Monthly Archives: September 2013
24 – Flight hours
11 – Cities visited
6 – Airports
4 – Beds slept in
2 – Countries visited
Trains ridden – too many to count!
I am filled with gratitude and excitement as I reflect upon my “maiden voyage” with Prepare International. The Lord provided for every need and gave the perfect peace that I so desperately needed all along the way. I don’t mind traveling alone, but doing so in places I’ve never been, with people I’ve never met, and languages I don’t speak is an entirely different story! Through it all, I am fully confident that subsequent “voyages” will be characterized be a few less blind adventures. I quickly became confident in reading train schedules and following directions in multiple languages!
Once I began the second half of my trip into Belgium, the opposition to the Gospel message was quite obvious. I quickly learned that until the 1960’s, the Bible was read in well-attended Catholic churches, but was done so in Latin – which virtually no one understood. What was passed down to the following generations was anything but a desire to read the Word of God. Instead, what prevails is an “I don’t understand it, so why bother” mentality. Additionally, much like in the U.S., the scandals involving Catholic priests has become well known and any sort of Christian association is assumed to be closely connected to the lifestyles of those responsible for the scandals.
The reality of how widespread sexual molestation is spans far beyond just the Catholic Church. For so many who have suffered as victims of this awful abuse, trust has been completely broken and it has spread across generations, leaders, and families. The permeating mistrust causes difficult roadblocks for so many Christian believers seeking to spread the Good News of Jesus. Because of the heavy oppression and brokenness, many Christian leaders must establish friendship and trust with a non-Believer in order to have any success in sharing any sort of Christian message. As a result, any church growth at all is painfully slow. Most churches are stagnant at best and the vast majority of Catholic churches are emptying at a rapid pace. Those former “church goers” have altogether forfeited their affiliation with churches.
There is yet another issue complicating the basic trust issue already mentioned. Because of its storied past, the few young Christians simply don’t trust church or its leadership. The reverse is also true. Church leadership generally feel threatened by any sort of young Christian and go into defense mode to protect themselves from a “takeover” by the younger Believers – the very people in desperate need of leadership and discipleship.
Another interesting ingredient to the difficult environment in Belgium is that its history as a nation has been marked by outside rule. Other nations and governments such as Spain, Germany, and Holland have presided over its citizens for many, many years. This outside leadership structure has trickled down into the churches as well. Belgians will naturally let another lead, resulting in very few Belgians leading anything of significance. One of our P.I. partners is a pastor in Sint-Truiden, Belgium, yet he too is an outsider. He resides from South Africa but is passionate about his calling to pastor the Belgian people and raise up leadership from within. As a part of his first church here, he endured a strange situation in which a local leader in his church essentially implemented a “take over” while our friend was away for a couple of weeks. Upon his return, the church members said, “Don’t let him lead us now. He can’t lead. He’s Belgian.” Two American friends I was able to visit in Gent, Belgium, confirmed this by telling me they could only think of ONE known Belgian leading a growing church. One! All others are Americans, South Africans, or British.
Complicating the spiritual atmosphere are the educational institutions and national government. They frequently teach their students that to believe in anything spiritual shows they are weak and in need of help. In order to be strong, you believe in yourself… or so they say. This results in the growing movement known as humanism, a dangerous and difficult opposition to Christianity.
The government here is generous with its financial handouts to those in need. On one hand it’s difficult to readily identify poverty, but on the other hand, as my friend Robin said, “It’s hard to learn to trust the Lord because my government adequately provides.” Wow… let that sink in.
All in all, the work of P.I. in Europe is both well established and in need of growth. I met and taught alongside some leaders in our Belgian schools who have been a part of P.I.’s work there for over 6 years. There has been tremendous growth during that time in them, but the overall soil of their nation is still in desperate need of God’s fertility. One of the sessions I taught while at the combined retreat for both of our Belgium schools was on the topic of intercession. One of the primary goals of that particular session is to awaken the students to the truth that intercession is a gift from God available to EVERY believer. Furthermore, it is our responsibility as Christians to intercede on behalf of those around us, including our respective nations. We ended our session on this topic by spending some time crying out to God together for the nation of Belgium. The presence of the Lord was so strong and it was clear that the ground was being supernaturally tilled, watered, and fertilized. The spiritual climate of Belgium is dark and gloomy, however that day it was if things were literally changing! The students caught a glimpse of how powerful their intercession was – even though very few of them would consider themselves “intercessors” before that day. Our hope is that they embrace the gift of intercession and continue joining together to see the work of God spread throughout their nation!
The students in our European schools go through a 2-3 year training program, and many of them stay closely connected to their respective school upon graduation. I met many of these graduates and their countenance demonstrated their passion and convictions. There are virtually no opportunities for Christian believers there to receive any long-term discipleship or training. Our work is critical and we desperately need the Lord to miraculously open up new relationships, cities, and schools in order to multiply the training. The hope for Belgium is the Lord using Belgians to reach their nation! The work is underway and we need it to continue! Let’s keep up the good work together – in partnership. God is at work, and we are blessed to be a part of it!
As I’m now traveling by train from Holland to Belgium, I can reflect back on my 4 days in Holland and quickly get excited about what’s happening there! The school that Volkert is leading in Bunschoten-Spakenburg is just beginning with a new group of students that will soon realize even more how a full view of God’s Kingdom will radically affect their lives and those around them. Although I’ve only been a part of P.I. for a short time, I am starting to see more clearly how supernatural our work is and how great it is to be a part of it.
My final evening in Holland was spent traveling to Lisse with Volkert to have two final informational meetings with people interested in attending the school that will begin there this coming Saturday. There is a great church there whose lead pastor and some key leadership members came to our meeting. One of the leaders, a local attorney, and his wife carry a full spirit of Kingdom life with them! It was obvious the moment we met – despite the language barrier. Another couple, Hinne and Sondra, came from Amsterdam and we instantly connected. They were born in South America and both spoke very good English. Hinne may have been the best English-speaking person I was with the whole 4 days! He actually volunteered to sit by me in the meeting and interpret everything so that Volkert could be free to lead the entire meeting in Dutch. As we wrapped up the two meetings, the attorney, his wife, Volkert, me, Hinne and his wife all agreed, very enthusiastically, that something incredible was about to happen in this school. There was obviously a lot of “pastoring” that will need to be done with the students there, but God has assembled a remarkable team of spirit-filled Believers who are ready to spread the Kingdom message and raise up a large group of equipped men and women to radically impact the nation of Holland! The six of us circled and prayed (thankfully in English) together and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to remain standing… the presence of the Lord was incredibly strong. I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be halfway around the world participating in that moment! I believe the Lisse school can become a “launching pad” for the Kingdom of God in Holland!
As a recap of my time… I arrived very sleepy on Friday morning and was picked up by Rinus, a longtime P.I. friend. He took me to his home in Utrecht where we had some coffee and cookies together by the river behind his home. It was a peaceful place where I could have spent a LOT of time! I showered and then Rinus drove me to Bunschoten-Spakenburg where we at lunch together before arriving at Volkert and Karoline’s home in Eemdijk. That afternoon we spent together at their home and I enjoyed a great home-cooked Dutch meal.
Saturday we went into the village and I taught 3 sessions of our Kingdom of God course at the local city arts center. It didn’t take me long to re-discover the challenge of teaching through an interpreter! I had done it before, but it had been quite a while since my last experience with that. I also quickly realized how much more I must rely on the Holy Spirit to lead me in those moments. It is so easy to get frustrated with what feels like the constant start-and-stop routine. I was blessed to be with them and see the excitement they have to begin the school together. Volkert hosts the school one Saturday a month and then follows up on Tuesday evenings with them. Following the school sessions, we spent some time enjoying the village together and taking in the sights and sounds of the annual traditional day. There was singing, cooking, traditional outfits, and of course, lots of beer around us! A true Dutch experience. Volkert and I then spent the evening enjoying a nice meal together at the same local restaurant (owned by Karoline’s cousin) where Rinus and I ate together the day before.
Sunday morning we attended the local small church where Volkert and his family go each week. It was a very laid back friendly group of people who truly do love the Lord and desire to see the hand of God work mightily in their village. We enjoyed lunch together as a family on the beautiful back porch of Volkert & Karoline’s home before Volkert & I, along with Volkert Jr. and their caretaker, Christiana, went for a long bike ride throughout their village and the surrounding area. Honestly it was more like the Tour de Holland! Seriously, I’m out of shape but wasn’t about to let them know that I was absolutely worn out! The terrain in Holland is mostly flat like Lubbock, but is set apart by the huge sea all around their village. Strangely enough, their village of Eemdijk is a few feet below sea level. They have very fertile land and a lot of Holstein cattle and dairy farms! Ahh… Sulphur Springs all over again. Anyway, despite the flat ground, I was not at all in bicycling shape. We then traveled to another nearby city to attend a church whose pastor knows one of Prepare’s top leaders in Poland. Their connection has led to Volkert meeting this pastor in hopes that a school can be launched in their city as well. It was a combined service that evening for 3 separate locations of the same church. Everything about it felt like Church on the Rock, so I was pretty excited. They even sang two songs in English!
Monday, Volkert and I traveled by train into Amsterdam. Whoa… how quickly the surroundings and people change in a short distance! From cattle and open fields to tall buildings filling the skies and the smell of marijuana filling the air. Amsterdam is well known for its party life and in the middle of this day, it felt like it. A melting pot of cultures, food, and sights. Because Volkert & Karoline often travel to Turkey, he wanted me to experience Turkish food so we ate at a place called Halal Food, meaning Holy Food (beef and chicken, no pork!). I likely would have never chosen this place on my own, but hey… when in Rome! Well, actually… when in Amsterdam! We also spent about an hour on a water tour through parts of the city. May of their buildings were erected in the 1500 and 1600’s so it was quite an education for me. It was definitely a great way to see a different side of Holland.
As I’m writing this, I have managed to successfully find my way through multiple train stations en route to Belgium. Undoubtedly, this part was what stressed me the most prior to my arrival, but it has been pretty stress-free! I know now that I can tackle a train schedule in a foreign language!
My time here is almost ½ over already. It has been great! Looking forward to my time in Belgium.