As France and Mali have fallen victim to recent terror attacks launched by the Islamic State (also called ISIS) and Al Qaeda-linked groups, these acts of terror further complicate an already difficult question regarding the church’s role of mercy toward Middle Eastern refugees. Many of these refugees also have suffered at the hands of Islamist extremists.
Yet, in the shadow of these events, the bright light of the Gospel shines in the darkness as the LCMS’ partner church body in Germany, the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK), cares for the stranger in its midst. Here is one story among many of how this ministry is making a difference.
by Roger Drinnon
As his eyes well up with tears, a young man who goes by the name Puya recalls how mujahedeen militants in Afghanistan murdered his parents when he was a child, forcing him to be placed in an orphanage.
He says while in the orphanage, he met someone who discreetly introduced him to Christianity.
“I had all these questions about Islam that the Koran and the [local] Imam could not answer,” Puya says. “I knew something was not right.”
He says the more he learned about Christ, the more things made sense to him. The Gospel helped him cope with his parents’ deaths and the anxiety stemming from that trauma.
“I saw the Bible as truth by learning about Jesus’ love and His death on the cross,” Puya says.
However, when he began to share what he was learning about Jesus with others, Puya says one of his friends reported him to the local imam who instructed the orphanage to deny Puya any food.
Some people had falsely accused him of being paid by outsiders to evangelize. When the imam and others observed Puya was no longer praying at the local mosque, Puya says he was driven from the orphanage due to death threats originating from the imam. So, he fled for his life to Germany.
Today, Puya is a refugee in Berlin, where he attends Dreieinigkeits-Gemeinde (Trinity Lutheran Church) in Berlin-Steglitz, a congregation of the SELK.
The Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens, pastor of Dreieinigkeits-Gemeinde, has been receiving refugees and catechizing them for decades.
In the early 1990s, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, he ministered to East Germans who previously lived under atheist communist rule with no pastoral care, while also caring for refugees coming to Germany from Russia.
In 2011, he baptized his first former Muslim, a refugee from Iran. That same year, Martens would go on to baptize a second. Since then, he has baptized hundreds of refugees, the majority of whom come from Iran and some from Afghanistan.
Now, as more than a million Middle Eastern asylum-seekers are flooding into Europe, many are knocking on Martens’ door. He said so many are coming to his church that he averages only four hours of sleep a night.
In a Nov. 15 service at the church, Martens baptized 10 more refugees who had completed rigorous catechesis and an examination of their faith and who also demonstrated consistent church attendance. As they renounced Satan in the baptismal rite, each catechumen also openly renounced Islam.
More than 300 fellow refugees attended the service. With the pews and balcony so full, extra chairs were brought out into the aisles to seat more, while others stood in the stairwells.
Puya, whom Martens had catechized and baptized some time ago, was one of the communion assistants during the service.
In light of the already strained capacity and infrastructure of Germany to handle the influx of Middle Eastern refugees, the LCMS is coming alongside its German partner church and her congregations as they bear mercy to the refugees literally knocking at their doors.
At the recommendation of LCMS missionaries in Eurasia, the Office of International Mission authorized a $100,000 grant from donated mercy funds to support SELK congregations in providing food, shelter, transportation, language instruction and the proclamation of the Gospel to people once considered impossible to reach.
The Synod also has established a new fund — “Christ’s Care for the Persecuted and Displaced: Mercy for Body and Soul” — to help provide assistance to refugees.
For good reason, the Church continues to confess that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
Roger Drinnon is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
- Read a related Reporter article: reporter.lcms.org/2015/synod-walks-with-german-partner
- View photo gallery: lcms.org/photo/refugee-care-germany
- Make a gift: lcms.org/givenow/ccpd