Alyssa Burd
Student Writer

Migrants and refugees crossing the border between Hungary and Austria as they wait for buses. (photo credit: Ronald Zak)

Germany recently opened up its borders and welcomed approximately 20,000 Syrian refugees into the country. Many of these refugees are Iranian and Afghan Muslims seeking asylum within Germany’s borders and hundreds of these individuals have chosen to convert from Islam to Christianity.

This widespread conversion from Islamic practices to Christian faith has sparked controversy over whether or not the religious conversions are authentic. According to The Associated Press, choosing to convert will “…greatly boost their chances of winning asylum by allowing them to claim they would face persecution if sent home”. In countries such as Iran and Afghanistan, converting from Islam is considered a crime punishable by life imprisonment, torture, or even death.

However, many refugees claim that they chose Christianity because they are truly moved by the message of the Gospel; not because they are seeking political protection.

For instance, Muhammad Ali Zonoobi, a refugee who fled Iran with his family, was baptized in the hopes that his conversion will mark a new beginning.

According to Christian Today, Zonoobi claims to have been introduced to the Bible when he was 18. He attended secret Christian services in Iran until his Christian friends were arrested for their faith practices. He and his family fled to Germany shortly after these incidents occurred.

Zonoobi’s wife, in an interview with Christian Today stated, “Now we are free and can be ourselves”.

In addition to the number of Islamic converts, Christian church membership within Germany has continuously grown due to the number of Syrian expatriates.

One Berlin church in particular has seen its membership increase greatly within the past few years.

The Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin has recently increased its membership from 150 members to roughly 600 individuals with the conversion of Islamic refugees within the church.

The church’s pastor, Dr. Rev. Gottfried Martens, has made it clear that he is not concerned about the motives behind these mass conversions. In an interview with Fox News, Gottfried stated “I know there are—again and again—people coming here because they have some kind of hope regarding asylum. I am inviting them to join us because I know that whoever comes here will not be left unchanged”.

Martens also claims that almost 90 percent of the refugees who are baptized, continue to come back to the church and serve in the congregation.

Even so, German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the fact that converting alone will not increase chances of gaining asylum. However, due to the persecution converts face in their home countries, it is not likely that many refugees will be deported.

Germany is expected to welcome nearly 800,000 refugees this year, however, this isn’t the only country to open its borders. Refugees have also sought protection and relocation in other European countries such as France and Italy.

Students at Messiah College have strong opinions in regards to the refugee situation as well as the conversion to Christianity.

Lyzi Smith, a sophomore stated, “I feel that you can say you are a Christian, but that definitely doesn’t mean that you are one. To be a Christian, you have to have a devout yearning for Christ. I’m not one to tell who is and isn’t a true Christian, but I feel that people shouldn’t use it as an excuse for protection. It’s terrible that refugees are being persecuted in their home countries, but I think they should convert because they actually want to know Christ”.

Additionally, Jenna Sattazahn, also a sophomore, added “I think God works in mysterious ways and if the refugees want to know Jesus in any way, it will happen the way it’s supposed to happen—whether they are just wanting asylum, or they are actively seeking Christ.”