By Melissa Browning
Sometimes, the best thing to do while you pray and work is to hope for a miracle. This has been the case in Janée Angel’s life as she and her husband, Hary, have been living and ministering in Antwerp, Belgium. Their ministry is characterized by its welcome and hospitality. From helping Syrian refugees escape war, to stepping out on faith to plant the first Arabic language church in Antwerp, their work in Belgium is built on prayer, faith and hope.
Just ask Ornila. Stuck in Syria as bombs fell around her, she and her family desperately needed to escape. But for families without wealth, escaping a war zone is extremely difficult. Ornila is one of the 22 people Hary and Janée have helped migrate to safety from Hary’s homeland of Syria. Ornila’s mother was in Sweden, waiting for her family to join her when the burden of getting this family to safety fell on 17-year-old Ornila. She left Damascus with her father and siblings to reunite with her mother, but then tragedy struck. Her father died. Suddenly she was the sole caretaker for her family and she was stuck, unable to find a path to Sweden.
Janée found herself at the center of Ornila’s story as her family and her community looked to Janée to intervene. So she began to pray for a miracle.
“I remember Hary saying, ‘You need to figure out a man in Jordan who can let them get into the country to go to the Swedish Embassy in Jordan.’ I just felt the weight of the world on my shoulders and I prayed, ‘Lord, I don’t need a man in Jordan to fix this problem, I need a king to fix this problem, I need you to fix it.’ As I said the words, it was almost like the Lord said, ‘Then write the king.”
So Janée did. The Queen of Jordan replied to her request for help; but even this was not enough to help Ornila find a path to safety. And time was running out. Once Ornila turned 18, she would no longer be able to continue her current asylum process as a minor with her siblings, but would need to begin the process again as an adult on her own.
After Janée sent more than 300 emails telling Ornila’s story, a connection finally emerged through CBF. Someone found a way to get Ornila and her family an appointment at the Swedish Embassy in Lebanon. Ornila and her siblings made the dangerous journey from Damascus to Beruit through ISIS territory. When they arrived, they stayed with CBF field personnel Chaouki and Maha Boulos while they waited on their visas.
It was on this journey between Beruit and Damascus that Ornila met Jesus. The bombs were loud and frightening that day as the children were traveling alone. They were staying across the street from a church, so Ornila took her brothers and sisters to the church building for refuge. The bombs were so bad that the pastor had not shown up that day; but Jesus did. Ornila said that she found him there.
Today, Ornila is a lay leader at her church in Linköping, Sweden. She is thriving and safe, reunited with her mother.
“We cannot stop war, and we cannot stop evil. They will get worse. But the only thing I can tell you, the only solution, go back to Jesus; he is the only solution, the only savior. He gives you safety,” said Ornila, reflecting on her journey.
For Janée and Hary, Ornila’s story is a reminder of why church and a church building are so important. It is why they took their family and moved from Brussels to Antwerp. As you walk down the street in Antwerp, you see people from every country in the world. Many refugees and immigrants from Arabic countries live there. But before Janée and Hary moved to Antwerp, there was no Arabic language church.
Soon after they moved to Antwerp to start a new ministry, Hary began to long for a building to be the ministry base for their work. As a refugee, he knew that his community needed a place to call their own. “We needed a shelter for refugee Christians and other Arabs,” Hary said. “I felt that it was a huge necessity to create a church specially for us. The Lord put in my heart that I would buy this place one day. This dream stayed with me for seven years.”
During this time, the ministry in Antwerp grew and multiple churches were planted. “Our heart is to see churches, or Arabic-speaking house groups planted all over the country,” Janée said. But there was still the matter of the building. There was still the dream that God had given to Hary and Janée.
When a building on their block went on the market, Janée and Hary attempted to get a loan to buy it. But the bank was unwilling to loan them the money. So they prayed and waited and worked. The church in Antwerp raised money. CBF churches gave generously. The CBF Offering for Global Missions supported their work. Still, even more money was needed. Janée and Hary had savings—their personal savings—and they soon begin to realize that God was calling them to use this money to build this new church in Antwerp.
Again, time was running out. They needed the money quickly so they wouldn’t risk losing this building. Janée began to fast and pray and told God that she would give all of their savings to make this happen. She and Hary had peace about this decision, but they still needed more money to buy the building outright. The banks that had refused to give them a loan in the beginning because they needed too much money were now refusing to give them a loan because they were asking for too little.
So Janée wrote another email. She reached out to a CBF church and said, “I’ve never written an e-mail like this, but I’m asking you for $38,000 so that we can buy a ministry house. That’s all we need.” The mission committee chair wrote back immediately and said the timing was perfect. The missions committee would be discussing their annual giving that evening and she would add this request to the agenda.
Janée and Hary asked their people to pray and at 7:00 the next morning she received an email that said, “It’s time to celebrate, $38,000 is on its way!”
On February 12, 2019, Janée and Hary paid in cash for a ministry house that opened in April 2019. Today the church has services on Sundays, weekly Bible studies on Thursdays, Dutch lessons on Fridays and a Saturday night prayer meeting. They are open all week for people to gather around meals and conversation. This new church, Christus Voor Alle Naties (Christ For All Nations) is a place of hospitality and welcome for the Arabic community in Antwerp. Last year, 35 people were baptized. The church has believers from all over the Middle East and North Africa. About half of the members have been in Christian churches their whole lives while the rest come from Muslim backgrounds.
This church is a living embodiment of welcome for migrants and refugees.
“I have learned a lot about hospitality just from being around people from the Middle East and North Africa. As they come now as refugees and immigrants from those areas, we often welcome them in our home,” Janée reflected. “Jesus himself was a refugee. It’s written all over the Bible. That’s God’s heart and, if that’s God’s heart, then that’s my heart for those people.”
Hebrews 13:2 reminds the community: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
For Janée and Hary and the community of believers in Antwerp, this verse says it all.
If you visit on a Sunday, you will smell falafels cooking in the back as you hear the sound of Arabic hymns spilling into the street. You will look up to the second-floor window and see children playing as they learn a Bible lesson. When you walk inside, you will find Christians and seekers from Egypt and Morocco and Syria and Iraq, all coming together around a common faith that makes them community. You will meet refugees and migrants, leaders in this new church who are starting their lives over and building Christ’s kingdom in the process. Christus Voor Alle Naties is certainly providing welcome and relief for those looking to find their way. And it all began with a prayer and God’s dream and a few miracles along the way.
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