Searching for "illegal workers," police officers and social inspectors raided the Assemblies of God's International Christian Academy and the International Media Ministries center in Rhode-Saint-Genèse on February 7. Some burst into the elementary school attended by about 35 children and confronted the six teachers in front of the children. Most of the pupils' parents are missionaries, ambassadors, or employees of international institutions.

The officials interrogated 29 American volunteers, who are working with the Assemblies of God (AG) in the suburbs of Brussels, for possibly violating a work permit law passed by the Belgian government in 1999.

Officials checked their identity documents and took five women to a police station, including the visiting grandmother of one student. They released the grandmother after an interview. Officials charged the four remaining women with being "illegal workers" and deported them to the United States.

Two deportees had been in Belgium for up to 15 days with legal tourist visas. The other two were recruited in fall 2001 to be volunteer teachers.

The AG has more than 70 American personnel in Belgium. But Belgian officials placed the AG on a list of religious movements suspected of being "dangerous cults." Historically Roman Catholic Belgium has responded with suspicion toward newer independent Protestant groups.

According to Greg Mundis, the AG's regional European director, the basic question is whether American volunteers need Belgian work permits in order to teach or do other ministry in Belgium.

Related Elsewhere

The Assemblies of God News Service has archived online articles on the Belgium situation.

News coverage includes:

Belgium deports Assemblies of God volunteers — Associated Press (March 2, 2002)
Belgium Expels Missionaries — The Christian Broadcasting Network (March 1, 2002)
AG Missionaries Expelled from Belgium— ASSIST News Service (March 1, 2002)

See's Religious Intolerance in Belgium site.

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