God leads David to a new church and to new life
“When I decided to leave Iran, I tried to move to England because I was so sure that Germany wasn’t the best choice for me,” remembered refugee David*. “I don’t know Germany. I don’t know the language.
“Then, in our first camp, I met another Christian Iranian and we talked about why we came here. He told me, ‘There is a church in Leipzig, and their pastor knows Persian (Farsi) and English.’ I said, “Really?! In Germany? So I went to take a look at that church.”
“That church” was Trinity Lutheran Church, where Rev. Hugo Gevers has baptized more new believers in the past year than he has in the previous nine years combined. Almost all of those baptized have been Iranians and Afghans seeking political asylum.
“Our roads have been flooded with refugees, just as our churches have,” said Rev. Gevers. Five years ago, most of Trinity’s pews stood empty on Sunday mornings. But now, “our church is packed – packed with refugees speaking a different language. It is quite a challenge for the locals. How do you teach people about our faith when they don’t know the language at all? It’s a big, big problem.”
A problem with a solution
Lutheran pastors wanting to share the Good News now have a new way to communicate with Iranian immigrants throughout Germany, Europe and the rest of the world: Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation, translated and published by the Lutheran Heritage Foundation in the Farsi language.
In November, LHF executive director Rev. Matthew Heise spent a week helping distribute the Farsi catechism to Lutheran churches ministering to thousands of Iranians in cities like Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig.
“The catechism – especially in our context with the refugees – really relates to the core of what it means to be a Christian,” said Rev. Gevers. “This kind of question-and-answer teaching might not be an ideal approach if you speak the same language; for example, you might share the faith through stories or other ways of teaching. But if you have a language barrier, a pastor needs to be able to gauge the level of knowledge, even though he doesn’t know his parishioner’s language. He can do this with the Small Catechism, because if they don’t know the answer, it’s easy to see they haven’t studied the material.”
sowing the seed
Of course, whether the refugees are sincere in their faith or simply trying to attain political asylum is a question that often arises.
“We know that there are some who are spying on us,” said Rev. Gevers. “But we cannot allow this distrust to influence the way we work with them. We are not trusting in human strength, but in God’s message – which is what changes the heart. So if he is a spy or a staunch Muslim, then he needs the message just as much as I do.”
The cover of the Farsi Small Catechism reflects this philosophy.
“The illustration shows a man sowing the seed,” Rev. Gevers explained. “It’s very fitting to the situation, because we are sowing and sowing and sowing. But God is making the seed grow. So it is with this catechism. We are sowing the seeds of Biblical teaching.”
the miracle of faith
As new believers delve deeper into their Biblical studies, the differences between Islam and Christianity become even more apparent.
“I’ve found that those who have lived under Islam really love the healing stories of Jesus,” Rev. Gevers said. “The stoning of the sinful woman (John 8: 1-11) is especially meaningful to them, because this is something they know; they’ve lived it under Sharia law. That Jesus forgives the sinner is something that really touches them. When we finished reading that story, one of the men said, ‘Hey, just a minute. Jesus was without sin. Why did he not throw a stone?’ I replied, ‘You are quite right. He could, by rights, throw a stone. But he chooses not to, because this is God’s way. He should punish all of us, but He chooses love and forgiveness.’ This is a message many have not heard before, that our God is a God of love.”
Rev. Gevers’ caring approach has made a world of difference to refugees like David.
“I have been baptized in this church,” David proudly shared. “I love my pastor; he is like a real father. He is so good and so kind.
“When people ask me how I am, sometimes I am quiet,” he continued. “I can’t tell them everything of how I am feeling, because it is so hard. But I know Jesus.
“I think of the time when Jesus was in a meeting with his followers, and they said, ‘Hey, Jesus, your mother is outside.’ Jesus told that man, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ That was Jesus’ sentence. Now I’m here in Germany, of course. I have no family here. But my pastor is my father, and all who read this, they are my brothers and my sisters.”
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