Over the past decade the Netherlands has been at the
center of intense and emotional debates about Islamic immigration and
integration in Europe. Long held to be the most progressive and tolerant nation
in the world the Netherlands has quickly become home to one of the most vocal
anti-Islamic movements in Europe. As tensions between Dutch secularists and
Islamic immigrants rise some Christians have taken some creative steps to
demonstrate Christ’s hospitality, justice, and grace amidst the clash. In three
separate pieces Matthew Kaemingk examines three particularly creative,
inspiring, and non-traditional Christian responses to Islam.
The Micro-Politics of Hot
Coffee and Open Doors
Muslim immigration was not a question Sint-Joriskerk in Amersfoort was ever
looking to answer. That was, of course, until the question came right up and
knocked on the church’s front door. A snow-white, traditional, Psalm-singing
group of conservative Calvinists, the members of Sint-Joriskerk were not quite sure what do when Shawky Hafez, a
drug-addicted immigrant from Egypt, rapped on their door and said “I want to
know about Jesus. Can someone here help me?”
Rita and Gert Hunink along with other families in
the church began inviting Shawky into their home for coffee. As they grew
closer they walked alongside Shawky as he worked through numerous challenges
with faith, life, work, and addiction. Soon asylum seekers “Jonathan” from
Yemen and “Ishmael” from
Somalia joined Rita and Gert’s little group.1 Every week the growing
company would gather to play games and enjoy cake, coffee, and conversation
about the eccentricities of Dutch culture, the challenges of immigration, and
the love of Jesus Christ. Each new arrival brought with them a new set of
unique challenges, questions, and blessings.
Things, however, grew more complicated, not less.
Jonathan cannot return to Yemen because of a local Fatwa over his conversion to
Christianity and Ishmael has now lived in the homes of two different church
families. “We also had a young man from Eritrea
come to our home,” Rita recalls, “who had been a child soldier and was terribly
traumatized by the experience. As a result he had a terrible alcohol problem.” Gert
adds, “All we try to do with these difficult stories is try to listen to God’s
will and be obedient. Sometimes this brings us sorrows, but mostly it enriches
our lives and gives us joy to share love of God.”
Sundays in the Netherlands have a tried and true
rhythm for traditional Dutch Christians. Families go to church in the morning
and afterwards they quickly disperse to their individual homes and families
before returning to church in the evening for another service. Like many
others, Sunday family time was sacred for the Hunink family. That said, their
definition of “family” would need to change when their new visitors arrived.
Inviting them in and hearing their stories the Hunink’s soon discovered that
many immigrants, particularly asylum seekers, go home each Sunday to a cold,
sterile, and lonely government-funded apartment building or asylum center.
While opening one’s home to strangers may be a
common practice in some cultures it is a distinct rarity in the Netherlands.
Living in a cramped country, Hollanders traditionally treasure the sacred
privacy and intimacy of their homes. As Hafez explained, “I lived in the
Netherlands for 18 years before I was invited into a Dutch home—the Hunink’s
were the first.” Word spread of the strange Hunink hospitality and the group
soon needed to spill over into the homes of other church members. Through this
experience Rita began to recognize that immigrants coming to their church were
not looking for a good sermon, exciting music, or simply financial help;
instead, they were looking for a home. They didn’t want services rendered; the
needed brothers and sisters.
Some members have come to realize that if their
church is going to be a “family” for lonely immigrants they will need to
cultivate a richer sense of Christian community than they currently have. Their
current definition of “church” will need to expand beyond the church building
and an hour or two on a Sunday. It will need to expand beyond a quick cup of
coffee. Through this process, Sint-Joriskerk
is beginning to discover something the ancient church knew only too well—that eating
and drinking together in a person’s home can be a powerful communal and
Not only that, Sint-Joriskerk’s
experience has had real political effects as well. Gert Hunink serves on the
Amersfoort city council and is an active member of the ChristenUnie (a Christian political party in the Netherlands) which
is currently being pulled in multiple directions on the issue of Islamic
immigration. In the past few years some of their constituents have begun to
leave the party in favor of a more anti-Islamic right-wing party.
Drawing on his experience with Sint-Joriskerk Hunink and his colleague Stephen Haak have argued
that any political party working under the label “Christian” must evaluate its
policies on Islam in the light of Old Testament commands to care for the
immigrant and Christ’s work of hospitality. In a letter sent to their national
party Gert and Haak argued that the Dutch people’s demand for social peace and
security will not come through muscular anti-Islamic rhetoric or another
government program. Instead, they argued, it must begin with micro-level acts
of Christian hospitality and dialogue. Families, schools, churches,
institutions, and political leaders in the ChristenUnie
movement must model Christ’s hospitality to the larger nation through an open
engagement with Muslim individuals, schools, leaders, institutions, and
mosques. They must discover, in other words, the politics of coffee.
In this, Gert and Stephen argued, the people of the ChristenUnie could accomplish two
things. First, their party could quietly begin to build a critical trust
between two communities who have long been at odds. Second, through showing
hospitality to immigrants and listening to their stories the ChristenUnie’s voters and leaders could
be better informed about the real issues facing immigrants. Who knows, perhaps
they would even develop a level of Christian empathy for their new neighbors.
Of course, Gert and Stephen argued, the ChristenUnie
will have their criticisms of the Muslim neighbors. Of course their will be
differences. Of course the ChristenUnie
will fight for law, order, and security. But, if there is going to be lasting
security, trust, and integration in the Netherlands it will not be built on the
foundation of the demonizing rhetoric of the right or the bureaucratic programs
of the left.
Hunink and Haak recognized that a political proposal
involving the words “hospitality” and “dialogue” will be received by many as
naïve, cowardly, and weak. They responded with a simple retort that in a
country so bereft of social trust and hospitality, few things are more
revolutionary or difficult than a cup of coffee, an open door, and an open
1Their names have been changed for their protection.
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Matthew Kaemingk is a doctoral student in Theology at the Free University in Amsterdam and Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.