–By Elizabeth Ahlman
On Monday, March 28, 2016 (Easter Monday), The Selbständige Evangelische—Lutherische Kirche (SELK) congregation of St. Trinitatisgemeinde, a sister church body of the LCMS, celebrated one year of work based out of Lukaskirche, the historic State Church property which they are renovating. Last year on Easter Monday, they moved into Lukaskirche for a trial period and celebrated with a Festival Divine Service.
Since that time, the work that SELK Lutherische Kirchen Mission (LKM) missionary, Rev. Hugo Gevers, has been doing with refugees and migrants has grown with the influx into Germany. On this day of celebrating one year of work in Lukaskirche, the congregation also celebrated the Baptisms of 11 former Muslims.
Ten of the baptismal candidates were from Iran, and one older woman was from Afghanistan. About two years ago, the Afghani woman’s son was baptized.
Gevers explains: “She could have been baptized earlier. But was afraid of Muslim relatives.”
The baptismal candidates went through several months of catechesis and preparation for their baptisms. For some, like the older woman, the process took up to two years. However, it typically takes about three months.
Gevers explains that in order to be baptized, “Luther’s Catechism has to be understood. The Our Father and Apostolic Creed have to be learned off by heart. Then they have to explain some parts of the Bible…They also have to explain some crucial differences between Islam and Christianity. For eg. The understanding of sin in Islam and Christianity.”
Candidates must also be able to articulate an understanding of Scripture and the “meaning of the cross” as well as “why they want to be baptized,” he added.
Many Iranian converts have been exposed somewhat to Christianity and have formed an interest. Gevers notes that about 90% of Iranians are only nominally Muslim. He explains “They reject Islam because they want to be freed from repressive Sharia laws. [T]hat is why the knowledge of Christianity is often but not always 0. However as they become more and more familiar with the content of Scripture, they find the generous offer of salvation and the love of God to be irresistible.”
After months of classes and passing a Baptismal exam, which included the recitation of The Lord’s Prayer and the Apostle’s Creed, these 11 candidates were baptized during the joint festival service with members of the neighboring Halle and Dresden SELK congregations there to support them, as well.
During the service and in front of many other migrants currently in baptismal classes, the 11 former Muslims stood before the altar and recited the Baptismal liturgy, including denying Satan as well as the prophet Muhammed and Islam. They then proceeded to the font where they circled around it as Pastor Gevers baptized them one by one.
Finally, they returned to stand before the altar and received their baptismal certificates with their baptismal verse, a baptismal candle, and for many of them, a new Christian name which they had chosen. Gevers and Rev. Markus Fischer, the pastor of St. Trinitatisgemeinde, handed them their certificates and candles amid joyful smiles.
Following the service, the new congregational members celebrated with coffee and cake, including a beautiful cake made by Elisabeth Kevar, herself a former Muslim and longtime member of the church. The cake depicted an open Farsi Bible with Farsi on one side and a chalice on the other.
While the newly baptized members have learned much for the baptismal test, they will have to continue on in further classes to be confirmed. Additionally, the German office for refugees and migrants requires a much more stringent test to prove their conversion is genuine, so they will continue to study very in depth to learn more about their new faith and eventually defend that faith before men.
Not all candidates pass the Baptismal test the first time, but they will study and try again towards being baptized.
A larger class of baptismal candidates will be baptized on April 10 and April 17. One man will be confirmed and receive his first Holy Communion. He was baptized in Iran, and presented his Baptismal Certificate to Rev. Gevers.
LCMS Missionary, Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, played the organ for the festival Divine Service in alternation with a brass choir. Following the baptisms, the congregation sang the Easter hymn “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen.” With the beautiful music and the meaningful text, the hymn took on even more significance in light of the baptisms. The final verse seemed particularly fitting to the day:
Tod, du kannst an mir nichts haben
Muß ich gleich zu Grabe gehen.
Die mit Jesus sind begraben,
werden mit ihm auferstehn.
Sterben ist nun mein Gewinn;
Also fahr ich freudig hin,
da der Trost vor Augen schwebet:
Jesus, mein Erlöser lebet!
Evangelisch Lutherisch Kirchgesangbuch, 437 (“Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen”)
Death you cannot have me;
although I must go to the grave.
Those who with Jesus are buried,
Will with him rise.
Death is now my victory;
Therefore, I go there joyfully
Because this consolation hovers before the eyes:
Jesus, my Redeemer lives!
The baptized were buried with Christ. Though their baptisms may mean a threat to their earthly lives, they know the consolation of the truth that Jesus, their Redeemer, lives. They were buried with Him into death, and raised with Him to life. Jesus lives, and so too will they be resurrected.
- Pray for the newly baptized that they would continue to grow and be strengthened in the faith.
- Pray for those who are preparing to be baptized on April 10th and April 17th.
- Learn more about the Ahlman family, LCMS Missionaries serving in Leipzig.
- Read a devotion written by Rev. Gevers last year.
- Read a devotion written by Rev. Markus Fischer.