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Finnish Pentecostal churches ramp up conversions among asylum seekers

Nearly 100 asylum seekers have swelled the ranks of congregations in Pentecostal churches in Satakunta, western Finland. Some churches say they have been actively reaching out to asylum seekers to introduce them to their activities.

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Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

Pentecostal churches in western Finland have welcomed dozens of new converts since 2015. Churches in Rauma and Pori have seen roughly 60 new church members take up the faith over the past two years.

The majority of the new Pentecosts were once Muslim. Some have had their asylum applications turned down but others are still having their applications processed. Parishes have also been actively reaching out to asylum seeker reception centres.

Officials weighing authenticity of conversions

Officials from the Finnish Immigration Service have asked local churches for reports on the authenticity of new converts to Christianity.

According to the Pentecostal churches, however, getting baptised in the new faith involves a lengthy process lasting up to 18 months. The programme includes months of religious instruction. Changes in faith should also be visible in a convert’s daily life.

"I have sent more than a dozen statements about the converts I know. It is difficult to get inside someone else’s head, but I have noticed a real sincerity about their faith," said Petri Harjula, Pastor of the Pori Pentecostal Church.

Churches actively recruiting

Jari Puustelli is responsible for international outreach at the Harjavalta Pentecostal Church. He said that many of the Christian converts in Finland have faced a great deal of pressure.

"I have not seen anyone playing games with religion. Pressure in the community is tough that they would not dare play around with such things," he added.

Meanwhile the Rauma Pentecostal Church has been actively in touch with the residents if the local asylum seeker reception centre.

"We have brought them in with buses to get to show them our operations, but we tell everyone that conversion to Christianity will not affect an asylum decision," said Tuomo Ahonen.

New members also joining Lutheran Church

Lutheran Churches in western Finland have also welcomed asylum seekers as new members of their congregations. For example, more than a dozen asylum seekers have joined Pori’s Teljä Church.

"They have joined after basic baptism doctrine. In the teaching we look at the basic of Christianity based on the Bible and the catechism, such as is usually done in confirmation classes. We have also written reports on converts to Christianity," commented vicar Kaisa Huhtala.

Edit: The headline has been changed from "Nearly 100 asylum seekers convert as western Finland Pentecostal churches ramp up outreach", and the lines "The parishes have been accused of dispensing baptisms to new converts too easily. It is believed that many asylum seekers have been converting to Christianity in a bid to stay in Finland" were removed from this story.

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