Spring has arrived here in my home city of Melbourne, Australia, the fruit trees are in blossom and once again our garden is full of color. And not before time. We have just endured our coldest winter in twenty-six years. So much for global warming.
I mention this because I wonder if we are also witnessing a few fresh buds of hope in what has been a relentless season of bad news for Christians in the Middle East. In just the past couple of weeks I have read four separate news articles that talk of Muslim refugees to Europe who are turning to Jesus.
For example, under the headline, “Muslim Migrants Find More Than Refuge in European Churches,” the Wall Street Journal reports: “Priests and researchers say they have witnessed a parallel trend to the surge in migrant numbers flocking to Germany in recent years: a rise in conversions from Islam to Christianity.”
Meanwhile, the “Christian Today” website writes: “Hundreds of Muslim refugees are converting to Christianity in a Berlin church. Pastor Gottfried Martens has seen his congregation at the evangelical Trinity Church grow from 150 to more than 600 in just two years, describing the number of conversions as a ‘miracle’, according to Associated Press.”
The journalist in me is cynical. The numbers involved are fairly small. And might this be no more than a ploy by our liberal/left-wing media to indoctrinate us into becoming more accepting of the waves of mainly-Muslim refugees?
Heed, too, the words of the Wall Street Journal: “While most converts invoke spiritual reasons, people involved in the process point to another motivation: a conversion could make the difference between obtaining asylum or being deported.”
Yet the Christian in me has hope.
I was a journalist in Japan for many years. I wasn’t a Christian back then, and in fact became quite involved in Zen Buddhism. Early this year I was asked to address some trainee missionaries on my experiences. Later, at morning tea, I casually remarked that I felt sorry for Christian missionaries to Japan, as I regarded the people there as not especially receptive to the message of Jesus.
An experienced missionary was in attendance, and he agreed. But then he added: “We used to say the same about the Middle East. I know missionaries who spent years there without much result. But suddenly in the last few years we are seeing a big change. More and more Muslims are turning to the cross.”
This June and July our church participated in the “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” event that is organized each year to coincide with the Ramadan festival. According to the official background booklet: “In our day we are seeing the greatest and most wide-reaching turning of Muslims to Christ in history.”
So are we actually witnessing the start of a real Arab spring, a turning to the true source of new life? Or do we see no more than a few weak buds that will quickly wither in the oppressive winter? I do not know. But I do know that God is actively at work, even – especially? – in the darkest of seasons. That is why I am filled with hope.