however, express surprise that countries that are home to so many Christians are willing to accept what they see as a faith that has persecuted so many of the Middle East’s Christians. They caution that the West should be prepared for dangerous elements among the refugees.
An estimated four million Syrians have left their country with many headed for Europe, while seven million others are internally displaced.
A pastor, who prefers to stay anonymous, who has been helping hundreds of Syrian families in the Syrian city of Homs, says: “I see thousands going to Europe. I would like to urge the [European] church to open its eyes, to wake up, to find a way to care for these people…. They see that [Christian] nations help them when Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar do not. They are fed up with Islam. Now is the time to work with them and show them what true Christianity is about. However, if the church [in Europe] doesn’t stand up now, the refugees will, in twenty years, destroy Europe.
He is convinced that, right now, churches in Europe should seize the opportunity to extend a hand to thousands of Muslim believers. “If the churches don’t, they will face big problems within a few years,” he says.
Another leader, based in Lebanon, says: “I have two opinions about the refugees coming to Europe. From my human perspective I would say don’t take them in. But as a Christian my message to the West is different. The coming of many refugees to the continent is a great opportunity that should not be ignored by the Church.
“The Church in Europe needs to be ready: train your people, make them culturally aware, teach them Arabic, and teach them how to deal with Muslims. Reach out to the refugees, do community service, and organize youth meetings. This is a blessed challenge for the Church.
Helping the refugees will be a sacrifice, believes another pastor. “Our church is just a small church. When we started, many were against us, including the local authorities. But they couldn’t stop us. Churches in the West can do so much more. If the West tries to understand how these refugees feel, it can reach them. But the refugees can turn into a future problem if the Church does not act now, while they are now on its doorstep.”
Several of these leaders wonder why it is that Europe is open to Syrian Muslims? “They open their borders for the people who made Christians suffer,” says a pastor from Aleppo.
A pastor from Damascus says: “It is great to see how Germany is welcoming the refugees. But I also have my concerns. For example, I am concerned about fanatical Muslims spreading into Europe too. Europe should welcome the refugees; they are in desperate need. Show them the love of Christ”.
Several pastors quote Colonel Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader. To validate their fears he said on Al Jazeera TV in April 2006: “We have 50 million Muslims in Europe. There are signs that Allah will grant Islam victory in Europe – without swords, without guns, without conquest. He will turn Europe into a Muslim continent within a few decades.”
Pastors working with refugees in and around Syria know from experience how easy it is to approach them: it has a predominantly Muslim population. “You cannot just walk into [other people’s] lives in their own country, but now they are coming to us. Now we have the opportunity to reach out. Now Muslims are out of their own context, and that means a wonderful opportunity for Christians [to serve them].”