Five years ago the Rev Mark Miller, vicar of Stockton Parish Church in Stockton-on-Tees had five Iranians in his congregation. With its low-cost housing it has also become a dispersal town for the Home Office. Since the arrival of Persian refugees, the church has grown markedly. Today over half of his 260-strong congregation are of Persian background.
Mark explains his challenge is maintaining unity within the church. “It’s a challenge in terms of integration rather than because of hostility” he says. Mark has found that the natural
hospitality that his Persian congregation show fits well within his church’s pre-existing “culture of hospitality”. The Persian members are often comfortable about inviting others to visit the church.
Mark Miller’s church tries to guard against being used to pursue false asylum claims. One way they do this is by making it difficult to get baptised. He says, “Now if anyone wants to get baptised they need to do a ten-week Alpha course. Parents who want their children baptised also need to attend.” Mark even knows of refugees who have lied about their conversion to Christianity but have since come to genuine faith because “they encountered the living God.”
Mark Miller believes that the reason for conversion lies beyond just the need for community. “They have been taught the fear of God but when they encounter the Holy Spirit they experience a God that acts in the world today,” he says. Having experienced life under a fundamentalist government and having observed many radical Islamist groups, many Iranians are truly open to the gospel. Mark Miller adds, “They have seen the hypocrisy of those saying they are Muslim but acting in such violent ways.”
Source: Katie Stock – Premier Christianity
Bible Study: Ruth 1:16-18
JULY: PRAY WIDER for many more UK churches to welcome and integrate refugees. Give thanks that despite difficulties integration and fellowship can happen so that in Christ all become one congregation.