When Laughter Isn't Funny: Refugees Defend Their Faith in Kangaroo Court

By David Stoddard, Jan 18, 2018

One of the most anticipated, decisive, and nerve-wracking moments for every refugee in Germany is the day in court, when their case is heard as to whether their life is truly in danger if they were to be sent back  to their home country. For Christian converts from Islam much of their case rests on proof of a true conversion. Each refugee is asked about their journey into Christianity. However, this day in court often resembles a kangaroo court rather than true justice. The nature of the questions refugees are asked belies the German courts ability to assess conversion to Christianity. Furthermore, refugee's answers are often incorrectly translated by court appointed translators who haven't a clue about Christianity either.

Faith on trial
Here are some of the questions judges have asked to assess whether a refugee truly knows and understands what the Christian faith is about:

"What were the names of the sons in the parable of the prodigal son?"

"What is the global capital of the Christian faith?"

"Why haven't you read the whole Bible?"

"How do you reconcile the sovereignty of God with His Trinitarian nature?"

"The Bible is also considered holy writing in Islam and can be obtained freely; why haven't you tried to buy a copy?"

"Martin Luther is an important person in the Gospels. What do know about him?" 

There is a sad irony to these questions. A secular state that hasn't a clue about what true Christianity involves is in the position to judge whether refuges are true Christians. More poignantly put: A secular state, often hostile to the gospel, is judging whether people who do hold the gospel should be sent back to countries hostile to the gospel.

How can someone who is unconverted judge those who are? In our work with refugees many arrive having just begun their journey toward Christ. Many have said, "I've known the darkness of Islam, and a hunger to know Jesus began in my homeland. God brought me to Germany so that I might find this Jesus." They are new to Christianity, and yet are examined as if they've walked with Jesus for decades, or have completed a theological degree, by those who know little about Christianity.

Lost in translation
However, the problem isn't just with the judges. Much gets lost in translation by translators who don't understand Christianity either. In a recent case in Kassel an Iranian refugee who has converted to Christianity was asked what was preached in the church he now attends. He began speaking about a sermon series from the book of Matthew (Matthäus) and Luther's understanding of the gospel. The translator didn't understand the refugee's response and said, "He preaches about Lothar Matthäus."

The courtroom erupted in laughter. Lothar Matthäus is a soccer legend in Germany. The judge irreverently retorted, "So does Matthew have a new coaching position?"

Longing for justice, met with laughter
The journey of a refugee is more difficult than most of us can imagine. They've lost friends, family, culture, security, identity, comfort, possessions, and any sense of home. Many come to Germany seeking a new life and lose it on the way. When they arrive, they are met with differing reactions, suspicion at a minimum and racism at worst. Their hope is often in their day in court, when their plea is heard, justice is provided, and they can begin a new life. My heart was broken to think of their day in court as simply a kangaroo court. How devastating it must be to stand before the judge, desperately longing for justice, refuge, and a new life, and to be met instead with laughter. The saddest part is that for most in the court the laughter costs them nothing. However, for the refugee in the dock, the laughter, the misunderstanding, can lead to a life in prison, or at worst, their lives if they are sent back.

I think of Stephen in Acts 6 and 7. Stephen was also brought into a kangaroo court. It should have been a place where his case was heard and was met with justice on earth. As earthly justice failed, he looked to heaven's court to see the true Judge. Jesus in Acts 7:8 is standing not sitting. It is the position of judge who is rendering his verdict. On earth Stephen was found guilty and stoned. In the heavenlies he was found innocent and was glorified.

Our heart's long for earthly justice for our refugee friends. Most of their lives they've hopped from one kangaroo court to another. They've looked into the eyes of their heavenly Judge and found hope. May their hope, their testimony change the hearts of those who translate them, judge them, hear them, and see their lives. May their joy turn the laughter of derision into the laughter of disciples who follow the true Judge, whose verdict is the only one we will hear ring into eternity.

David Stoddard is MTW’s international director for Europe. 

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