The Berlin truck attack last week was a poignant and symbolic tragedy: a Muslim attack on a Christian (Christmas) setting; death at the scene of rejoicing in Christ’s birth; violence invading a peaceful celebration. It was horrifying proof of what Europeans fear most when they consider hosting refugees. Now that the suspect is dead, Berlin is closing down their Christmas markets, and the world grieves, here are some important things to know and pray about before we Christians move on.
The attacker, Annis Amri, embodies the great debate currently facing Europe: to welcome refugees or to close borders and protect the citizenry. Beyond the important, secular, political debate, Christians can agree that the current refugee crisis in Europe is a unique and unprecedented opportunity for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
Amri was a 24 year old Tunisian asylum seeker and was in fact identified as a security risk by the German government. Amri left Tunisia in 2011, spent time in Italy (including four years in jail for robbery and arson), and was supposed to be deported to Tunisia. Instead he went to Germany where he was closely watched after seeking asylum under a false identity. As recently as July of this year he was detained and would have been deported, but Tunisia did not have the required paperwork prepared for him. He was released after two days and then fell through the cracks of close surveillance.
Germany is seen as a liberal beacon in Western Europe. Headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, the country has maintained a welcoming environment for refugees, with Merkel pushing her people to differentiate between terrorists and refugees. Between 2014 and 2015, 2.4 million people moved to Germany—a record number of immigrants. 900,000 refugees from predominantly Muslim countries moved in last year.
As a result of the record influx, Germans’ perception of the Muslim population is much greater than it actually is. A recent study shows that the Germans generally think that Muslims make up 21% of their population, when in fact they make up about 5.5%.
Right-wing political groups and voices are calling for closing borders and unleashing “the state on their citizens in the name of protecting their virtue." Political cartoons show Merkel with blood on her hands, calling Germany’s altruism reckless.
But to unleash the state on its citizens in Germany is to evoke recent history—the surveillance of both the Nazis, as well as the East German Intelligence Agency known as Stasi. Germans are, for obvious reasons, leery of allowing government surveillance of the people. Merkel’s cabinet, however, approved legislation expanding their surveillance powers just last Wednesday in the aftermath of the attack.
Europe is indeed facing a unique moment in history. The civil wars in nearby Africa and the Middle East have brought unprecedented numbers of refugees, immigrants, and Muslim background people onto the continent. Europeans are divided as to what should be done: welcome or restrict?
But as Christians, we know this is an open door for our generation to reach Muslim peoples as never before. Jesus called us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Well the nations have come to Europe, and especially to Germany. The current Pioneers missionaries in Europe will tell you that through personal, everyday contact, relationships between ordinary Muslims and ordinary Christians are flowering and Muslim background refugees throughout Europe are getting acquainted with Jesus.
Such once-in-a-generation opportunities are finite and don’t last forever. May Christians make the most of every opportunity because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:15). Currently Pioneers has two missionary families reaching Muslim immigrants in Germany. Pray for them, pray for those they encounter, and pray and ask the Lord if you should go too.