LIVERPOOL, England - A Christian couple who lost their hotel business in Liverpool, England, after being tried for religious discrimination have now launched a non-profit community outreach program.
Ben and Sharon Vogelenzang were found not guilty of committing a hate crime in Dec. 2009, but the allegations against them had a damaging effect.
The case began earlier that year after a Muslim guest staying at their Bounty House hotel complained that she was offended by a debate over Islam that she had with the Vogelenzangs.In response, one of the hotel's main clients stop referring guests, resulting in an 80 percent drop in the hotel's income.
"Our business was destroyed. We tried to keep it going, but in September this year we knew we had to call it a day and stop building up more and more debt," Ben recalled. "We've lost 10 years of livelihood and possibly 10 years of our future."
"We would've been happy to carry on providing the service for another 10 years," he continued. "So it has been really devastating."
But Vogelenzangs took the opportunity to launch a community center in the very building that was once their hotel.
The Bounty House TLC Center now provides a range of services including rehabilitation for former soldiers, arts and crafts lessons for the elderly, help and advice for families, and life skills courses.
"We really believe that we've going to be able to benefit the community and create jobs for people in lots of different areas," Sharon said. "And now we're starting with what we've got, what we can do by faith."
"We haven't got any funding at all. We're walking on water and the Lord is keeping us going week by week," she continued.
Visitors say they are inspired by the Vogelenzangs turning their personal challenges into something positive.
"It just shows you what kind of people they are to want to help the community," one visitor said.
"I think it's a fantastic opportunity they're providing for people," another added. "As far as I know, there isn't anything like this available in the area."
"What they're doing for the community is a wonderful thing and I do hope the community rallies round and supports them."
The Vogelenzangs are also grateful for the opportunity to serve their community.
"We kept confessing last year that something good was going to come out of all of this and we didn't realize how good it would be," Sharon said. "When this whole thing takes off, it's going to be tremendous. So many people are going to be blessed by it and so many needs are going to be met now."