A church in the Netherlands has been holding service for more that 800 hours and counting to prevent the deportation of an Armenian family seeking asylum. For more than a month now, hundreds of pastors, volunteers, and congregants have been meeting in the Bethal Church and Community Center. The services are taking place around the clock, with the clergy tapping each other out every few hours. And they are saying the services will continue, “as long as necessary.”
The extraordinary measures began after the family, who arrived in the country in 2010 seeking asylum, finally received a judgment in their case that rejected their plea. The family, which includes three children, were in the process of being forced back to a country they feared. And then Axel Wicke, who began the services in secret, concocted the plan to save the family from deportation. Under Dutch Law, police can not interrupt a religious service, and so he and others began to wonder if they might be able to stage a religious protest to buy the family more time to appeal the court’s decision.
He copied and pasted the liturgies of the last 10 years into one document and began praying and reading. Others quickly joined in and a church service with no end in sight began.
The clergy participating in the service say that the scripture is clear that they are compelled to respond in a crisis like this.
The idea of people seeking help by cloistering into churches to avoid deportation or arrest is not a new concept. For many years anyone could seek “sanctuary” inside a church. Though the laws are different in each country or state, the idea of the church acting as a safe haven from harmful extradition has a historical and biblical precedent.
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