MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: refugee converts.
Sweden welcomed 160,000 refugees from the Middle East during Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015. Sweden’s generous social services gave immediate aid to them. And so did that country’s evangelical churches that worked hard to feed and house their new neighbors.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Many refugees found faith in Jesus and became active church members. Now those refugees and the churches that welcomed them face a new challenge.
WORLD Radio’s Jenny Lind Schmitt reports.
AUDIO: [People talking in Swedish in a court hearing]
JENNY LIND SCHMITT, REPORTER: Last year, Sweden began deporting refugees back to their countries of origin. The government recognizes that Afghanistan and Iran are dangerous places for Christian converts, so refugees from those countries who have converted to Christianity can claim asylum. But first they must go before the Migration Board to “prove” that they are “true” believers.
Christian Mölk is a pastor in northern Sweden who has seen many refugees come to faith in Jesus in his own church.
MOLK: Immigration board needs to know if they are true Christians or if they are just becoming Christians just to get asylum….The problem is Sweden is a secular country and migration board doesn’t really know what makes you a true Christian. So that’s why they ask very strange questions of these Afghans.
Last month, a group of Swedish churches, including Mölk’s, released a study of how the Swedish Migration Board interviews applicants and makes decisions. It detailed the cases of more than 600 Afghan converts.
The conclusion? The Migration Board uses an arbitrary interview process that relies heavily on intellectual questions. And interpreters often miscommunicate asylum-seekers’ responses.
MOLK: If a convert says, I am a Christian and I’ve been baptized, then the Migration Board can say, “Well, you’ve just been baptized, it doesn’t mean you’re a true Christian, because it’s just a baptism.” But to another convert if he says, I’m a true Christian, and I am now waiting for my baptism, then they say, “Well, you can’t be a true Christian if you’re not baptized.” So It doesn’t really matter what they say because the Migration Board can just say, “Whatever, we don’t believe you.”
Converts are routinely asked to explain the difference between the Pentecostal church and the Lutheran church, what exactly is celebrated in the All Saints’ Day service, and the theological meaning of specific Bible verses. Pastors say those are questions most Swedish-born citizens could not answer correctly.
Pastor Kim Brynte began teaching and ministering to converts at her church in Malmo. She and her husband soon took in two refugee boys who had nowhere else to live. The Migration Board asked her to testify on the boys’ behalf but gave little weight to her account.
BRYNTE: Normally when I go to court, I say that we are responsible before God. I’m not interested in false converts any more than you are. But at the same time, if people come with the so-called wrong motive, some of them actually do become Christians. Some actually do get to know Christ.
Brynte helps lead a grass-roots group called #Rättiltro or Right to Faith. It’s demanding that deportations stop until problems with the Migration Board are resolved.
Christians across denominations are calling for the Migration Board to listen to pastors and spiritual leaders who know the new converts personally.
MOLK: They absolutely need to listen to pastors more, because we have prayed together with these Afghans. We have prayed with them, we have met them, and we know they are true Christians. We can judge this. We can see this in their life.
Mölk says that there are instances of refugees who leave the church once they have a residence permit. But he estimates 10 percent—at most—walk away. By contrast, the Review Board rejects 70 percent of converts.
MOLK: That means a lot of people are being deported to Afghanistan who are true Christians. And they are being deported to a country where conversion into Christianity is punishable with death.
Swedish politicians have so far ignored the problem. So, Rättiltro plans to petition the European Union and the United Nations to show Sweden is denying the converts’ human right to freedom of faith.
Despite the difficulties the new converts and their pastors face in court, Brynte sees God using it for good.
BRYNTE: We taking in a lot of refugees has actually awakened the church to be church in a new way in Sweden. … That’s my prayer to be honest, that through this, the courts of Sweden is hearing the gospel. So I encourage all those who go, you preach, you preach your heart out!
Reporting for WORLD radio, I’m Jenny Lind Schmitt.