The Persecuted Congregation

Introduction

On 6th March 2016, most members of the Church of Christ (Gemeente van Christus) in Deurne, Antwerp, Belgium were locked-out and prevented access to their premises of worship by the missionary, Paul Brazle, who served as the chairman of the church as a registered NGO (vzw). The affected members had contemplated a court action to seek redress but heeded to the intervention of other Christian brethren within the BeNeLux region to leave out the court action. An unfortunate series of events led to the formation of a new congregation in Deurne, and we left all our assets with the former church just to ensure peace. However, we are now aware that there are some people in the former congregation going around and distorting information about why we separated. For this reason, the leadership has decided, in the interest of truth and for posterity sake, to share our story. This information is also being put out with the intention to alert the wider Christian community in Europe and beyond about some growing problems ‘persecuting the growth of the Churches of Christ’.

NB: In the Belgian language, Gemeente van Christus means the Church Christ. Also, the church is registered as a non-for-profit organisation (NGO), which in Belgian law is referred to as VZW. Throughout this story we use the term Church of Christ, to refer to Gemeente van Christus and we use the term NGO to refer to the VZWAlso we have shared some documents at the end of this page for those who would want to follow-up with some details of this case. You could also contact our leadership through the contact below for more clarifications needed.

Summary of the case

The little children prevented from singing in church

On Sunday 6th March 2016, most members of the Church of Christ (NGO) were surprisingly locked out of their own meeting premises acquired in the name of the NGO. These were English and Twi-speaking members who had come to have their weekly meetings to worship as Christians. The lock-out was authorised by the directors of the NGO, led by the chairman (Paul Brazle) who is also the missionary for the church. The issues that led to this lock-out are worrying and unfortunate to be associated with the Church of Christ.

For a long time, the chairman was not transparent to the entire membership of the NGO about the organisation’s operations. Multiple attempts were made by these members for the chairman to make open the details about membership and leadership of the NGO, financial accounts, mortgage details and tax details. The chairman was however not fully transparent with these details, had hijacked the administration of the NGO and its property and was now seeking to exclude the English and Twi-speaking members from accessing the NGO property for worship. The chairman claims the NGO is different from the Church but we find this claim incorrect and unacceptable because the NGO came out of the church and so all members of the church are also the members of the NGO. In fact, without the church, there would not have been a NGO. So all members had been contributing to the payment of the mortgage through the Church (NGO) account since it was formed in 2000.

Lock out- 6th March 2016

Members of church locked out in the rain in front of church hall

The English and Twi members of the church did not have access to meet in the property of their own NGO. On Sunday 6th March 2016, the chairman of the NGO (who is also the missionary for the Church) locked the doors of the meeting place owned by the church to prevent the English and Twi-speaking members from having access to the building for worship. The members were stranded in the rain together with their little children who came with them. This was contrary to an earlier written communication the chairman sent to us. In the letters dated 7th February and 27th February 2016 he requested that the English and Twi members shift their meetings to 1:30pm beginning 6th March 2016. This was to make way for the Flemish-speaking brethren to worship in the morning in order to help them to grow because their numbers were not improving. We were therefore surprised to find the doors locked and a notice saying that our meetings there had been suspended till further notice. We called in the police and they came to assess the situation. Many phone calls were made by us and the police to the phone number of the chairman but there was no response. In fact the chairman left a note clearly stating that “an end has come to the accommodation and patience” and therefore “the door is locked from the inside” and “one cannot enter-even with a key”. It was therefore clear to us that this was a calculated attempt by a missionary of the church to deprive a section of the congregation an opportunity to worship the Lord on a Sunday.

“The door is locked from the inside. One cannot enter-even with a key” – Notice from chairman and co.

Membership of the Church of Christ

The Church of Christ is a fellowship of Christians. It is a church which has members from various backgrounds of race, gender and nationality. The church existed many years before it was eventually registered as an NGO and the members of the Church are considered the members of the NGO. The church was existing before it was finally registered as an NGO (29th June 2000) (see documents in set 1). Hence the Church is the same as the NGO and the membership are also the same. If the membership of the NGO did not reflect that of the Church, then it suggests that the Chairman had been negligent and selective in registering members.

For language convenience, however, the members decided to have two separate meeting times on Sundays. This was to allow for smooth communication in English/Twi and Flemish. The English and Twi audience meet together and make simultaneous translations from English to Twi and vice-versa. English and Twi members of the Church of Christ are drawn from all other nationalities that do not understand the Flemish language. As a church all members contribute to its activities through the weekly contributions collected at our meetings.

The mortgage on the Church of Christ property

The Church of Christ owns real-estate (a meeting hall and other living quarters) which was purchased through a mortgage in the name of Church of Christ – NGO (see documents 2). It was purchased for the purposes of worship and for other use as determined by Church. The mortgage is serviced from the accounts of the Church of Christ (see the documents section below). However, in a recent turn of events, the chairman is seeking to arbitrarily hijack the ownership of the NGO and the building without involvement of the entire membership of the Church. We find this unacceptable because, prior to purchasing this property in the year 2000, members of the church were making weekly contributions at church meetings (see documents 7). In fact, these same funds deposited in the Church (NGO) accounts are used to service the mortgage of this property. Also, due to the huge majority that the English and Twi members have, their contributions far outweigh that of their Flemish counterparts.

In a written communication dated 7th February 2016 (see documents 4) the chairman and other ‘acting executive’, are planning to separate the NGO as a body that controls the building and to make it independent of the Church. In that case, the members of the Church were to pay rent to the executives of the NGO for the use of the building. We find this unacceptable, especially when they are doing that without consultation and approval of the larger membership, including the Twi, English. We see this as an attempt by the chairman and the acting executive to hijack the NGO so they can control the property of the Church without being accountable to the Church membership. We also see this as an act of bad faith, especially against the Twi and English members of the Church, since the property was bought in the name of the Church of Christ and has been financed all these years through a mortgage from the Church accounts.

One worrying practice by the missionary/chairman is that, he often hired out the meeting hall to non-members of the church and he received such payments by hand. We did not like this idea because, it was not transparent and did not reflect accurately in the statement of accounts. Moreover, he was the only one who dealt with church accounts and therefore even when he did not worship with us on Sundays, he would always find a way of getting to our representative to take the collection for that day. At some point, he advised us to to keep the collections at a place in the meeting hall so he could easily reach it. But then one day it was lost and we could not trace who took it.

The executives of the NGO

We find so many irregularities in the make-up of the executive body of the NGO. Our checks show that the chairman, Paul Brazle, had appointed Richard Amssoms as Secretary and Rudi Dierckx as Treasurer without engaging the full membership. This is against the NGO laws on which the church was registered. We are aware that the laws concerning the NGO require that annual meetings for entire membership are held to discuss all issues concerning the NGO. The laws also require that in every three years, the executives of the NGO are to be re-elected. None of these have happened since 2003.

As majority members of the NGO, the English and Twi membership of the Church felt that we needed to have official and legal representation in the executive committee of the NGO. For many years, the executives had been just the chairman Paul Brazle and other executives, all of whom came from the Flemish congregation. However, prior to the official formation of the Church of Christ as a NGO, there were Twi and English members of the Church of Christ who took part in deciding the first executive body of the NGO. They also took part in the decision to make Paul Brazle the chairman of the NGO. Following this there have been many more Twi and English members of the Church who have contributed to supporting the NGO and there are records to prove this. In fact, anytime the need for building maintenance works were brought up by the chairman for general discussion by the Twi and English membership, they came together to work on the building.

Another worrying incident was that,  the executives once met us and we mutually agreed to have our Twi/English congregation nominate a secretary to replace the Flemish secretary. In fact, the secretary Richard Amsoms had indicated he was unable to carry out his duties. However, before we could decide on our nominee, the chairman Paul Brazle wrote a private email to one of our members to persuade him to take on the role of assisting with secretarial duties. This was very unfortunate and was evidence of the deliberate attempt by the chairman to control who served in what position. See his emails in the documents section below.

Attempts to resolve the matter amicably with other brethren

Meeting between church leaders and other invited church brothers. Paul Brazle turned down invitation to attend

The leadership of the English and Twi members tried many times to get the chairperson and other executives to have a discussion on these matters (see documents 4). However, the chairman refused to cooperate. The last attempt was to get other Christian brothers to come in a help facilitate the discussions. Again, the chairman and secretary refused to attend. We invited brethren from the Church in Amsterdam, as well as evangelists such as Bro. Jim Krumrei and Bro. Scott Rabb. In our various consultations with evangelists within and outside the BeNeLux region, they implored us to seek a brotherly resolution to the issue.

The issues that needed legal determination

Since the chairperson and the other executives did not accept our brotherly attempt to seek redress to these problems, we contemplated seeking a court declaration. In fact, our lawyer was confident that we had a case, and had even written to the chairman asking him to take right measures to correct the wrongs within 30 days. So, we were confident we had a strong case. But the other Christian brethren requested that we leave the court case out and rather seek a brotherly resolution to the case. We obliged, for the sake of the church.

However, when the chairman and secretary got to know that we had decided not to pursue the case, the secretary called our lawyer without our consent and claimed that they had settled the case with us and we were back together as before, so the lawyer should no longer pursue the case. Of course, this was NOT true and we made the lawyer aware that it was not true.

Due to all these falsehoods being peddled, we have decided that it is important to set the record straight. Because we think it is important to let the Christian family know what we wanted from the court process. First, we wanted official records on issues of concern to be ordered by the courts, so that a clear legal assessment can be made about the status of our concerns. We were seeking the court to order for documents on the Notaris, the NGO membership and leadership, the mortgage and the tax details covering the NGO since it was formed in 2000. The chairman had kept all these documents away from the membership. We wanted to get these things cleared because we wanted to safeguard the property of the church and to prevent some individuals from taking over the church property as has been done in other areas. In brief this was what we wanted to avoid: a few people controlling the Church’s property.

Conclusion

Brethren in the Lord all around the world, this is just a summary of the ordeal that the Church of Christ in Deurne, Belgium suffered under the previous leadership. We are sharing it for the whole world to know and be careful about these things that have persecuted the growth of the church here and that risks affecting the growth of the church in other places. Because we could not live under such bad leadership and the Unchristian treatment being meted out to members of the Church, the affected members, who are in fact the majority of the church have moved on to congregate, in Lakborslei Deurne with the hope of doing the will of God and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We are sad to note that some of our Twi and English brethren decided to stay behind with the old congregation. This is surprising because they were all involved in the decision we took to leave, and they supported our idea to find a new place to worship. Yet, when the time came for us to move, they decided to stay.

It is our hope that even after we have left, the property of the church would still be controlled by the church and that it would be used for God’s purpose. Anyone who wants to understand these issues further can contact our leadership through the address below and we would be glad to discuss them. May God bless His Church , in Jesus’ name. Amen!!

This account is presented on behalf of the English and Twi members of the Church of Christ (NGO) Antwerpen, Deurne who were locked out of their worship premises for seeking the right things to be done.

By the leadership

11th October 2017

Documents we have to support our story

We have various documents that support our case. They would be available for anyone who requests them but we are sharing some here below.
Set 1: contains documents concerning the bank account and mortgage of the Church as an NGO (in Flemish)

Set 2 contains emails that were sent by the chairman unofficially to our group secretary in an attempt to persuade him to change a decision we had made at a meeting

Set 3 contains the letter that the chairman wrote to us to inform us about their unilateral decision to change our meeting time and that we had to pay for the use of the church’s meeting premises

Set 4 contains the letter from our lawyer to the  chairman of the NGO demanding a meeting to resolve the problem in a democratic way. After this letter, the secretary of the vzw called the lawyer to falsely claim that we had settled our differences.