Northern Light – Conversion on the road from Damascus
Please take the time to read this encouraging story of light in the North!
It is relatively rare that the Northern Lights can be seen as far “south” as Holsby, but last week many students stayed up late to catch a glimpse of this mysteriously beautiful appearance in the northern sky. But I want to tell you the story of a different kind of light that is miraculously making an appearance on a regular basis here in Sweden.
News reports about the recent flood of refugees streaming into Sweden usually emphasize the problems, unrest and tragedies that have accompanied this great migration from the south. Sweden has taken in many thousands of people fleeing the war in Syria, the poverty in Africa and the daily uncertainty and even persecution in other parts of the Middle East. And yes, this mass movement of desperate refugees is inevitably accompanied by difficulties, but that’s not the whole story.
Last week, a young man whom we will call Mansoor (not his real name) for his safety, visited the Holsby campus. Mansoor came to Sweden from the Middle East about five months ago out of fear for his life. Back in his home country, Mansoor had begun to search for truth and took a special interest in the claims of Christianity. He assumed that by coming to Sweden, a “Christian” nation, his search would be successful. Little did he know that Sweden is what we call a post-Christian nation – and is now one of the most secular countries in the world.
The Swedish Church, which until 16 years ago was the official state church, is led by an archbishop who denies many of the central truths of the Bible. She has stated that belief in the virgin birth of Christ is an optional extra, and she can’t say whether Jesus or Muhammad presented a truer picture of God. It would seem that there is not much light in this part of the world – except for the occasional Northern Lights.
Anyway, Mansoor ended up in a relatively isolated part of Sweden together with 800 other refugees waiting to be interviewed, processed and hopefully resettled. The government is not equipped to handle all the social and human needs of these desperate immigrants. They languish in boredom in temporary housing with nothing to do except wait for their fate to be decided – will we be allowed to stay or will we be sent back to the war zone and/or possible persecution? Despite differing views about the wisdom of opening the borders to so many refugees, Swedes have generally shown generosity and compassion toward these people.
The local parish of the Swedish Church was overwhelmed by the needs of Mansoor and his fellow refugees. They hired some extra staff, including a priest to minister to their spiritual needs. In God’s sovereignty, this priest turned out to be “Johan”, one of the relatively few strongly evangelical priests within the Swedish Church. Johan also happens to be a former member of the Holsby board and has brought many groups of young people to Holsby as part of their confirmation instruction.
Johan and the members of his parish organized activities for the refugees, including a Sunday afternoon meal and worship service. After a hot bowl of soup, a small group of mainly Muslim refugees gathered to hear about Christ. In one of his sermons, Johan told the story of how a young and very fervent young man named Saul was on his way to Damascus, on a sort of spiritual crusade, when he was stopped in his tracks by a bright light. And there on the road to Damascus in Syria, where many of these present-day pilgrims grew up and are now fleeing, Saul came face to face with Jesus Christ. The irony and poignancy was not lost on the refugees.
Young Mansoor was the first to give his heart to the Lord and soon nine of his fellow refugees also encountered the Light of Life in the face of Jesus in that small parish in our post-Christian Sweden! Almost immediately, they all asked to be baptized. The leadership of the Swedish Church strongly discourages Muslim converts from getting baptized. In part, they are fearful that if these refugees are eventually sent back to their home countries their lives will be in danger because of their public conversion to Christ. But Mansoor and his fellow converts insisted on being baptized.
Mansoor, who speaks English fairly well, serves now as an interpreter for Johan as he continues to instruct these former Muslims in their new faith. His hunger for God’s Word is insatiable and Johan sensed that Mansoor needed more in-depth Bible training. “Let’s see if Holsby has a place for him!” And so, Mansoor visited our campus last week to see if we might be able to fit him in for our Bible school spring term.
As Luke and I conversed with Mansoor, we immediately recognized the reality of his faith in Christ. And we quickly agreed to offer Mansoor a scholarship to join our students for the spring term (the months of April and May). We are confident that Mansoor will be quickly accepted and drawn in to the Holsby student body. It will be a perfect opportunity for him to experience Christian community and be strengthened in his knowledge and faith.
The latest report from Johan is that 20 more Muslim converts are now asking to be baptized. The Light of lights is shining brightly in the North! Please pray for Johan and his staff. Let’s thank the Lord that He has His people everywhere. Over 60 refugees now attend the weekly “soup and worship service” at Johan’s church. And let’s pray for Mansoor and his fellow converts as they already face opposition from some of the other refugees.
“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)
If you would like to contribute to the Holsby scholarship fund so that needy students like Mansoor and others may attend, you will find instructions at the following link: General Donation
Your investment in scholarship students like Mansoor is a great way to spread God’s light to a part of the world that has so little true witness for Christ.
As a reminder, we would also encourage you to think about making a contribution toward the gym project. You can use this link: Donation to the Well