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'God converts, I'm just the catalyst': Church leaders ministering to refugees call for prayerful discernment amidst 'false conversions'

by Will Hobbs
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Church leaders working with refugees in the UK have told the Premier the church must prioritise prayerful discernment when welcoming those who wish to be baptised into the faith, without letting caution prevent the church from welcoming the stranger with open arms.

Pressure grows on the Home Office regarding asylum housing after a decision last year to reduce the time successful asylum applicants have to find accommodation.

The suspect of this month's Clapham corrosive attack, Abdul Ezedi, had been granted asylum via a claim to a Christian faith, having been previously rejected twice and convicted of sexual assault.

Public Issues enabler of Baptist Union Steve Tinning told Premier there are different types of duplicitous ways why people attend church, but the churches must balance vigilance with genuine welcome.

"I guess it's similar as well to people that want to get married in a pretty church building and need to have their bands read and want to go along to church to do that. Or white middle class parents who wants to get their kids into a church of England School.

"Even in those circumstances where we think maybe the motivations aren't right, that is still not a reason to turn them away at the door, we still want to embrace and to welcome and but always be wise and discerning about the journey of faith that people are on.

"There needs to be a degree of wisdom and awareness and prayerful discernment about anybody's journey of faith, but we're not here to discourage people or judge people before they've even started that journey."

Tinning also warned against churches seeking to "immediately convert" refugees or asylum seekers but to build up genuine relationships, as he recalls focusing on when working with the council to serve those fleeing war in Syria.

"We went out of our way to assure the council that we weren't in it to proselytize and to convert the Muslims. it is not my job to convert people.

"I welcome people, I share the faith with anything that I can answer their questions. God is the one that does the converting. And that is my that I'm just the catalyst of that kind of relationship, if I can be, but it is absolutely not a prerequisite to my welcome."

Zach Gain, who runs refugee outreach at Kings Cross Church (KXC) in London, says remembering and showing genuine compassion in the face of the trauma experienced by a refugee or family is vital.

"We don't want to be seen as that's our agenda, that we want them to just become Christian. As soon as we meet up, of course, we would love them to come to faith.

"And that's where the discipleship and the longer-term relationship come into play.

"Because we don't see them as an individual that will just be a number and a bum on a seat, but we see them as, as humans design an image of God and we want to get to know them first."

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