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Dutch employee fired; brethren coming to his aid

By Mac Overton

Jan Zijderveld, a longtime Dutch member of the Church of God and until recently an employee of the editorial department of the United Church of God's offices in the Netherlands and the home office in Arcadia, was terminated Dec. 2 by the UCG council of elders.

He became the first UCG employee to be fired twice, both times in 1997.

Paul Kieffer, an elder with UCG-Germany, said Jan Zijderveld (pronounced Yon Zyderfelt) was a "very productive employee," producing much material in the Dutch language for the UCG.

"Jan is not a lazy man," said Mr. Kieffer. "All Dutch material on our UCG Web site up through the end of July 1997 was produced or initiated by Jan. The quantity of material produced and the salary expense for Jan compare favorably with similar efforts in the other non-English areas of UCG."

Risked WCG employment

Mr. Kieffer said that Mr. Zijderveld and his wife, Margit, who are both former employees of the Worldwide Church of God in the WCG's Dutch office, were with the UCG from the beginning in the Netherlands.

He said that they were in attendance at the first UCG service in Germany on Aug. 12, 1995, "thereby risking their employment with WCG."

"At Jan's initiative and with President Hulme's knowledge and consent, I later conducted two services for UCG in Holland before the Feast of Tabernacles in 1995," Mr. Kieffer said. "Jan began translating UCG literature in August 1995 and continued to translate New Beginnings [the UCG member newsletter] in his spare time while still employed by WCG. Jan continued to be on the WCG payroll until February 1996, although he was not given any work by WCG to do for several weeks at the end of his employment."

An appeal on Jan's behalf was sent to the UCG council by Mark Kaplan of Los Angeles, Calif., a minister in the UCG. As of Jan. 12, "no member of the council of elders ever replied to our request," Mr. Kaplan said.

He also said that the decision by the council to reject Mr. Zijderveld's appeal was not made public.

Mr. Kaplan said that his wife, Linda, wrote two UCG council members after the November council meetings asking about the status of the appeal. On Dec. 5 she heard back from one of the council members, who told her that the decision had been made to terminate Mr. Zijderveld.

Mr. Kaplan said that this council member had said he did not support the decision to reject the appeal.

"At present, the UCG-AIA is considering adopting an appeals process for expelled ministers," Mr. Kaplan said. "After seeing the way that Jan's case was handled, it is terrifying to contemplate the possible treatment of ministers in the future."

Mr. Kaplan also said that Mr. Zijderveld "had to endure extended periods of time when he was not being appropriately compensated for his work.

"I wonder what God's people are willing to do to ensure appropriate treatment by the church of fellow members in the Body of Christ," Mr. Kaplan said.

Watershed issue

He said that he considers the Zijdervelds' case "a major watershed issue" for the UCG-AIA and that he fears that it betrays a "fairly typical" mentality among leadership in the Church of God tradition that "you take people and use them up and spit them out."

Don Walls of Gladewater, Texas,, managing editor of the Spanish edition of The Good News, said he had written to the council of elders twice on Mr. Zijderveld's behalf. He said he understood the vote not to reconsider Mr. Zijderveld's termination was taken by secret ballot ("as personnel matters should be") but that he understood "three or four" members of the council wanted to reopen the case. He said Mr. Zijderveld "basically functioned as managing editor" of Dutch publications, although he may not have had that title.

Mr. Kieffer said that since the first attempt to terminate Mr. Zijderveld in November 1996, he (Mr. Zijderveld) had not been attending services with the UCG in Holland, but attended on feast days and at some other times with German brethren.

Status unchanged

Mr. Zijderveld, 49, told The Journal that, since his termination, "my status is unchanged and there are no further developments in the UCG concerning me."

He said he had heard from only two members of the council since their decision about his case.

"Which is not surprising from a dead body," he said. "We all know that when someone dies his thoughts perish-really why I did not even receive some explanation of the exact reasons of my termination."

He said one council member sent him an E-mail message on Dec. 10.

"The council member asks a number of questions on behalf of himself, not on behalf of the council," Mr. Zijderveld said.

"Some of his questions amazed me, because they are the kind of questions one asks before, not after, a decision is made."

He said that, under Dutch law, he is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

"I was paid indirectly by Arcadia," he said. "They sent a subsidy to the Dutch office that took care of all tax obligations, etc., from April 1996 until December 1996, when the Dutch office fired me without proper notification.

"In February 1997, when I still had not received my salary of January 1997, I asked the Dutch business manager about it. I received a reply feigning surprise and saying that Arcadia-called my 'client'-had to pay me. There followed a strange period. The result was that, pending some definitive equitable solution, Arcadia paid me directly.

"However, that was a gross salary, as if I was a free-lancer. Consequently, no premiums, etc., were paid for me during 1997 so that I was not registered anywhere. The Dutch business manager should have informed Arcadia or me or both that he had canceled my registration at the various governmental institutions. He did not.

"I was paid during the whole of 1997 directly by Arcadia, from January until September, officially, my gross salary, and from October until December, a stipend-basically the same amount-pending the decision of the council."

Insurance problem

Mr. Zijderveld said he knew nothing of unemployment insurance: "The Dutch government officials told me that I, being employed by an American company, should have taken out unemployment insurance, which was something unknown to me. But, even when I would have been aware of that possibility, I would not have used it, because I was in full-time employment, although waiting for some equitable arrangement."

Mr. Zijderveld said President Hulme told him that he was terminated because he did not "fit in the team."

(The Journal E-mailed Mr. Hulme and attempted to reach him by telephone about Mr. Zijderveld's firing, but as of this writing Mr. Hulme had not responded to The Journal's messages.)

"Of course, I never got the chance to talk about this," Mr. Zijderveld said. "And, of course, none of those with whom I have worked for years and who therefore are qualified to judge about this were asked. Even when several of those wrote about their experience with me to the council, they were neglected.

"The real reasons, I feel, are the incompetence of the UCG leadership, an incompetence that has existed for many, many years. The incompetence of the UCG leadership is evident from the fact that the council of elders decided about things of which they have no knowledge, about a person whom they don't know and whom they didn't ask and about a situation they don't know in a far country they don't know. All the information that was sent to the council fell on deaf ears. No one ever gave any comment."

To be reconsidered

The Journal asked Leon Walker of Big Sandy, another council member, about Mr. Zijderveld's situation. He said the council would soon reconsider the termination of Jan Zijderveld.

"I brought it up in one of our sessions [in Arcadia Jan. 15-22]," he said. "Bob Dick [the new interim president of the UCG and chairman of the board] is looking into some things. It's already in the process of being reconsidered."

The Terre Haute, Ind., congregation of the UCG-AIA has established and plans to manage a fund to help the Zijdervelds until they can find work. To contribute, write United Church of God, P.O. Box 476, Greencastle, Ind. 46135, U.S.A.

Contributions should be marked "Restricted for Jan Zijderveld Assistance Fund." Donations are tax-deductible in the United States, said Jeff Osborne, a UCG elder in Terre Haute.

The Journal is available from P.O Box 1020, Big Sandy, Texas 75755, U.S.A., and http://www.thejournal.org.

 



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