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The Finnish Bethel is the home of the Finnish Congregational Church in Englewood, New Jersey. The Bethel serves a twofold purpose. Besides being the religious center for the Finnish people in this vicinity, it serves as a real home for hundreds of girls who would otherwise be homeless. In this respect the home is the only one of its kind among the Finnish people. "Churches are to be found on practically every corner, but where else can we find a home?" are the words recently spoken by an American churchman, after having visited the Bethel.
The are more Finnish people in America than many can surmise. For several decades, they have migrated to this country in such numbers that one tenth of the population of Finland is living in this country. They have scattered over the entire sontinent. In some location their number reaches several thousands. In every case, they have settled in the vicinities having the greatest earning possibilities. Englewood does not offer any such opportunities for the Finnish laborer and thus very few Finnish families are to be found here. In the past years there has been a steady increase in the number of Finnish young women who have come to Englewood and neighboring cities for domestic service, to work as nurses and for many other kinds of useful service. Hence we find a great number of Finnish girls in this vicinity. Many of them, in spite of good education have settled in to practical work and have succeeded very well. That this girls have not been idle in any way, can best be judgest by this home and the results of its activities.
The work was started more than thirteen years ago. The beginnings was small and of no apparent importance. As a stream, due to the pressure of its current, will burst forth wherever it finds a suitable spot, so this undertaking grew from the strength of its need. Pleasure and amusement-loving girls have always found entertainment places for themselves, even in a strange country. But it was a different matter with more serious-minded, Christian girls. Employed by wealthy American families, they were well paid and had many comforts of life. The work occupied their thoughts during the day. But what to do with their leisure time? In a foreign land, among a foreign people, it was not easy to find a quiet, restful place where they could go during their leisure time to escape the loneliness and homesickness that comes to one in a strange country. Unable to speak the language, they could not avail themselves of any opportunities. - As the many veins of a stream, once joined, force themselves through the earth into one force, serving as a cool, refreshing resting place for the weary traveler, - thus the one great desire in the hearts of a few Finnish girls have birth to an idea upon which they acted. A meeting was held in August 1917 at which eight girls were present. They decided to rent an apartment. The place selected was an apartment on the Palisade Avenue corner of Dean Street. It was on the second floor above a fish market. Across the street was a taxi-stand. "Taxi - taxi - taxi", was heard day and night. The trolley-cars rumbled by incessantly. Many other unpleasantnesses were encountered, and yet, in spite of all, it was a home.
The apartment had been vacant for some years. The furniture - collected here and there - undoubtedly was not f'irst-class. Nevertheless, it was a home for the homeless a haven to which they could go, and which has held together by love and common need. Joy and thankftulness filled the heart of every member. Their dream had crystallized. Small and unpretentious was the beginnig, yet it was a start, and the place was their own. They felt themselves rich in the possession of a place where they could divide their joys and sorrows and where they could worship God in their native tongue. The girls called it their hut or "mokki", the outsiders called it the Finnish girls home.
But the home needed a guiding hand. The spiritual work needed a leader. Meetings and services had been held in Finnish from time to time, and even regularly for short periods of time, but these did not seem to answer to purpose in the long run. A leader and teacher of their own was the next goal. Half a year had passed since the founding of the home. Experience had already shown that only a woman worker would answer their purpose, and could carry on the work successfully. For this Miss Katri Tiikkala was a worker of the Congregational Church Home Missionary Society in Massachusetts.
Now all activities were undertaken in an organized manner. Meetings were held regularly and missionary work done not only in Englewood but also in Montclair, Ridgewood, Bergenfield and Bogota. The home was the center where the meetings of the sewing circle, as well as other mid-week meetings were held. For many years the vestry of the Presbyterian Church in Englewood was given free of charge for the regular Sunday evening services. Miss Tiikkala has been the pastor of the church. She has conducted the religious services. Visiting the sick, helping them financially and spiritually, and assisting girls to find employment are some of her duties of love. As a servant of all, she has willingly done everything possible for those who have needed her help and services. The love of Christ calls her on.
The numbers increased, as did the work. Remaining in rented quarters involved many inconveniences. The work was greatly handicapped fom lack of adequate rooms. At first the thought of a new home of their own seemed too venturesome, but gradually it gained ground. Faith in God gave them courage and the impossible became possible.
On Christmas, 1923, as the members and friends of the church were gathered around the Christmas tree, a gift offering was taken up for the beginning of a fund for the new home, and the money thus contributed, $500, was in prayer consecrated to that purpose. A Finnish missionary, on furlough from China, who herself had experienced the thruth of God's promises to his children, offered the prayer of thanksgiving and consecration for this gift. True, the amount was small in comparison to the amount necessary for the undertaking, but it had a growing value, for it was an offering of love.
In the spring of 1924, when the church was legalized, the home was named Finnish Bethel. In the month of May, a suitable lot was purchased at the cost of $2,000, situated on the corner of Waldo Place and Hamilton Avenue in Englewood, N. J. At that time many regarded the undertaking with askance. Others advised not to attempt the impossible. Where could such a small group of Finns, mostly women at that, secure enough to finance such a task? And supposing the building could be completed, how to finance the maintenance and activities connected with it? Many asked these questions. But faith in God was the foundation for the work. On this foundation the self-sacrificing love and believing prayer with tireless zeal built.
The building was the begun, although the money for the contract was not in hand. Forty girls contributed the necessary money, by voluntary donations and non-interest bearing loans. The building supervision and arrangement were all done under the guidance of Miss Tiikkala. No unsurmountable difficulties were encountered. Whatever money was needed came into the treasury in time for every payment. The building was finished in the fall of the same year, and the entire cost of it was $16,300, without equipment. Those who sacrificed so much for it were cofident that "the Lord will provide". When the new home was occupied, no doubt each one was thankfull and happy in proportion to the amount of effort and sacrifice that she had given to the enterprise. The present value of the building is now twice the original amount, due to rise in value of real estate in Englewood.
The building was planned with every thought for the manifold service it is to perform. The main floor has an attractive chapel, with an office for the missionary. The kitchen and dining hall combined, are in the basement, and used for socials, etc. The second floor includes several bedrooms for girls, a reception room and library. The Finnish Bethel offers shelter for the weary, a home and a haven for Finnish women who need one. Many of them have no relatives in this country, and here they have formed friendships which will endear the new land to them. The number of residents has increased noticeably from year to year, testifying to the necessity of its existence. Some have been temporary residents, while seeking employment, or while making preparations for a journey to Finland or elsewhere. Others have come to the home to rest and remained for weeks or months. Still others have come here to convalesce. The few American women to whom this home has given shelter have been delighted with it. Its peace and quiet, the freedom, the cleanliness and homelike atmosphere impress the newcomer, as well as the inhabitant, at once. One thing is still lacking, or rather can be improved upon: it is too small to minister to the needs arising from growth and expansion.
We are gratefully indebted to the Congregational Church Builging Society for a grant to the Finnish Bethel and also for giving the church a non-interestbearing mortgage loan, a most appreciated and valued help to the work as a whole.
With gratitude we relate that the Congregational Church Home Missionary Society kindly assisted in paying our teacher for five years. Not including this, the Church and the Home, with its many forms of service, is self-supporting. The small group of workers have supported their own worker, Miss Tiikkala has faithfully and firmly stood in the same place. Fearlessly, and unsparing of herself, she has done her work. She knows her leisure. Energetically and with determination, she has carried each task to completion. The results and archievements are adequate proof that she was the right person to take charge.
Meetings are held regularly every Sunday and during the week. Once each week a sewing circle is held, and in this the Finnish girls take an active interest. Once a year, usually at the beginning of December, a sale is held of all the work accomplished, and the proceeds are used for the benefit of the church work. The church is grateful to the many American ladies here in Englewood for their kind co-operation and assistance. Their gifts and presents to the Bethel have been most gratefully accepted and appreciated. The purchasing of articles made by the Finnish girls at various bazaars, has inspired the girls with courage. The prayer meeting every Saturday night is well attended, Bible classes, young peoples meetings, etc. are held regularly. The girls string-band is taking an active share in all the meetings especially in the Sunday evening services. The financial affairs are taken care of by the home association and board, which meets once every month. Our organist has donated her faithful service to the Church for many years. How many more acts of generosity and sacrifice are to be found in the history of the church and the home, cannot be related in a few words. We still have with us a few of the original founders of the home, who year after year, have faithfully supported this work by their generous donations to the upkeep and carrying on of the work. New members have joined each year.
The Finnish Bethel extends its welcome and friendly shelter to all who may wish to accept it. A contribution given as a gift to the Church and Home is always appeciated.
The Church is grateful to God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, for this wonderful and gracious leading in this enterprise. Surmounting difficulties, it has gained strength. Its members have retained faith in God and because of it, have been able to grow, regardless of its diminutive origin. Truly, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
Published in 1930, [10 p].
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