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Fruitful Strategy Wins Muslims in Spain

September 8, 2017

A flamenco act in Spain.
A flamenco act at a plaza in Spain helps build gospel bridges.

Having lost everything and watched his father die while fleeing to Europe from Islamic State atrocities in Syria, God's love was not on Amer's mind when he arrived in Spain.

The father of two teenage children knew from the Koran that God could be merciful, but Amer had seen little mercy on a journey that had sapped the nutrition his elderly father needed to survive. Losing everything had exacted a heavy toll. He knew his 15- and 17-year-old kids were embittered toward religion, and, worse, he knew that he was too.

Amer and his wife Sana would say the religiously correct things and engage in token ritual to keep from being labeled apostates, but seeing Islamic State militants kill, rape and mutilate in the name of Islam had shaken their loyalty to the worldview instilled in them from childhood. Islam was now impossible to believe, but as a religious, political and social system that gave no possibility of opting out, it was also impossible not to believe.

Psychologically battered, they had made it to Germany before they were sent to Cadiz Province, on the southern tip of Spain, as part of a European Union program to distribute refugees more evenly. Amer and Sana were suspicious of Christians and disillusioned enough by the gruff way they had been treated in Europe that they spoke only the bare minimum with leaders of the Christian organization designated to help resettle them in Spain.

"Syrian refugees are very frustrated with Islam, and when you begin to tell them about the love of God, they say they've never heard of that," the ministry director said.

The relatively small, indigenous ministry had been selected alongside such mainstream giants as the Red Cross and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to help resettle war-scarred refugees from Syria, Ukraine and elsewhere. Amer was dismayed to have to deal with an outfit run by Christians, whom he saw as deceitful and dirty.

"They didn't want to talk with us," said the ministry director, Pablo. "But then they were not able to find a flat, and we helped them get housing. We started building bridges with them and other Syrians through events such as a Syrian food festival. One day, they asked us why we were doing all of this."

It was then that they began to learn of the love of God from Pablo and the other ministry workers as they explained to the family that, as Christians, they were expressing God's lovingkindness.

"Syrian refugees are very frustrated with Islam, and when you begin to show the love of God and tell them about the love of God in the gospel, they say they've never heard of that," Pablo said. "They started coming to church, and one of the brothers began visiting them in their apartment, and that's where they put their trust in Jesus."

Spanish worship service.
Churches are multiplying especially among Spain's Gypsy population.

Multiplying Churches

Every six months the EU sends 150 such refugee families to the ministry for assistance in getting resettled, stretching the indigenous ministry's human and financial resources.

The Spanish government pays 80 percent of the initial resettlement expenses. The ministry struggles to pay the remaining 20 percent, which goes toward blankets, food, furnishing apartments, gas for cooking and heating water, teaching Spanish, jobs training and starting non-profit business enterprises to help sustain the immigrants.

After 18 months, the government assistance stops, and the immigrants along with the indigenous ministry have to cover all costs.

Having received the government's refugee resettlement designation two years ago, the ministry has planted a number of house churches. The exact number is unknown, since each church plant is trained to establish other fellowships, and Pablo has lost count. But he said that since January, 60 small house churches have been established in the province.

These congregations are not isolated clusters of Arabic-speaking immigrants, but Spanish-speaking bodies that include Spaniards and about 50 newly believing refugees.

"We train the first believer to share Christ with his family, other relatives and neighbors, and he teaches the others to do it," Pablo said. "So then every believer does the same thing – he has to start a new church. They meet in accountability groups where they discuss what evangelizing they did each week, what they didn't do, and if not, why not and how can they help."

Preventing Muslim Hostility

One might think such an aggressive approach among Syrian Muslims would lead to persecution, but Pablo said that doesn't happen among the refugees in Spain.

Besides the disillusion with Islam that many refugees bring, anti-Christian hostility is kept at bay as the ministry resettles refugees in clusters of no more than two or three families to deter the growth of ethnic "ghettos." This dissipates the climate of fear that a larger Islamic community might wield against those who leave Islam and helps refugees to integrate into their host culture – unlike so many Muslim populations in other European countries.

"We also resettle them close to Christian families so they are able to build bridges with them," Pablo said, noting that the first six months of resettlement the government does not allow Christian workers to evangelize or bring refugees to church.

Sooner or later, however, the refugees come to know the love of God. Pablo said that after Islamic State terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils on Aug. 17-18 killed 16 people and injured 130 others, Muslim refugees suffered a severe backlash, with many Spaniards refusing to rent apartments to them. The love of God, however, overcame discrimination against refugees resettled by the ministry.

"Spaniards in our churches left their homes and rented them to the Syrians," Pablo said. "The Christians said, 'We can live anywhere, but these refugees can't – we'll rent ours to them.'"

The ministry's biggest challenge is finding the resources to show this love to emotionally and physically tormented Syrian refugees. Will you consider helping the ministry workers to open the flow of Christ's love to them?

Support ministry to refugees in Spain
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