Muslim Refugees In Britain See Jesus In Their Dreams - Convert And Spend First Christmas As Christians

All but one of the people in this Nativity tableau are former Muslims spending their first Christmas as ChristiansLichfield Diocese

Every person in this nativity tableau bar one is spending their first Christmas as a Christian.

And two of them, a shepherd and an angel, were baptised at the very service in which they performed this nativity, to the music of a Christian version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.

They are truly men and women from the East, being born again in a stable.

Their miraculous stories are among the remarkable events that have been taking place this year at St Mark's, part of the Hanley team ministry in Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent, which has seen more than 50 Muslims convert to Christianity in one year alone.

The vicar, Rev Sally Smith, compares the church as it was to a pool - one that was even a little bit stagnant. Then the Home Office began settling dozens of asylum seekers and refugees in this part of Stoke-on-Trent, where there is a vibrant Muslim community.

Now, she says, the church has grown from about 12 to 50 people or more. People leave as they move to join relatives in other cities and towns - and they are constantly being replaced. She likens it now to a living river of faith. Eight in ten of the congregation now are converts from Islam.

A nativity 'shepherd' celebrates his first Christmas as a Christian after converting from IslamLichfield Diocese

Smith set up a drop-in centre, Sanctus, to help welcome the newcomers, mainly from Iraq and Iran. Many are referred there by agencies such as the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Sanctus, based in the church, being sensitive to the surrounding Muslim community, explicitly does not proselytise. It is now a social enterprise and reliant on donations. Smith is looking for ways to make it more financially independent.

"I am very open about the fact that we are not here to convert people. I say to volunteers, leave your religion outside the door," said Smith.

Nevertheless, many Muslims do convert, moved to do so by the warmth of the welcome and worship at St Mark's and Sanctus.

One of the new converts acts as her translator, rendering her sermons each Sunday into Farsi for the Iranians.

Often destitute and arriving in Britain having lost absolutely everything and after going through desperate struggles and sufferings, they are moved by the kindness of the Christians, said Smith.

They respond to the sense of becoming part of a family.

"We say everybody is welcome. We worship one God. What we do in church, we do in the name of Jesus. Sanctus is for people of all faith and none, it does not proselytise."

At least two of the converts came to Christ as a result of dreams.

Smith told Christian Today: "One man, Hassan, had a dream. In this dream, Jesus came to him as a light. He told him to come to this church and be baptised. He knew it was the Lord who had wrapped himself around him.

"Another man saw Jesus in a dream and he was shown a picture of this very church.

"So many supernatural or mystic experiences seem to be happening. It is wonderful to be part of. It is all quite messy, we are not organised at all.

On the day of the nativity tableau, there were seven baptisms of converts from Islam. And in this church, that is not unusual. Some of the recent baptisms will feature in Songs of Praise on BBC television to be broadcast next month. 

Former Muslims celebrating their first Christmas as Christians at St Mark's Stoke on TrentLichfield Diocese