Pentecostalists attract Muslim asylum seekers

The Pentecostal Church has created a controversial revival movement among Muslim asylum seekers in the greater Oslo area. In the past six years 16,000 refugees have visited the white wooden church in Sandvika, a suburb in Bærum just west of the capital. Some asylum center leaders say the church is tricking their visitors.

Pentecostal meeting leader Robert Leine said that they just wanted to spread tolerance and were responsive to the wishes of the various asylum centers.

Between the asylum seeker bus and other methods, the Thursday night meetings at the Pentecostal Church are a cosmopolitan affair.

Coffee, cakes, Iranian pop music, a little proselytizing and a special bus - these are the ingredients behind the church's popular meetings with asylum seekers.

Since 1998 over 16,000 asylum seekers have attended the church's Thursday meetings. About 70 percent of these visitors have been Muslims. The revivalist campaign has also resulted in 80 former Muslims letting themselves be baptized.

The congregation drives their own bus around and often enters the centers to meet the refugees. This has led to tighter security, and the Hvalstad center for underage asylum seekers banned the Pentcostalists earlier this year.

The Hvalstad center found the recruiting unpleasant, and felt the youngsters were being lured with refreshments and day out without being warned in advance that they would be attending a Christian meeting, an aspect that can lead to various complications.

The Directorate of Immigration (UDI) said that how the arrangement and approach of the Pentecostalists is handled is up to the respective centers to decide. NOAS, the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, tries to inform and advise refugees, and often feels that the revivalists are putting problematic pressure on the newcomers.

The church said that they would abide by the rules of the centers and were just trying to spread the light.

"We are not so naive that we baptize someone who has hopes that this could help their asylum application. We could have taken in many more, but we are restrictive," said Robert Leine, who leads the church's meetings.

"Anything is better than being bored at the center!" says a Muslim guest, one of a group about 50 visitors made up of 20 nationalities at last Thursday night's meeting.

A group of Iranian asylum seekers say that boredom is the main reason that any form of entertainment appeals. Earlier, some Iranians tried baptism as a route into Norway, but claim that the UDI now know about this.

A 26-year-old Iranian said a switch to Christianity would mean liquidation if he eventually returned to Iran, and none of the group said that they felt the church tried to convert them.

"Your God or our God, it is the same thing. We have come here to relax a little, eat cake and air our thoughts," he said.