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Iranians converting to Christianity

According to NPR, in Turkey and across the Middle East and Europe, Muslim refugees eager to emigrate to the West are converting to Christianity.

Sebnem Koser Akcapar, a sociology professor at Istanbul’s Koç University, reports, “The numbers of Iranian refugees converting have grown tremendously.” But the professor believes many are professing religious persecution as an angle to emigrate to the West.
There are hundreds of thousands of Christians in Iran. Those part of native Christian communities are permitted to practice their faith—with restrictions. But the Iranian government jails converts, particularly those who proselytize. The authorities interpret conversions as a Western scheme to turn Iranians against the Islamic regime.

Secret home churches are growing in Iran. One reason, says an award-winning Iranian athlete who converted, is to rebel against the Islamic regime. “Iranians don’t see any hope. They are in search of God, but want another path because they’re discontent with Islam.”

Many of the Iranians in Turkey say they had to flee their country because they’d become Christians.

A woman named Farzana says after three months of attending a home church in Iran, two men from the
Revolutionary Guard observing that church detained her because they found a Bible in her car. “The interrogator told me, ‘You’re an apostate. Are you not ashamed?’ I got scared and began to cry.”

United Pentecostal Church has churches in eight Turkish cities. Muslim refugees ask for more. The church says they provide a spiritual place, not financial support. Churches welcome every refugee regardless of their faith or how genuine may be their conversion. Yasin Sarikaya, a Turkish cab driver, is dismayed at the visible number of refugees working and living in his neighborhood. When he realizes that some are converts to Christianity, he becomes visibly upset.

Despite the challenges, Iranians say the church is a place to feel part of a community. But the church keeps its location and activities a secret for safety reasons.

On a recent Friday, converts were baptized in a Turkish bathhouse. Sabah Allahvardi, a 22-year-old university student, is excited about her baptism. She moved to Turkey six months ago. She and nine others exit the pool beaming and dripping wet. They will receive a certificate that documents their change of faith with hopes that they can emigrate to a country with freedom and acceptance.

“I never thought this would happen to me in Iran, but now I’m really happy because my life is changing,” Allahvardi says shyly. ~

Dan Nygaard