Mission life: THE KUKMIN DAILY

Pastor Gottfried Martens: “Refugees Are Gift from God, Church Should Answer to Their Urgent Needs”

2015-10-19 15:42

In the midst of the continuing exodus of Syrian refugees, a church in Germany is receiving global attention for its communication of the Gospel and its caring ministry for refugees. Over the past three years, the number of refugee church members has grown rapidly at Trinity Lutheran Church (Evangelisch-Lutherische Dreieinigkeitskirche) in Steglitz, southwest of Berlin, so that now there are 710 refugees, among whom 600 are from Iran and Afghanistan, in addition to the original 150 German believers.

Kukmin Daily visited this German church on September 17 and met with its pastor, Gottfried Martens (52, above photo). A dozen or so refugee members were gathered for Bible study on this day. Pastor Martens studied theology in Germany and the United States, and received a Ph.D. from Concordia Theological Seminary. In 1991, he began his ministry in nearby Zehlendorf, Berlin, and three years ago he came to be in charge of Trinity Church.

-Why do you think so many refugees flock to this church?

“The first refugees who came to our church had converted to Christianity in Iran. They wanted to practice and enjoy their Christian faith, and left home to avoid religious oppression. And there were some Muslims who had rejected Islam and become refugees. Friends of those refugees began joining us, and the word spread.”

*Evangelical Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin, Germany.

-What does your church do for the refugees?

“Most of these refugees left in search of religious freedom. So we help them systematically to learn about the Christian faith and to receive baptism. Our church not only helps with religious matters, but also provides all they need to settle down in Germany. Yesterday four refugees found our church, saying they had no place to go. So we fixed them up with a space on the first floor. Two other refugees from Eritrea came to our church last week.”

-What is the ministry for refugees like in other churches in Germany?

“There are many churches and organizations helping refugees in Germany now. Refugees go to other churches, too, but our church receives the most. Their number has increased dramatically since 2012, after this one Muslim refugee converted to Christianity and was baptized in 2011. Among our church member refugees, some volunteer as interpreters for fellow refugees.”

-Did you intend to have a ministry particularly for refugees?

“No. The refugees came and I began a ministry for them, as the Bible teaches us through the story of the Good Samaritan. The best value that the church can communicate is Jesus Christ. The church answered to their urgent needs, and the next step naturally became the communication of the Gospel.”

-Some say that refugees convert intentionally to make their registration process easier.

“No, not at all. Most Iranian refugees didn’t become refugees to get German citizenship. They left to get away from religious oppression, for their faith. The church doesn’t baptize anyone who is unsure about his or her faith. 90% of the refugees continue coming to church after they have received citizenship. This is proof of their religious grounding.”

-There are others who worry that Germany may become Islamized if it keeps accepting refugees from the Middle East.

“We need to have an objective point of view regarding this matter. Most of the refugees are Muslims. But I’d like you all to know that there are Christians, too. The fact that Muslims are voluntarily coming to Germany is an opportunity for the Christian church. It’s a great opportunity! Who can communicate the Gospel in Syria or Iran now? But thankfully, they are coming to us. And they come with damaged souls. No matter what their religious backgrounds are, Christians should help the refugees. This is according to the Bible.”

*Pastor Martens (third from right, back row) with refugee converts from Iran and other places.

-Is there any particular converted refugee story you would like to share?

“All refugees have their own individual circumstances, and bear sad stories in their hearts. I respect them. There was this young Afghan man whose parents had been killed by the Taliban when he was 13. He was sent to an orphanage, met an American there, and received a Bible. The orphanage director learned about this and tried to kill him, so he ran away. Anyhow, he came all the way to Germany, and became connected with a church, and finally met God. Another young convert communicated the Gospel to a Muslim who was sharing a room with him, who happened to be the son of an Islam leader.”

-Your ministry for refugees must give you moments of great inspiration.

“I’m so busy that I rarely get personal time. I still haven’t gone on summer vacation. Sometimes neighbors report to the police when they see the refugees. But I think I am gaining so much from the refugees ministry. Spiritual benefits, I mean. I’m so glad that the refugees are learning about the Gospel. And through my work I can watch how a person changes. This is God’s action. This is God’s time.”

-There are quite a few refugees residing in Korea, too. How would you advise the Korean church?

“Jesus said that ‘whatever you do to one of the least is what you do for me.’ I want to see Jesus Christ through the refugees, while helping them. Ministry for refugees should not be something to elevate the church’s name. Refugees are a gift God has given to us.”

Article and photos by reporter Sangmok Shin (smshin@kmib.co.kr), with Yeara Ahn-Park (yap@kmib.co.kr)

Click here for the original article in Korean

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