MLK Day 2019: Keeping vigil in The Haag

Austin McCabe Juhnke and I arrived in the Netherlands yesterday.  We ended up leaving Columbus a day early to avoid airport weather delays.  We are being hosted by a couple who attends the Mennonite church in The Haag.  They live near the Bethel church which is hosting the round the clock vigil to protect the Tamrazyan family.  They have been in the country nine years, are political refugees, and are living in the church to avoid being deported to Armenia.  Government officials will not enter the building as long as there is a religious service in progress.

Interestingly, our visit coincides with a significant political development here.  One of the country’s four parties has changed their position on child asylum and now supports a more generous law.  This was front page national news today, which included a picture of the Bethel church action, and mention of two Americans from Ohio coming to participate.

Today was our day to lead three hours of the service.  Being MLK Day, we utilized the entirety of his Letter from Birmingham Jail.  We invited volunteers to read paragraphs, included times to pause for commentary, open reflections, silence, and singing verses of “We shall overcome.”  We also prayed our CMC Sanctuary Prayer in English and Spanish a number of times, including a Dutch translation from the Mennonite pastor.  It was good to be able to mix our congregation’s journey with Edith into our sharing. 

One of the lines from the Dr. King’s letter I experienced in a new way was the often-quoted “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Reading this with a family in asylum in The Hague adds a fresh expansiveness to these words.  Another line that unexpectedly gained power was King’s description of the early church: “They were small in number but big in commitment.”  There were perhaps 25-30 people present throughout our time leading, and there are at times only two or three keeping vigil, but it was tremendously powerful to experience the spiritual and moral vitality of this gathering to which so many have committed.  We were told they have surpassed 10,000 visitors, 800 leaders, and 2000 hours of vigil. 

Below are some pictures from our day.

Standing outside Bethel Church in The Haag with our greeting party.


Joining a group that led the service in the early afternoon before us.  This gives a nice view of the worship space.

Receiving the light.jpg

Receiving the lighted candle from the previous leader, which, when finished, we passed on to the next – an illuminated baton in a long relay.


Austin reflecting on the contemporary Madonna, an art piece gifted early on for the vigil, depicting a young African mother and child seeking safety across dangerous waters.


Sharing a meal after our part of the service prepared by the Tamrazyan family, sitting with the two sisters who speak English, Dutch, and some Armenian.  They also have a younger brother.  The parents ate with us but do not want their photos public since they are political refugees.