Muslim asylum seekers from the Middle East are converting to Christianity by the hundreds, according to Evangelical Lutheran church leaders.
A church in eastern Finland is conducting classes for the new believers from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, according to a report by the Finnish news organization Uutiset.
Conservative estimates of the number of exiles who have renounced Islam for Christianity is several hundred in the last few years, Marja-Liisa Laihia, an administrator for the Evangelical Lutheran Church told Uutiset.
About 20 young Afghani men are currently involved in pre-confirmation teaching at a church in Imatra, Eastern Finland. They have been provided copies of the New Testament in the Dari language, their heart language. They are instructed in English, with a Dari interpreter helping via Skype.
Training for the new converts began a year ago, following the establishment of a reception center for the refugees in Imatra.
“Asylum seekers began attending our services so we reacted by starting up the lessons,” pastor Vesa Julin told Uutiset.
One of the first questions by many of the new converts is about baptism. “I haven’t been baptized yet, but I’m looking forward to it and I’m sure I will be a good Christian,” Aliraza Hussaini said.
Many of the new believers express their disillusionment with Islam as the reason for their new faith in Jesus Christ. Many of the exiles have been through a traumatic asylum process.
“I haven’t been in contact with my family in Afghanistan for a very long time. If they find out I’ve converted, it would mean trouble for me,” Golamir Hossaini told Uutiset.
Many who have renounced Islam know they will be treated as infidels by their families at home, which makes returning to their countries of origin uncertain at best.
“They understand that there are different rules in Finland and that people should be treated with respect,” Lauri Perälä, at the Imatra reception center said.
Their Christian faith may help them transition to their new culture. “It’s easier to live here because most people are Christian,” Hossein Mohammadi told Uutiset.
In order for the new converts to become members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, they must attend and pass their confirmation classes and regularly attend the church for three months.