Planes, Trains, & Automobiles (Part 2)
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!