by Steve Ashworth, Youth With A Mission
Located in the northwest corner of Western Europe, the Benelux nations were first recorded in history by the Romans. They described a river delta region made up of rivers and the sea known for centuries as the “Low Lands” or in Dutch as the “Nederlanden.” Julius Caesar conquered the “Belgae” tribes living in those areas between the Rhine, the Sienne, and the English Channel, which gives Belgium its name.
The Netherlands literally means “lower countries,” referring to its low land and flat geography. Only about 50 percent of the land is one meter above sea level. Since the late 16th century, large areas below sea level were man-made and reclaimed from the sea and lakes.
It was in the 4th century A.D. that these tribes first started to receive the gospel. Through Anglo-Saxon and Celtic inspired missionary efforts in the 7th and 8th centuries, the gospel spread to the Frisian tribes north of the Rhine River. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg traces its beginnings to 963 A.D., when Benedictine monks along the Moselle River traded the land to the founder of Luxembourg.
It was in the early 1500s that the Reformation drastically began to change the faith climate of the Low Lands and, indeed, all of Europe. A classical scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, using humanist techniques to work on texts, prepared important new Latin and Greek editions of the New Testament which were influential in the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Erasmus translated the Bible in a pure Latin style, and in 1516 he published the first translation in over 1000 years of the Latin New Testament—along with a parallel column of the original Greek to back it up. He outlined his vision for the new Bible in the preface: that every woman would read the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul, that every plowboy would sing the Scriptures, that the weavers would hum them, that the traveler would tell their stories and that the Word of God would be translated into every language—not only for the Scots and Irish, but also that the Turks and Saracens (Muslim Arabs) might read it.
Erasmus’ work led to Luther’s German translating the Bible, Tyndale’s English translation and at least eight other European language translations in the following 25 years. More than 500 years later, this vision of translating the Bible into every language of the world remains to be completed. According to Wycliffe (2015), 554 languages have a complete Bible; 1,333 languages have only a New Testament; and 1,045 have some portion of Scripture translated into native languages. Wycliffe estimates there are 1,200 languages with a likely need for Scripture translation, meaning more than 165 million people still wait to have any portion of the Bible in their mother tongue.
The Reformation that Luther began in 1517 also polarized Europe and the Low Lands between Protestants and Catholics. In the 1560s and 1570s, Willem of Orange led the seven northern Dutch provinces in a revolution against the King of Spain with the idea that people could have freedom of religion. This led to the Dutch Reformed Church being established in the north and Catholicism remaining dominant in the south (now Belgium and Luxembourg).
Unity Then and Now
After being liberated from Napoleon, the Low Lands were briefly united from 1813-1830 as the United Netherlands under King Willem I. However, the religious and linguistic differences, along with cultural and political issues that arose, led to Belgium declaring independence in 1830. Luxembourg had its sovereignty recognized in 1839, thus ending the United Netherlands. After World War II, these countries would again unite in the Benelux Customs Union and later the Benelux Economic Union (1960). All three are founding partners of what is now the European Union.
Whereas the union in the 1800s collapsed, the last 50 plus years have led to each country experiencing significant economic prosperity after the trauma of World War II. According to the World Bank (2015), Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Belgium are among the 20 countries with the highest per capita income in the world.
Yet, is there a correlation between the economic prosperity that so many seek and the Christian faith? Only 46 percent of Belgians today consider themselves to be Christian (10 years ago it was 75 percent) and less than two percent are evangelical. More than half of the Dutch no longer consider themselves to be religious at all. A 2012 WIN-Gallup International research report indicates that globally, religiosity is highest among the poor and declines as worldly prosperity increases for individuals. James said something very similar almost 2,000 years ago: “Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith?” (James 2:5, NLT). Jesus also spoke of how the deceitfulness of riches can choke the Word, making it unfruitful, and how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Could it be that the people of the Low Lands are facing tests of whether they will be deceived by riches or pursue fruitfulness, multiplying what they have received to others in need?
We can look back at the history of the peoples of these countries and see when the gospel started to shape their history, how that has impacted their culture, how it has been twisted, and how people started to drift from faith.
Unreached Peoples in the Benelux Nations
There are multiple peoples in these countries who have not yet had the good news of Jesus shape their history. Let’s take a look.
Linguistically Belgium has three official languages: Flemish in the north (55 percent), French in the south (38 percent) and German (one percent) in the east. Brussels is both the capital of Belgium and the capital of the European Union, hosting the European Parliament and a variety of other EU institutions with dozens of languages spoken every day.
The Joshua Project has identified 28 unreached groups with more than 400,000 people. Arab Moroccans, Berbers, Turks, Kurds, Jews, Iranians, and Chechens make up the largest number of unreached people in Belgium. Almost 40,000 refugees came to Belgium in 2015—mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and some from Somalia and other countries.
The Netherlands has two official languages: Dutch, which most of the 17 million people living in the Netherlands speak, and Frisian, which is spoken primarily in the province of Friesland. There are more than 100 additional languages spoken in the Netherlands. The capital, Amsterdam, has nearly 180 different nationalities alone.
According to the Joshua Project, among those many nationalities are 21 unreached groups comprised of nearly 900,000 people. There are large unreached populations of Arabs and Rif Berbers from Morocco, Turks, Kurds, Jews, Kabyle Berbers from Algeria, and Hindustani and other South Asian peoples. Additionally, more than 43,000 refugees were registered in the country for asylum in 2015 with more than 19,000 coming from Syria and large groups coming from Eritrea, Somalia, and Afghanistan.
One of the most encouraging developments to thank God for is the fact that there are over 1,000 followers of Jesus among Muslims in Europe. This has occurred among Iranians in the Netherlands and is spreading to other countries! It is interesting to note from various studies that Iranians in the Netherlands are the least likely Muslim people group to practice Islam.
Among its 570,000 residents, Luxembourg also has different official languages: French, German, and Lëtzebuergesch. The European refugee crisis will nearly double the number of unreached people living in Luxembourg. The Joshua Project estimated that there were three unreached people groups with just over 2,500 people in this small country. They are Turks, Jews, and South Asians. The latest EU statistics indicated that approximately 2,400 refugees came in 2015 primarily from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, and Albania.
• ...for a modern day fulfillment of Erasmus’ vision: that every store clerk would read the Gospels, that every delivery person would sing songs of praise, that office workers would tell gospel stories, and that every people group in the Benelux would be reached by the gospel in their own language.
• ... for laborers in the Benelux nations who would clearly communicate the good news of Jesus across cultural and language barriers, so disciple-making movements can multiply.
• ...for open hearts for the refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, and many other countries.
• ...that the peoples of the Benelux nations, both the indigenous Europeans and the immigrant communities, would not be deceived by riches, but would pursue righteousness.
• ...for Iranian believers to be a light in the Benelux countries, throughout Europe, back into Iran and beyond.
by Keith Carey
Dear Praying Friends,
Every April we pray for the unreached people groups in Western Europe. This time we will focus our attention on those in the Benelux countries (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). I have wanted to do a GPD issue on the Netherlands for many years because I had heard about the work being done there by YWAM (Youth with a Mission) missionaries. They are trying to reach people for Christ who migrated to northern Europe. This will be our chance to pray for the work of getting the gospel out to certain unreached people who cannot hear the gospel in their own countries due to persecution. Please read YWAM missionary Steve Ashworth’s piece before you start praying for unreached people groups in the Benelux countries this month.
The other day I was listening to a song taken from Mark 10:14b-15 (NET), where Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not try to stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
There is something profoundly counter-cultural in this. Most of the unreached refugee populations in Europe are there because the rulers in their homelands violate principles of the Kingdom of God. It is because the rulers act out of pride and selfishness that so many innocent people have to leave Muslim lands to even survive. In Europe they have the chance to hear from believers who follow the One who teaches us to embrace the loving Lord with humility and service to others!
Pray that the church in Europe will be purified in such a way that the nations will see its humility before the all-powerful Lord.