Worshipful Living: How a Church in the Netherlands Prayed Away Deportation

Worshipful Living: How a Church in the Netherlands Prayed Away Deportation February 1, 2019

The concept of “worshipful living” is an underrated Christian practice. Most of us worship once a week (if we’re having a good week,) and while we try to model our faith every day, our usual routine doesn’t always bring us into something we would call ‘worship.’

But the way of worshipful life was a fundamental concept of the early church. It was a call to carry the life of prayer out into the community and world. Beyond a “practice what you preach” mentality, worshipful living is more about the embodied experience of faith. It means you approach everything–every word, action and interaction–as though it is an act of worship. Broadly and culturally speaking, I think we tend to file this under “a nice idea but not practical unless you happen to be a monastic desert-dweller from another century.” To our contemporary ears, it sounds idealistic at best; and at worst, sanctimonious. A pointless show of piety.

A church in the Netherlands showed us that this misconception is far from the truth. In fact, it is not only possible to worship with your whole life: it is possible to do so in a way that has nothing to do with rote appearances, and everything to do with loving your neighbor with your whole self.

A weird law in that country prohibits law enforcement from disrupting an act of worship. So when the Tamrazyans family came to the church–in danger of deportation and seeking sanctuary –the church did the only thing they knew to do: they started a worship service. And it lasted 96 days.

They weren’t going for a world record. They were just protecting their neighbors. In an epic feat that involved a rotation of over 1,000 pastors and priests–and what I can only imagine was a revolving door of worshippers– the church kept this service going for more than three months.

Can we just acknowledge that this is a baller move? This is like… nuns stealing the spark plugs out of the Nazis’ car in The Sound of Music cool. This is what church should be, all the time.

During these long days of prayer, over 250,000 people signed a petition to change the law that puts so many families at risk of being deported. Much like America, parts of Europe have experienced a recent resurgence of xenophobia, leading to a growing number of deportations. This act of faith and compassion on the part of one church shows that Christian public witness is still a thing. And it also reminds us of the call to ‘worship in all things,’ in ways that bring tangible change to the world around us.

The church finally ended its ever-lasting service this week when a stay of deportation was offered. And the offer extended not just to the one family–but applies to as many as 700 families that in similar circumstances.

Tell me prayer doesn’t change anything.

Since hearing this story I’ve wondered at many things. First of all, at the pastors that not only gave some of their time to lead this service, but also at the massive communication and organizing effort that must have gone into making sure someone was always leading. I think about how when one got tired, there was always another there–and another, and another–to be the body and voice of presence.

I’ve also wondered at the combined effort of the community to save its neighbors; I think about the members of this church, how they must have built time for presence in that sanctuary into the rhythm of their days. I think about what it must have taken not just to shelter that family, but also to feed and care for them. And I wonder how many people from the surrounding area who would never in life consider themselves ‘church-goers,’ might have wandered into that holy space for a just a moment to be part of something beautiful; to share a simple human moment that might mean new life for another family.

In so many ways, literal and otherwise, this is the body of Christ. This is faith embodied, and love made known in the flesh.

It just goes to show, for all the ways we might put “prayer” into a realm of the utterly spiritual and esoteric… well sometimes prayer really can change the world in the most literal ways imaginable. Especially if we are willing to put our whole bodies, our whole selves behind it.


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