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    Expert on Church Sheltering Family From Deportation: 500 Pastors Have Come to Us

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    A church in the Netherlands holds 800-hour service to halt the deportation of an Armenian family. Sputnik spoke about it to Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands.

    Sputnik: Can religion actually overcome the law?

    Theo Hettema: No, religion and the Church need not to do so. I think that the Church and religion have the important task to convey messages from society to the government, and by doing this church service we help the government to make better laws and better regulations for people who need them.

    We don't place ourselves outside the legal order, but rather operate within the legal order. We don't see this action and church service as a struggle, but as a dialogue with the government. It's the utmost form to do so, and it's all needed in this situation. We always want to have a dialogue on this case with government and parliament members.

    Sputnik: Are initiatives like these — that are deeply entwined with current socio-political issues — aimed at making the Church more popular and hence powerful in the Netherlands?

    Theo Hettema: It's not our intention to reach such things. What we do is having this church service because it's the utmost way for them to tell their story and the story of the 400 children [who are in a similar situation to the Tamrazyan family] in the Netherlands. And I think it's a clear motivation for the people who come here and see a new spirituality coming up in their hearts and in the church as a whole. But the effect that this will have, that doesn't matter so much; the wellbeing of people is more important than the effect of the initiative on the Church.

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    Sputnik: What does the future hold for the Armenian family? And what is the government planning to do to find a solution to the situation?
    Theo Hettema:
    We hope that the family will obtain a residence permit to stay in the Netherlands. They need it and it's the only good future for them. And we hope there will be a good regulation for refugee children in the Netherlands. We have a kind of regulation that pardons children, but it's not good at the moment. So we need a better regulation. It's the responsibility of the government to create that, and we urge them to do so.

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    Sputnik: You have recently asked on Facebook for more volunteers to join the cause. What's next?

    Theo Hettema: We made a call for that, and now we have some 500 pastors from the entire country who have come to us and filled the schedule. It's quite impressive. I think we've had some 3,500 churchgoers coming daily via the support of some 40 volunteers; 20 coordinators who are entirely busy with this case.

    We need a practical support, we need donations, we need more pastors who are willing to fill a part of the service. But practically we can sustain the action, so we can continue. We are running for nearly 1,000 hours now, and I think we have to continue for a while.

    The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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