A church in the Netherlands has maintained a continuous worship service — 24 hours a day, seven days per week for the last month — in order to prevent an Armenian refugee family from being deported.
Sasun and Anousche Tamrazyan and their three children have been living in the Netherlands for the past nine years after they fled from Armenia after Sasun’s political activism resulted in death threats.
According to Quartz, the family was initially granted asylum in the Netherlands by a judge after years of court proceedings. However, the government was successful in its attempt to overturn the earlier court ruling that granted asylum to the family.
The Tamrazyan family then applied for a “children’s pardon” through a program in which permits to stay in the country are given to refugee families with children that have been living in the country for over five years. But, the family’s request for a children’s pardon was denied earlier this year.
The Tamrazyans were previously living in a refugee shelter in Katwijk for two years. But after they learned that a deportation order had been issued in September, the family then looked for churches in which they could seek shelter.
The local church that the family first turned to was a bit too small to house all five members. They eventually wound up at Bethel Church, a Protestant church in The Hague, where they had been given sanctuary on Oct. 25.
Under Dutch law, police officers are barred from entering churches during religious services in order to enforce immigration orders.
Pastors from across the country have taken turns in holding worship services at Bethel Church to ensure that the service does not end so that a police officer cannot come to detain the family.
According to The Huffington Post, the church has used a rotating cast of about 400 pastors and lay people to conduct the never-ending service. In all, the church claims, as many as 3,500 people from across the country have visited the church to support the family.
Since Oct. 26 at 1:30 p.m., the church has held over 800 consecutive hours of worship service. There is no indication on when the service will end.
“[W]e do all this by continuously praying, singing, listening to sermons and worshipping,” Bethel Church pastor Alex Wicke wrote in a tweet. “The Tamrazyan family is literally living in a protective house built by prayers and worship.”
Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers, told Quartz that part of the purpose of the worship service is to demonstrate to government leaders the “urgency” of the Tamrazyan family’s situation.
Wicke told the Austrailian outlet ABC that the Tamrazyan family is fleeing from more than just threats.
"We know from the family that he also got abducted several times — he was politically active and people in the country were wanting him dead," the pastor detailed.
In a release, the church explained it is looking “to create rest and safety for the family” and “offer some respite to the family during which we invite politicians to discuss with us the family’s fate and the effects of the Child Amnesty Arrangement.”
Wicke wrote on Twitter that the church is receiving “massive support” for its efforts to protect the family.
“So we keep going, also because there still are many talks going on with politicians behind the curtains, some of which give reason to hope,” Wicke explained.