Pastor Ashley Slinger (center) and his wife, Meeike (light blue shirt,) recently started the first Church of the Nazarene in Antwerp, Belgium. Photo courtesy Joelle Friesen.
Church planters launch Church of the Nazarene in Belgium
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Antwerp, Belgium
By Joelle Friesen - Eurasia Region Communications
When Ashley Slinger, a native South African, married Meeike, who is from the Netherlands, they planned to return to Meeike’s home country to begin their life together. Unexpectedly, legal restrictions in the Netherlands forced them to move to neighboring Belgium two years ago.

It might have been a change in their plans, but now they think it was God’s plan all along.

Today, Ashley and Meeike are church planters in Antwerp. The couple began by hosting a fledgling Bible study in their home, which has now moved to a community center down the street and attracted other immigrants.

Ashley, who comes from a culture strongly oriented toward hospitality, waited patiently for his neighbor of two years to greet him on sight. The isolation has been difficult for the couple, and in the beginning they wondered why God brought them to this new culture. Now, that experience has proven comforting to the other Bible study members who have similarly struggled to adapt to what they view as more stoic and private Belgian behaviors.

Ashley and Meeike have commuted faithfully to Nazarene churches in the Netherlands since they moved to Belgium. Recently they felt the Lord leading them to begin this church. They began with only three people.

Ashley, Meeike and their Bulgarian friend, Evan, met each Sunday evening for prayer with one another and to study the Bible. When five Bulgarians joined, Evan gladly volunteered to translate. Many Bulgarians who move to Antwerp search in vain for a church home, they said.

Those who do not understand the Flemmish language may eventually fall away from the faith without spiritual nurturing. Evan says he is pleased to offer such a basic service; he is glad to be part of a church that is small enough to involve him in this critical ministry.

No native Belgians have joined the small group yet. Ashley says that the current generation is disinterested in religion, seeing it as an oppressive system.

Those attending the Slingers’ study experience something different.

One attender says the small community is a refreshing change from the more institutional and cold feeling at a previous church.

“[In other churches] there are no debates, questions, or uncertainties,” the attender* said. “It is very cold and restrictive.”

“At the Bible study we discuss ideas and feelings in a way that can be open,” said another attendee*. “I feel like I can give it a place in my life. Here they accept me and work with me as I am. Yes, there are people of different cultures and there is a bit of a language barrier, but we still connect.”

For instance, at the second official gathering, he met a family on the street who said they felt God prompting them to walk the neighborhood in search of a church. They obediently gathered their children and literally began to wander. They were overjoyed when they met Ashley, who invited them to join the little church family – the Nazarene Bible study - only blocks from their home.

Social networks help newcomers to Belgium make connections despite cultural barriers. Pastor Ashley uses Internet sites to connect with and welcome lonely people into the church community.

As the little church has grown, new members have expressed interest in community outreach.

The son of a Nazarene pastor, Ashley feels a distinct calling in pastoral care, in spiritual mentoring, and teaching anyone who wants to know about the word of God.

“I will go one day at a time and speak into people’s lives as often as I can,” he said, understanding that, in a climate like Belgium, the plant may grow slowly. “They are intellectually curious and want to learn application. It seems there is so very much to learn. [We ask God to] help us understand that which we are seeing.”

* Names withheld for privacy.
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  • The Slingers and their church are on Facebook.They are on my friend list and post frequently. ... REVCOOK11 on 10/07/11
  • I would like to contact the Slingers. Can anyone point me to an e-mail address? My husband and... RHONDAGC on 10/07/11