“Just how many true believers do we send back home to face persecution and death because our authorities believe they are not genuine in their new found faith?” asks Hanna Smedjegård.
"Holy Spirit, it's time to help me." Those were his words before we went into the courtroom together. Two rejections and only one chance left in the struggle for a residence permit in Sweden was the reality facing the young Afghan, a former Muslim who had become Christian one year earlier. A true Christian. And that’s where I differ from the Migration Board and the Court.
This young Afghan man's life made an ominous turn when he received the final rejection in his quest for a residence permit a few weeks ago. Rejection - despite his asylum arguments. He, Helal, has converted from a Muslim faith to a Christian faith and has the right to obtain a residence permit (to reside in Sweden). Despite this, he received a negative response. And we, who are his pastoral leaders in The Salvation Army in Borlänge, are trapped.
Helal became a Christian a year ago in the corps (church) of which I am a leader. Over the course of the year, he deepened his knowledge of the Christian faith, relied on God when storms surrounded him, had been a model of commitment and service, helped in worship, translated worship songs, was baptized, and become a member and conducted prayer sessions.
At the same time, there has been a period of anxiety, fear and great emotional pain - going through an asylum process is a terrible strain for a young person. But he has kept the courage and hopes alive; He has met Jesus in his new faith, the God of hope! And we have seen the transformation in his life.
But Swedish authorities do not believe that his religious conversion is genuine. What they base that view on is difficult to understand. To judge faith is difficult, how do you know if someone’s belief is real?
I do not want to appoint myself as an expert in the field, but I am a trained officer (minister) in the Salvation Army and my work is to convey faith to other people so that God can become a reality in their lives, just as God is a reality in my life.
Together with my colleague in the congregation I serve, and a number of members, we have tried to convey our view of Helal's conversion in every way possible. But admit that we throw up our hands in despair.
As officers and leaders in the Church, we wonder at the lack of confidence in our knowledge to judge authenticity in faith - and wonder what other authority in the society that Swedish authorities prefer to trust.
In Helal's case, and there are countless stories about others in the same situation, the congregation and leaders of which he is a member has submitted documents that strengthen his membership. Photographs and a dossier have been submitted to the Swedish Migration Board. Declarations and signatures have been submitted from fifty church members who describe and certify the authenticity of his faith and confirm his active participation in the life of the church community.
And at the last court hearing, we were five people from the corps present in the courtroom - all to publicly witness that we are convinced that Helal's conversion is genuine and real.
Helal himself has confessed his faith in Jesus in our congregation, in worship, in town, at a large Christian conference, and he chose to be baptized (which was filmed). He chose to become a member of our congregation and he has studied the Christian faith in our denomination with us, but also with other Afghans in their own language
He has submitted a written account of his spiritual journey to God and he has told people in his presence, both in Sweden and in Afghanistan, that he is now a Christian. Helal has thus assumed his new life as a Christian with great devotion and dedication and he has done everything possible to present this to the Swedish authorities.
And the question echoes: How many true believers do we send back to face persecution and death because our authorities believe they are not genuine in their newly found faith?
In the long run, the church needs to be informed of what the Swedish authorities require as proof of a convert, which, in their conversion, has a cause for asylum and therefore a right to a residence permit in Sweden.
We understand that trust in us as a professional group and our ability to assess the authenticity of people's faith is not particularly great. This makes us ask the question: Who does Swedish authorities consider to be better suited to making that assessment than we?
There is a voice in me that screams that now, it’s enough! How do you, the relevant authorities, want us, Church leaders, to help people who actually convert into Christianity to prove that faith is genuine and authentic?
What can we do to ensure that the next convert that we encounter does not meet the same fate as our beloved Helal?
Hanna Smedjegård, Commanding officer of The Salvation Army, in Borlänge Sweden