Challenges of Migrant Churches In Amsterdam and Beyond
The entire Amsterdam Southeast, commonly known as Bijlmer, has over 90.000 residents, with 130 different nationalities coexisting. This diversity is visible not onl
y in the bustling markets and varied cuisines, as well as the pedestrians of all ages dressed in vibrant attire—but also in the various religions represented. Muslims, Hindus, Bahais, and, of course, Christians coexist with a multitude of individuals from secular communities.
Bijlmer is also known as the Little Africa in Holland since it is home to about 90% of the Africans who live in the Netherlands: Ghanaians and Nigerians are the two primary African groups represented in the Bijlmer, with Ghanaians being the majority.
The majority of Ghanaians and Nigerians are Christians, and religion plays a significant role in their daily lives. Hence, Bijlmer is home to at least 150 churches, the majority of which are migrant congregations; Ghanaian, Nigerian, Surinamese and Antillean representing a variety of Christian denominations. Bijlmer is sometimes likened to Urk, a city with a sizable Dutch Christian population.
Due to the fast secularization occurring in the Netherlands, urban planner Siegfried Nassuth and his colleagues did not include religious buildings in their plans for the Bijlmer. When the first pole was driven into the ground by Mayor Van Hall in 1966, he could not have guessed that the Bijlmer would become a neighborhood filled with migrants who require religious communal buildings such as churches.
As a result, since the middle of the 1980s, migrant churches in Bijlmer have held services in flats, wooden structures built beneath the garages of the flats, schools, as well as industrial and commercial facilities. I can clearly remember the wooden structure that served as our church in 1995—it was located beneath the garage of the Kikkenstein apartment. The structure was demolished, and we were forced to relocate to the Diemen-Zuid industrial area in 2000. We worshipped there for 11 years before being forced to leave due to changes in the city planning. Currently, we are situated in the Charity House building in the Bijlmer, where several churches coexist in one building.
Even in this day and age, after a number of decades, and in spite of the construction of a few number of church buildings, the migrant churches continue to struggle to find suitable home. The currently available church buildings are insufficient to house all of the churches in the area. Many church structures, are currently in the process of being demolished. They make important contributions to the general well-being of the community by, for example, providing assistance to the homeless and the disadvantaged in the surrounding area, assisting pupils with their homework, and many other activities. The dilemma of inadequate housing for migrant churches is not unique to the Bijlmer; rather, it affects most migrant churches all around the country, even in other EU countries.
Vast majority of migrant pastors and church leaders do not get a salary from their congregations. All they do is done solely on a volunteer basis, which requires a lot of mental and physical energy...
First of all, the migrant churches in general do not have adequate income, and the little money that they do have is spent on the building's rent and on charitable activities. Secondly, they are unable to submit a mortgage application since banks are typically not interested in providing loans to churches, especially to migrant churches.
Thirdly, the municipalities have altered their destination plans, and the city planning has once more left little room for churches in the Bijlmer. The municipalities prioritize the private reconstruction of additional houses executed by private companies. These developers and construction corporations disregard the religious needs of the local population. Nonetheless, it would be financially advantageous for private sectors to also consider space for religious communities, given that 40% of individuals attend a church, temple, or mosque regularly.
I find it unfortunate that private construction companies and local governments have such a narrow definition of what a church is, namely a “prayerhouse”. A migrant church is more than a "prayerhouse," it is a center for culture, music, arts, charity, and social justice.
Finally, it is also important to mention that the vast majority of migrant pastors and church leaders do not get a salary from their congregations. All they do is done solely on a volunteer basis, which requires a lot of mental and physical energy, resulting in overwork, weariness, and major health issues. I recall how stressed I was in 2011, when we had to leave our building in search of a new one, which resulted in high blood pressure and recurrent migraines that lasted for a couple of years. My appeal to all readers of this column is to continue to pray for the migrant churches and to do whatever you can to assist and support them.