This church has held non-stop services for a month to save a refugee family from deportation.

Bethel Church in the Netherlands has held non-stop, round-the-clock services since October 28.

For more than a month, Bethel Church in The Hague has held church services all day and all night. Hour after hour, pastors take turns leading worship, bringing in choirs and bands, and never allowing a break in the continual services.

According to Dutch law, authorities are not allowed to enter a place of worship while services are being held. The ministry of Bethel Church is utilizing that law in the hopes of buying time for an Armenian refugee family facing deportation.


The family, who were granted political asylum after fleeing to the Netherlands nine years ago, had their case overturned.

Sasun​ and Anoushce Tamrazyan fled Armenia nine years ago with their three children, Hayarpi, Warduhi and Seyran. Sasun said he faced death threats in his home country for his political activism. According to the CBC, the family had previously been granted asylum, but that decision was recently overturned on appeal by the government. That means the family who has lived in the Netherlands for nine years faces deportation.

Bethel Church stepped in, offering sanctuary to the Tamrazyans. The family has been living in the church for more than a month while the continuous services have been held. The hope is to convince the government to allow the family to stay under a provision in Dutch law known as a "children's pardon," which allows families with children who have lived in the Netherland for more than five years to stay.

While most applications are denied, the law is in place to protect children's well being. Martine Goeman, a legal adviser at Defense for Children in the Netherlands, told CNN, "There is a lot of scientific research done which shows that after 5 years, a child cannot be deported without significant damage to their development."

More than 400 pastors from around the country have pitched in to keep the services going.

Bethel Church pastor Derk Stegemen told CBC Radio that the plan to hold the services was hatched in secret. He also said the Tamrazyans have graciously told church officials that they don't need to go to so much trouble for them.

But Stegmen told the family that they weren't doing it just for them. "For us," he told CBC, "we are doing it to show to ourselves and to our community, to our government, that civilization and love in life and civilization, it's not by expelling people, expelling children. So we are trying to prove that it can be different."

The services have grown into a full-blown movement, with hundreds of pastors from around the country coming to Bethel to help with the 24/7 church services. They bring with them worshippers, singers, musicians, and a dedication to humanity.

"For us, it's a big job," Stegeman told CBC, "but it's also a fruitful experience and there's a lot of joy and a lot of people are meeting one another. But for the family, it's really heavy, all the uncertainly about the future."

The act is as much a spiritual statement as a political one.

The ministry involved in the services have made it clear that providing sanctuary for the Tamrazyans is about living the teachings of their faith.

Theo Hettema, chairman of the General Council of Protestant Ministers in the Netherlands, told CNN, "We want to love God and our neighbor. And we thought that this was a clear opportunity to put the love for our neighbor into reality." He said the services will continue to be held for "as long as it's necessary."

Hayarpi, the Tamrazyan's 21-year-old daughter, has publicly expressed gratitude to all of the church volunteers via Twitter. On November 29, she published a poem in English that sums up the hope inherent in this act of goodwill toward her family. It begins:

In these difficult times

Of darkness and grief

I lift up my head

And feel Your love in my heart.

In these difficult times

Of desperation, of anger

I lift up my hands

And praise You in my heart

In these difficult times

While I seem to be paralysed

I feel Your peace in my soul

And open my eyes to see Your grace

Who knows if the church's actions will make an impact and if this refugee family will be granted asylum. But when man-made borders and laws result in human suffering, it's at refreshing to see humanity step up to try to remedy it.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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