What is God doing today among displaced people in Europe?
When 280,000 asylum seekers entered Europe illegally through Spain, Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria in 2014, it was as if an alarm had sounded. Most came from Muslim countries and hoped to settle in the UK, Germany, France, and Scandinavia because of jobs, personal connections, and welfare programs.
By 2015, the number of asylum seekers reached 1,325,000. Tragically, since 2014 more than 4,000 people have died every year while crossing the Mediterranean.
Most of those seeking asylum in Europe come from conflict zones in Syria (more than a million), Afghanistan (300,000), Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, Iraq, and Northern Nigeria. Others come from stable countries, seeking a better lifestyle.
They face treacherous journeys, the threat of robbery, disease, hunger, and ruthless smugglers. They risk everything for refugee status in Europe. There seems to be no end to the steady flow of desperate migrants trying to enter “Fortress Europe.”
In the middle of his nursing training, Hassan was drafted for five years of Eritrean military service. He knew this would ruin his studies.
Together with his twin brother, they fled the capital city, Asmara, and walked some 550 miles overland to Khartoum, Sudan. After living in a UN-run refugee camp for four months, they hid in a truck caravan going 2,200 miles from Sudan through Egypt to Benghazi, Libya.
Eight months of hard labor in the port gave them enough funds to buy fake papers and an $800 boat ride to Italy. Their rubber dinghy held 45 adults, and the night travel was treacherous. Most people were seasick. They succeeded in crashing their dinghy on a beach in Sicily, and from there they somehow managed to travel to Denmark. They applied for refugee status, hoping to eventually join friends in the UK.
Missionaries are volunteering in refugee camps, training church members in refugee ministry, and advocating for Christian refugees seeking asylum. Some churches welcome and house refugee families. Others have embraced converts as new church members. Hundreds of Muslim refugees are coming to faith in Europe.
However, Muslim refugees have mostly responded to Christian compassion with caution. Even in refugee centers, imams often pressure everyone to remain Muslim. When someone does respond to the Gospel, persecution follows.
Some devout Muslims – even as they flee war, deprivation, and unemployment – feel they are on a divine mission to bring Islam to Europe. Such Muslim refugees typically have large families, live in Muslim-only communities, preserve traditional Muslim customs and languages, and try to work in jobs where they can promote Islam. Many displaced Muslims join aggressive minorities who seek to win others to Islam.
Christians are learning to discern, to persevere, to minister to them in their brokenness, to disciple, and to pray that the trickle of converts may become a flood.