By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
URK, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife)– The local goverment of the famous Dutch town of Urk has pledged to allow an annual evangelism tent campaign after its earlier decision to ban the event led to political protests and international media coverage.
Officials in Urk, known for traditional churches and a fishing community, said last month they refused permission “because these activities must be organized by local churches.” Additionally, licenses for evangelism could only be given in “summer holidays.”
The Dutch Christian Democratic Appeal party (CDA) argued in statements picked up by BosNewsLife and other media that the ban would threaten the long cherished seperation of church and state in the Netherlands, which is already embroiled in a political debate over Islamization while evangelicals have noted growing intolerance.
In a u-turn, Urk’s local government said it would grant the ‘Netherlands Bible study Center’ (NBC) permission to set up a circus tent in the town’s port, 85 kilometers north east of the capital Amsterdam, BosNewsLife learned Saturday, May 14.
NBC, a foundation focused on spreading Bible knowledge, said it would hold the campaign titled ‘Blij met de Bijbel’, or ‘Happy with the Bible’, from May 29 through June 3 as part of its evangelism tour in several Dutch towns.
Yet, CDA legislator Willem Foppen questioned the delay in permission during a debate in Urk’s Municipality Council. The local government, he said, saw “apparently a problem in the area of evangelism in the port.”
He openly wondered why officials asked local churches “who can and who can not evangelize in the port.”
Foppen was criticized by both the local government and Council members who accused the CDA of creating a media hype and “shooting with a canon on a mosquito.” “The CDA put Urk in the wrong light,” said Jan Koffeman of the ‘Hart voor Urk’, or ‘Heart for Urk’ grouping in published remarks.
There has been opposition towards evangelism within Urk’s traditional Protestant churches, who tell their members to strictly observe the Ten Commandments as well as other laws dating back to the Bible’s Old Testament, and forbid working on Sunday’s.
Those involved in NBC’s evangelism activities point out that the Bible’s New Testament makes clear that Christians have been freed from the weight of these heavy regulations because of their faith in Jesus Christ who, they say, “brings true freedom” and eternal life.
Church representatives in Urk earlier expressed anger over NBC-affiliated Gospel band ‘Bible Believing Christians’ (BBC) as they also urged pastors to believe in Christ and His freedom promises, during a tent concert.
A local tent organizer in Urk, Teun van der Lee, denied to BosNewsLife that church opposition was the reason why the BBC Combo was no longer allowed to perform in Urk, but he declined to provide more details.
The tent campaign comes also amid social tensions in this town of 18,000 people. In recent weeks violent youth attacked and later nearly burned the home of Urk’s Major Jaap Kroon amid anger over police security measures during the Netherlands’ annual Queen’s Day on April 30.
Despite its image as a traditional church town, Urk has seen a rise in alcoholism and drugs abuse amid rising unemployment among the traditional fishing population here, local Christians say. (With reporting by BosNewsLife Senior Special Correspondent Johan Th. Bos in the Netherlands).