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Antillean Adventists in Delft assist teenage mothers

Adventist Church president commends church's community action

Antillean Adventists in Delft assist teenage mothers

Seventh-day Adventist world church President Jan Paulsen talking with Alcidra Jansen-Richardson, coordinator of activities for the Alivio Foundation for teenage mothers. Paulsen attended a gathering of the Adventist community in Delft, Netherlands March 5. [photo: Rajmund Dabrowski]

While her shift officially begins at midnight, Nurse Alcidra Jansen-Richardson is on call around the clock.

Jansen-Richardson, 57, is a psychiatric nurse and social worker in Delft, a 13th century city now home to thousands of Antilleans who migrated from the former Dutch Antillean islands in the Caribbean. For Seventh-day Adventists in the Netherlands, Delft is considered a model of community involvement -- "we live our faith by serving our community," Jansen-Richardson said.

That wasn't always the case. Most Delft residents could hardly name an Adventist Church in their city in 2003 even though some older residents remembered a church community years before.

"We decided to plant a new faith community," said Rudy Dingjan, director of Church Growth for the Adventist Church in the Netherlands. "Four years later, a small congregation of 24 chartered a new church. Today, there are 155 church members, and the church in Delft is growing."

The church's new presence in the city is largely attributed to the efforts of a group of social workers, all Antilleans, who established Alivio, a foundation that assists teen mothers in the community. Just three years in, Alivio is known for social intervention where the "welfare and well-being of individuals" is prioritized.

"For me, the motivation comes from a conviction that Christianity must be lived out. Many ask, 'Show me Jesus.' And this is how we do it," Jansen-Richardson said.

Alivio staff is made up of a small group of volunteers, including social workers, psychologists and mothers. "It's the experienced mothers who support the young teenage mothers by being role models," Jansen-Richardson said.

With its "open door" policy, young mothers are embraced, but also taught to accept responsibility for their decisions. "We give them the tools to deal with the circumstances," she said.

"We love these women first. When trust is established, they often ask for prayer," Jansen-Richardson said, adding that many now attend the local Adventist church.

Alivio, now considered a leading social group in Delft, spearheaded a community action event, "Together We Can Do It Better," on March 5 at the city hall.

Local members are pleased that a "small Adventist community is leading out in responding to the community's needs," said Leendert Brouwer, director of Education for the Adventist Church in the Netherlands.

The gathering included government officials from the capitol den Haag, representatives of the police and several social groups.

As the Adventist Church "seeks to be socially engaged, it learns that this can only be done effectively in the Dutch society when cooperation and community are central to its mission," Brouwer said.

The Adventist Church in Delft seeks to be "church with others, rather than church for others," he said.

Recognizing what the Alivio Foundation has already done for the young Antillean women in the community, participants challenged themselves to expand support to include counseling for local young men. "They also need to be taught responsibility for their actions," one participant said.

Later, during worship services at the local Antillean Adventist congregation, Adventist world church President Jan Paulsen commended members for their community witness. "You are God's helping hands in the community," he said. "You are offering hope for people who need assistance."

The "caring church" theme continued during the weekend when Paulsen spoke at a countrywide spiritual convocation attended by more than 2,500 believers. Paulsen urged the church to display its identity through community involvement. "Our likeness to God can only be lived in community, not in isolation," he said.

As the Alivio Foundation expands, staff members hope to open a shelter to "guide and counsel" women in need and offer them mental, spiritual, social and financial rehabilitation. The foundation and the church currently rent headquarters and hope to move to a permanent facility in the near future.

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