Faith is not only part of life, faith is the whole life

  • In NEWS
  • September 15, 2022
Faith is not only part of life, faith is the whole life

Interview with Dr. Yassir Eric on migrant churches in Europe


 It is now common knowledge that Diaspora Churches/Migrant Churches play a decisive role in shaping the European church landscape. Can you give us some numbers, data and facts about this trend, so that the phenomenon becomes tangible? And what about the common opinion that most migrants are Muslims?


Actually, it is very difficult to give numbers and fixed data since the phenomenon of migration has been trending this last few years due to both the geopolitical and the economic situation. There are so many wars going on in Africa and the Middle East, and so people are moving to Europe for democracy, security and resources. You can measure this trend by the presence of migrant megachurches. There are big churches here in Europe, in the UK and in Germany, also in France. Not only the Pentecostals and Evangelicals, but also large churches originating from the historical Oriental churches.

If you think about the immigrants that are coming from Iraq, most of them belong to the Chaldean Catholic Church. When they come here, they are automatically integrated in these churches. And since we have the war in Syria, many immigrants who came over to Europe from Syria belong to corresponding dioceses here in Europe. We can also speak about the Coptic Christians from Egypt who are also here in Europe.


The assumption that most of the immigrants into Europe are Muslims is just not true. Because of the encounter with Islam, the challenge with Islam, and because it is on the news, many people assume that most immigrants are Muslims, and that is not true. More than 65% of the immigrants into Europe are actually coming from a Christian background. Add to that those Muslims who came to Europe and became Christians here. In summary, the Muslims are still a minority among the immigrants in Europe.



Has “reverse mission” actually succeeded or failed?

Reverse mission became a topic a couple of years ago in the sense of welcoming missionary immigrants coming from countries that used to be the “mission field”. Many of us came to Europe and many people thought reverse mission is going to happen automatically. But as far as I’m concerned, I think we have failed in this area of reverse mission for a very simple reason: we did not prepare people intentionally for this task. What I mean by that is to be culturally sensitive. If you take a Pentecostal church or you take a pastor from Nigeria who is very successful in Nigeria, leading people to Christ there, he cannot just stand in a German street and shout at the Germans that they should repent. Nothing is going to happen. Where we failed in reverse mission is with regards to preparation. Nevertheless, we are not at the end. I see reverse mission as a key issue for the mission work in Europe in the next decade. That is why we need to do it intentionally. This means we need to prepare people, we need to educate them, we need to make them sensible to the culture and the mind set of Europeans so that we can engage with them and proclaim the Gospel of Christ.



What spiritual significance do migrant churches have for the congregations of the majority population in Europe?

In Europe, when you speak about Christianity and the Christian faith, culturally speaking, faith is a private thing. Religion and faith are only one part of life and they are being sorted out on Sunday morning or when people meet for church. For many Europeans it is very challenging to speak about their faith in a natural way. But for many immigrants it is the other way around. Faith, religion, and belief penetrate the whole system of life. This means that you have a system of belief and within that you have your life. Faith is not only part of life, faith is the whole life. That is why for immigrants to engage with people in Europe about Christ and about the cause of the gospel has nothing to do with a mission strategy. We speak naturally about what we believe.


The second thing is that many of the churches in the Global South come from a reality where Jesus is at work. If you speak to a refugee who came from Ghana crossing the Mediterranean Sea or a refugee coming from Aleppo, we experience God as we are going. Jesus is a reality. For us it is not just cognitive knowledge, but it is a reality. I think in that there is a big added value that we can bring to the European church.



Do Migrant Churches promote or hinder integration?


Many of the immigrant churches are not aware of the role that they should play in society. What we do is we go to a European church and we ask them to give us the church building or the church facilities on a Sunday afternoon to meet. We come, we meet, we go home. We are not interacting with other people from the church. And that means: we live in a parallel society. That is the reason why I am very critical of immigrant churches: they oftentimes live in a parallel society and are not integrated within the majority population church. It is a very big challenge for the immigrant churches to go a little bit further and to engage with Christians from the majority population. I truly believe that the church is the best place for integration. We can all be integrated within the body of Christ.



How did migrant churches behave in the past waves of refugees (2015/Middle East and 2022/Ukraine)? Notably, what was the response of Russian-German and Central Asian migrant churches to the recent Ukrainian refugee wave?


When we think about the immigration wave after the war in Syria, the people who met those immigrants and refugees at the German train stations in Munich, Berlin or Hamburg were not the immigrant churches, sadly. They were the Germans. They were the Europeans who did not know our language neither did they know our culture. These Christians went to the train stations and reached out to us. Even the secular society came and embraced our people who were coming. And the immigrant churches, especially churches from the Middle East, were totally absent in receiving and welcoming these people, which was very shameful.


That often has to do with different factors. Most of the immigrants who came were Muslims and many of the oriental Christians and especially the Arabic speaking Christians who live in Europe are very hostile to Muslims. They say, well, we left them in Baghdad and we left them in Damascus. So why are they coming here? Furthermore, they are critical about the German nation and the European nations that they were taking those Muslims in.


And the same thing goes on now with the war in Ukraine and with many of the Ukrainians coming here. Of course, most of the people in Russian speaking churches in Germany are of Russian background. So they are clinching. I don’t want to generalise but it is not very easy to build the bridge. But this is what I really wish for us immigrants in Europe that we start to build bridges between the immigrants who just came yesterday and the society. We have lived here. I have lived here for the last 20 years. So I got to know a little bit about this society. If someone will come today from my culture, it is actually my responsibility to build this bridge and not to leave this whole issue to the European churches who are doing it anyway. We really need to work hand in hand together and to enhance that. I would really wish to challenge the immigrant churches to take the responsibility. Sadly, some of us forgot the days when we came to Europe where we did not understand the language and when we did not understand the culture. Sometimes it seems that because it has been many years back, we forgot all of that.



The third generation of migrants is often considered a lost generation, as they are not integrated into either majority or migrant churches. What is the reason for this?


The first generation of immigrants who came to Europe did not manage to integrate. Many of these people are the pastors of migrant churches. They kept their ethnic church in Arabic or in Kiswahili and preach in their own language. They are not engaged with the German churches. Many of our kids, however, especially those who have been born here, don’t speak the native language any more. And because this first generation of pastors or church workers are not integrated, they keep on doing church here in Europe in the same way that they did in Khartoum or Kabul or Casablanca. We lose our kids, however, who don’t know the language. We lose the second and the third generation.

There is another factor which I call a kind of spiritual arrogance. Some of those immigrant churches think the European church is spiritually dead. And that’s why we don’t want to send our kids there to be corrupted or to lose their faith. We don’t encourage our kids to go there but at the same time we don’t have the programs to reach them in our own immigrant churches. The second and third generation of immigrants should find their place within the European churches because they have been born here and will stay here. Many of them really have a very small tie to their country of origin. Of course, we will never be able to assimilate completely as immigrants and lose everything. I give the good things from my culture to my kids. I know there are a lot of good things but I cannot demand from them to live the same way that I lived in Sudan.


The positive thing about the generation that is born here is that they speak the language. This means their way into society is easier and shorter than ours. That is why I am dreaming of seeing some of this second generation come into ministry – they will be the true bridge builders within the society.



What biblical vision gives you hope for your important work?


What gives me hope is that we should all remind ourselves that as Christians we are strangers on this earth. This applies to both immigrants and people from the majority population. The Bible speaks about when we stand before the throne of God we come from all nations, all tongues and all tribes. Diversity is a deep essence of the church. But sometimes we turn this diversity into difference. We need to reverse that and we need to see that within the body of Christ everybody has a place. Because we belong to one universal church with one head who is Jesus Christ who called us out of darkness to His light to be brothers and sisters.


This hope I see in our lives today: The prayer of Jesus in John 17 where it is written that He took us from this world and that He is sending us to the world. Jesus is praying for our unity. Not for conformity. But unity within the body of Christ which will be the best witness to the majority people here in Europe who are in need of God today like never before.



The interview was conducted by Matthias Boehning from the EEA Office in Bonn/Germany via Zoom in early September 2022.






Box: Yassir Eric

Yassir Eric (Dr. theol., Protestant University Wuppertal, M.A. Protestant Theology, Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg, M.A. Missiology, Columbia International University) is a theologian, missiologist, and an outstanding expert on Islam and migration issues as well as Middle East topics. Since 2013, he has been directing the European Institute for Migration, Integration and Islamic Issues (EIMI) at AWM Korntal and is a faculty member of the European School of Culture and Theology in Korntal. For several years he served as pastor of migrant churches as well as lecturer and counselor. He is a sought-after speaker in Germany, Europe and the Middle East.


Yassir Eric is the recipient of the European Evangelical Alliance’s “HOPE Award 2021” for “his courageous journey to Europe and tirelessly promoting hope while sacrificially serving migrant communities in Europe” (inscription on the award statue). The award was presented during the Digital EEA General Assembly in June 2021.

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