Hundreds of asylum seekers – mainly from Iran and Afghanistan – have converted to Christianity at an evangelical church in Berlin, causing an Associated Press journalist to question the legitimacy of their conversions.
The pastor of the church, Gottfried Martens, who has witnessed his Trinity Church grow from 150 to 600 members in just two years, told AP the number of conversions had been “miraculous” and that the motive of the new Christians was unimportant to him because “I know that whoever comes here will not be left unchanged”.
Around 800,000 asylum seekers are expected to enter Germany in 2015 and while the majority of those from Syria are expected to be granted asylum, the future is less certain for those from countries like Iran and Afghanistan, for whom, in recent years, between 40 and 50 per cent have been allowed to stay.
AP points out that in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran, “conversion to Christianity by a Muslim could be punishable by death or imprisonment”, making it much less likely that Germany would deport a Christian convert.
One Iranian convert, Vesam Heydari, told AP his initial claim in Norway in 2009 was rejected because the authorities did not believe he would be persecuted as a Christian in Iran. He is currently awaiting a decision from German authorities and said anyone pretending to convert was making it harder for “real persecuted Christians”.
Afghanistan and Iran are ranked fifth and seventh, respectively, on Open Doors International’s World Watch List, which lists the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.