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"One should push love, not religion"

How can the church welcome Afghan refugees into the church community? Coordinator of Farsi-speaking people in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, Naser Rezaeih, answers this question 

Many Afghans and Iranians are seeking the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark in these years, says Naser Rezaieh. Photo: Christoffer Fryd. 

On August 15, the Taliban militant movement seized power in Kabul as a response to the Western forces’ withdrawal from Afghanistan after about 20 years of military presence in the country. The situation made many Afghans and foreigners fear for their personal safety. Denmark evacuated just under 1,000 Afghans.

What is the role of the church in this situation?

The church can help by caring for the loss and the grief that the evacuated Afghans carry in their hearts after having to leave their homes. But how can the churches welcome them into the Christian community when they come from a country where religion has been used as an oppressive force?

Coordinator of Farsi-speaking people in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Denmark, Naser Rezaeih broadens our perspective on this issue:

"For this group of people that has come to our country after being evacuated, I think it would be good if the church could do something special for them, expressing: 'We would like to welcome you in Denmark and get to know you '. If we can get them to come to such an event, I am sure that many of the Afghans (who have worked with the Danish and foreign forces) are open to new ideas. But they come from a country where religion has been used to harass and oppress, so we should not try to push religion, rather show a sincere interest in their new life in Denmark. We must approach them with sincere interest", Naser Rezaeih points out and continues:

“I think the church should organize an invitation, but the purpose of the invitation mustn’t have anything to do with an introduction to Christianity - on the contrary, the church should welcome them and show that we wish them well in Denmark. So, invite them and offer them our prayers without trying to change their religion. Religion is born and changed in the heart. We must walk carefully, otherwise the risk is that they would distance themselves from us. It is a group that prefers not to have anything to do with religion, so one should push love, not religion.”

The church should reach out with a message of sincere interest and love rather than a desire for them to become members of the church, Naser Rezaeih emphasizes. The important thing is the invitation, the care, and the love - not the religious message or membership. Thereby, the church faces a challenge of inviting them without the invitation being perceived as an expression of a desire for membership or conversion. But what does such an invitation or event look like? Specifically, the church can involve Afghans by sharing their joys at holidays, Naser Rezaeih points out:

“If, for example, on the Afghan New Year or other important dates in the Afghan calendar, events are held, they will probably attend. It works with the Iranians with their New Year. We could find an occasion in the Afghan calendar and say that we want to do something special for them and celebrate with them. It could be a national holiday or a cultural evening with Afghans. There are many Afghans who are very interested in poetry. It is about showing that we are open to incorporating their traditions without sacrificing our own, and showing that we want to share their joys by including their holidays in our church life.”

An Autumn party in Jelling, a welcome party in Thyregod and a prayer service in Aarhus

Another example of how to involve Afghans in ecclesiastical activities was seen in Jelling, where the asylum center and the church joined forces to invite newly arrived Afghans to an autumn party on September 30. The purpose was to gain  greater knowledge of the different cultures and create a social community. In that way, the differences became smaller and the community larger. The event is of great inspiration for the social work of reaching out and inviting Afghans and other migrants into the Danish community. You can hear more about the event and about the collaboration between the church and the asylum center in the video here.

Another community-creating event was seen in Thyregod, where a welcome party for Afghans was held on November 21 in Brande Mission House. About 80 children and adults from Thyregod Asylum Center participated in an afternoon filled with singing, playing, cultural conversations, and presentations.

A third example of how to reach out was seen in Christianskirken in Aarhus. After the evacuation, a prayer service for Afghans and Iranians was held on September 8. Naser Rezaeih points out that intercession is a good initiative:

“Intercession is good, as it makes us able to ask them 'what do you need me to pray for? What are you struggling with? May I pray that God will open a door for you?' 

This is perceived as sincere love. I remember that when I became interested in Christianity, some Jehovah's Witnesses came and talked to me, and their sole purpose was a conversion, and it did not work for me. It was only when I came to a church, and they asked if I wanted them to pray for me that I felt a change. It was care and love,” concludes Naser Rezaeih.

Photo below: Parish priest Birgitte Møldrup and coordinator Naser Rezaeih gives a presentation at the autumn party in Jelling.