|As we come to the month of October, we as Lutheran Christians remember God�s grace in bringing to light through Martin Luther the Scriptures� central teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. That whole process started in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church opposing the sale of indulgences (forgiveness of sins.) Germany has been in the news the past few weeks as thousands of refugees are fleeing to there from Syria and the middle- east with the advances of Isis. A few months ago I mentioned the amazing work God was doing in Berlin in bringing Muslims to faith through Pastor Gottfried Martens from our partner church, the SELK (Selbstandige Evangelische-Lutherische Kirche trans. Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church) , as they moved in search for move space into an old abandoned Lutheran Church in the Berlin area that is in much need of repair. The growth continues as the church now numbers over 800 members with another 100 in classes to be baptized. With the great influx of refugees, many who are not only persecuted Christians but Muslims, the task becomes greater and more challenging. I am now including a plea in an e-mail from the LCMS I received on September 22. What a challenge and what an opportunity The Holy Spirit is giving us and our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in Germany.
Ongoing violence in the Middle East has led to a mass exodus of refugees � an estimated 4 million people have been forced to leave their homes in Syria alone. Others have fled Iran, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern countries due to persecution by militant groups like the Islamic State.
More than half of those fleeing the Middle East are children, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
The most recent news headlines report hundreds of thousands of people � mostly from the Middle East and Africa � streaming into Europe. A large portion of these asylum-seekers look for sanctuary in European countries like Germany. As Germany readies for as many as 800,000 more refugees in the coming year, the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK), an LCMS partner church, is preparing to respond, not only by providing for the immediate physical needs of the refugees but also by providing for their spiritual care through the Gospel. As they do, the LCMS will be walking alongside them.
Mercy and a new mission field
The SELK already has been caring for refugees for some time now, and one of its congregations recently garnered international media attention for its ministry of mercy.
�We have about 860 members; more than 600 of them are former Muslims who have become Christians during the last [few] years,� said the Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz. �About 100 more people from Iran and Afghanistan are in the process of preparation in order to receive Holy Baptism during the next couple of months.�
�Many of the Iranian Christians in our church had already gotten in touch with the Christian faith in Iran itself and had visited the assemblies of one of the many secret Christian house churches there. They had to flee when the intelligence service found out what they did,� he said. �In Iran, converts from Islam to the Christian faith face the death penalty according to the official laws of the country.�
Martens said new church members from the Middle East publicly renounce Islam and put their pictures in his congregation�s newsletter, which is widely disseminated. He said the outreach effort in his congregation continues to grow week by week.
�Our members are very mission-minded and bring new asylum-seekers from Iran and Afghanistan, if they meet them, here to our church every week. This outreach is so effective that we hardly know how to cope with it anymore,� Martens said. �During the last few months, we had a couple of baptisms of former Muslims from Syria and Iraq as well. We also take care of some persecuted Christians from Eritrea at the moment.�
A challenge to provide for physical needs
He said as the ministry grows, it also brings some logistical challenges, especially in providing for the physical needs of the refugees.
�We have to provide food and everything which is needed for living for asylum-seekers whose asylum process has not started yet and for those who live here in our church hall so that they cannot be deported,� said Martens. �We take care of young people who come here to Germany without their family and try to integrate them into our youth work � and there is a great need for counseling, as many of these refugees are deeply traumatized by what they have experienced in their home country and on their way to Germany.�
To accommodate the increasing influx of refugees, Martens said the SELK welcomes any assistance LCMS Lutherans might provide to ensure the ministry continues among the refugees.
Loving care for neighbors
�Even though the challenges are enormous, we always experience that these refugees are a great blessing and encouragement for our faith. We invite our brothers and sisters from the LCMS to our services, so that they can see with how much joy these former Muslims practice their faith and are strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Lord again and again,� said Martens. �Thus our guests will experience the truth of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ together with us here in Steglitz: �I was a stranger and you welcomed me � As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me�� (Matt. 25:35, 40).
LCMS ministry leaders recently met with Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison to strategize ways that the Synod might best come alongside its German partner to bear Christ in Word and deed. After consultation with SELK leaders and LCMS missionary staff in Europe, it was determined that an initial response will include mercy grant dollars to be used by SELK congregations across Germany, as they reach out to and care for the thousands of displaced people pouring into their country.
The LCMS has established a restricted-use fund to receive donations from those who are compelled by the situation to offer financial help and who want assurance that their donations will be used exclusively for this kind of LCMS mercy ministry and human-care effort: �Christ�s Care for the Persecuted & Displaced: mercy for body and soul.�
From �Lutherans to provide help for persecuted Christians, refugees�, on September 21, 2015 in News Reporter Top Story, by Roger Drinnon, abridged.
An offering plate will be in the church entryway during the month of October for this special fund.