The Refugee Converts

This Lutheran church in Berlin has served more than 1,300 Iranian and Afghan asylum seekers in the last two years. Services are in German and Farsi, with Persian food (khoresht ) after every meeting, and asylum housing for about 12 people to live in the church at a time, in six month shifts. Those who live in the church are seeking sanctuary from forced deportation to their home countries or to their points of entry into the EU as per the Dublin regulation.

Many asylum seekers are rejected in their interviews by officials who don't believe they have really converted or are under sufficient threat, even after they've risked their lives journeying over land and sea from Afghanistan and Iran. 32-year-old S. tells me how he was imprisoned three times in Iran with 80-100 lashes each time, for drinking alcohol and being with his girlfriend. 38-year-old A. was also arrested first for political activism in university, then for involvement with the Green Movement in 2009, then for distributing scanned CD copies of a banned book that challenged Islam.

A. left Iran when Sepah intelligence raided his restaurant, fleeing overnight to Turkey, then sailing nine days by boat to Italy; S. fled after police found a Bible in his car on the way back from a house church meeting, leaving his wife and family behind. "I can't believe when people ask, 'Didn't you just come here for a better life?'" A. says. "I had everything in Iran. My wife, my car, my house in shomal—you think I want this "better life" in a camp, hiding, alone for two years now? I choose to believe in Jesus. But for everything else—to run, to be a refugee, to come to Germany—I did not have a choice."