Transforming a Community

There is a suburb in the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands that a number of years ago was declared by the government as a “no-go” zone for the police. Populated by Dutch Antilles refugees, the area had become so violent and out-of-control that it was unsafe for police to venture there alone or in small numbers.

About a year after this declaration two young men, Setkin and Daniel, who worked with Youth for Christ in the Netherlands, approached their National Director, Edward, with what seemed like a crazy idea. They told him that they had been praying about the situation in Rotterdam and felt that God was calling them to establish a ministry in the Dutch Antillean community. They wanted to go into the “no-go” area and try to set up a youth centre. So compelling was their vision and call that Edward finally agreed to let them at least investigate the possibility of establishing a ministry in this hostile and needy community.

At the Youth Centre

At the Youth Centre

Fuelled by a calling and passion for the Antillean young people, these courageous young men went into the area and somehow managed to connect with representatives of the local community. They told them they were with Youth for Christ and that they wanted to set up a youth centre to serve and care for young people. The response to their request was disappointing. They were told that Christians were not welcome; that Christians had visited the area in the past, and all they had done was “Preach at us, told us we were going to hell, and then left without helping the community in any way at all.”

Undaunted by this disheartening news, Daniel and Setkin said they were different; they were there to stay. In fact, they said they would move into the area with their wives. They also made a promise to the community representatives that they would not “preach”. They said they would simply serve the community in any way they could—and that is exactly what they did.

They moved into the area with their wives. They were given the use of an old abandoned government building that was being used by crack dealers to “cook” cocaine. They cleaned up the building and set up a small youth centre. The building was constantly vandalized. Threats of violence were common. But these young men and their wives persevered. They loved and served the local community without preaching at them—providing a place for young people to hang out, inviting people to their homes, serving and meeting the needs of the people.

David Wraight at the Youth Centre

David Wraight at the Youth Centre

After about two years one of the local gang leaders came to them and told them he and some of his friends wanted to know more about this Jesus that they served. Setkin and Daniel told this young man that they would be happy to share more about Jesus and invited him to come to the youth centre on Thursday evening. Around fifty young people turned up, including the gang leader and forty members of his gang. Setkin and Daniel had invited an Antillean who had found Jesus while in prison to come and share his story. After this man had told the group how Jesus had changed his life, Setkin and Daniel explained who Jesus was and what it meant to be a follower of him.

When Setkin and Daniel had finished sharing, the local gang leader who had requested the meeting jumped to his feet, and addressing his gang members stated, “We need to do this; we need to give our lives to Jesus.” Daniel tried to discourage them from taking this step, because he thought they must have misunderstood what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. But they insisted that they all wanted to make a commitment to follow Jesus, declaring they knew exactly what they were doing. And so that night, an Antillean gang leader and forty members of his gang surrendered their lives to Jesus.

The community was transformed. More young people started coming to the youth centre, invited by the core group of former gang members who were now followers of Jesus. Additional staff were recruited, including many volunteers from churches in the Rotterdam area. Community programs were developed that served single mothers, drug users, illiterate young people and victims of rape and abuse.

Setkin and Daniel now have a thriving youth ministry reaching many young people in the area. The youth centre has been expanded to include a woodwork area in which young people are trained in carpentry and furniture manufacture. There is a room full of computers in which young people learn computer skills. Christian business men and women mentor young people helping them to establish small business ventures, sometimes even providing loans.

The crime rate in the area has gone down 70 percent. The police have assigned a full-time police woman to work with Youth for Christ in serving and liaising with the local community leaders. It is now safe for anyone to enter the area, including the police and government workers.

At the request of the Antillean community a church has been established and is currently being pastored by Daniel. The church was named “Thugz Church” by the Antillean young people, alluding to a song titled Thugz Mansion by popular rapper 2Pac which is about life after death and heaven for criminals. The young people said they chose the name “because it tells everyone that they are welcome. It doesn’t matter what you have done. God loves you and wants to give you a new start.”