In recent weeks, we have all come to watch the refugee crisis, as people fleeing from the war in Syria have been crowding into Europe. The pressure on countries such as Germany to take more refugees is surely a moral crisis. Governments must deal with the issue of how many refugees they can assimilate and still maintain some kind of cultural identity.
In recent days, the issue has made its way into Canada’s own election campaign, as various leaders try to articulate what our response should be as a nation.
My reason for writing is not to articulate what governments (including ours) should be doing. No doubt, the Christian faith does speak about what to do about the refugee. But I will leave that for another time.
I intend to address this issue from another perspective. Namely, what is God doing?
In asking the question, my mind is taken up in Paul’s words to the men of Athens while standing in the midst of the Areopagus: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-27)
With those words of Paul still ringing in our ears, I have noticed several news headlines about the crisis that have gripped my imagination.
According to magazines as disparate as Christianity Today to the secular National Post, hundreds of Muslim refugees from Syria arriving in Germany are converting to Christianity.
One publication showed an Iranian refugee with a large “Jesus” tattoo in bold letters on the inside of his lower arm, which was done right before he got baptized.
But this has not come without criticism. It seems clear that many are converting out of convenience, as afterwards they then claim that sending them back (as converts) will put their lives at risk. Furthermore, others claim that these conversions are making it harder for real persecuted Christians to get approved for asylum.
Yet Christianity Today reports that even while this is the case, still there has been a number that are being baptized and instructed in the faith. The Huffington Post described the following scene:
“Mohammed Ali Zonoobi bends his head as the priest pours holy water over his black hair.
“Will you break away from Satan and his evil deeds?” pastor Gottfried Martens asks the Iranian refugee. “Will you break away from Islam?”
“Yes!” Zonoobi fervently replies.
Spreading his hands in blessing, Martens then baptizes the man “in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.”
I raise this issue because we are truly living in amazing times.
The Voice of the Martyrs reports that among both Syrian and Iraqi refugees, people are coming to Christ as the result of persecuted believers in those lands who have been living out their faith. How many? How significant a movement is this? We do not know.
But we do know that it is God who determines the boundaries in which people live and the periods of time they inhabit those boundaries. And we also know that God appoints these events so that they should seek Him.
In the present hour, Christians need to see this crisis from a different set of eyes. We need to be in prayer, that in spite of such tragic evil, that the gospel of Jesus would be heard. Perhaps this is an unprecedented opportunity!