Friday, August 14, 2020

Summer blessings and challenges

See what great love the Father has lavished on use, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made know. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.  1 John 3:1-3

As with most of you, we have met the summer with various feelings. After an early very warm spell in May, followed by quite a cool and wet season, the weather finally turned more summer-like and with it came thoughts of laughter and fun and all the things that come with summer. But these have of course been tempered by corona realities. 

We were so very thankful that our summer camp weeks, starting halfway through July, would be able to continue. The Belgian government considered groups of 50 a doable scenario when it came to keeping an eye on who might get sick among young people. This meant that our three weeks of camp - for 15+, Benjamins (8-11 years-old) and Teens (12-14 years-old) would still take place, albeit with some changes. 

Looking back on those weeks, we are so thankful for what God is able to do in whatever circumstances. Our youth week was a very valuable time for the older youth who seldom see each other (certainly now) and have little opportunity to discuss the burning questions they are struggling with in their faith. Camp has provided a well-needed oasis where they could broach topics in an atmosphere of understanding and real conversation. 

The following week saw more than 25 young campers make good use of our camp facilities. Many are new families sending their kids for the first time to camp. Imagine the trust that this shows in these covid times! I was impressed with the parents and so thankful for the people working to have a great week of learning and growing in faith with these kids. It is exciting to see how God touches so many lives through so many people. 

The first week of August was Teen week. By then the Belgian government had pulled back on some of the rules that had earlier been loosened, but they still allowed the youth camps. Our camp commission met and decided to cancel our Family Week at camp, which would follow the teen week. This is the first time we have ever had to make such a decision, but we felt it was the best decision for our families. 

Teen camp this year saw 15 campers show up to camp to learn about Joshua and Judges and to grow in faith while having a great time with friends they may only see once a year. Actually this year saw several new friendships made as well. I was cam-leader in name, but was also training two assistent camp leaders. In addition I was the teacher for the week, guiding discussions on the challenging lessons from Joshua’s life and from the ups-and-downs of Judges. 

It was interesting to hear some of the conversations and see the struggles with some of the topics. We had two muslim boys (of the 12 boys and 3 girls) which made for even more interesting conversation. The main point of choosing to be real with following God, being courageous and staying true to God as He desires is something that we all need to hear each and every day. God’s message to Joshua is no different than Jesus’ message to us as His followers: Be strong and courageous, for I am with you. Go into all the world and make disciples and see, I am with you. 

You can see some of our pictures from Teen Camp here


That courage and strength is something we all need, every day, even in the very little things. The Sunday after camp we met as a congregation online once again because we had a few members who at that moment were uncertain. Tests returned negative and we are able to meet in person again this Sunday. But each day reminds us of the realities of the world in which we live and how we always need the strength and grace of our loving Father to make it through each day. 


ON THE FAMILY SIDE…

We were also blessed in these months with a visit from Sean and Jill. They were able to send a month in Belgium, seeing friends and family and especially getting time to say goodbye to Jill’s grandmother who passed away while they were here. To say that being able to hold a funeral is a blessing seems strange, but in these times it is true. We had prayed that Jill would be able to have time to see her grandma and truly say goodbye. 

We were so thankful that we also had time to sit and talk, to walk together (even to go on a bike ride once) with Sean. The day Scott returned from camp we also got to see Sean and Jill in Brussels for a last visit before they headed back to New York the following day. We are always so thankful for every little moment that we get to see our kids in person, to hold them. We are also thankful for the digital blessing of talking over long distances (we come from the generation of airmail letters to one another). We get to talk to Stephan almost every week as well. But it is always good to be able to see one another and hold tight for just a little bit. 


It is amazing to me how much this hit me this summer. We are separated, unable to meet as we would wish - even in the same city. And to be honest, this is our reality in this world as well. As children of God, followers of Christ, we know that this world is not our home. We know that there are those who have gone before us who we cannot at this time hold on to. But we WILL see one another - as we are. And we look forward to that time. And in the meantime, we make the most of every moment together, thankful for the hope and promise in God who is always with us. 


Monday, June 08, 2020

We are in this together

As the corona lockdowns loosen around the world we have been making plans for how to go forward in the coming months. Our enthusiasm for the possibility of seeing one another again and being able to do many things that have been restricted for so long has to be tempered by the laws of the land (two countries in our case) and our desire to do what is best for all concerned. We want to untangle this mess in the best possible way and turn it into something very useful.
In The Netherlands - where we meet as a church - congregations are allowed to meet together again from today, meaning that Sunday, June 14 would be the first Sunday. I already saw some Catholic churches in the city holding mass today. Only 30 can gather, and the normal restrictions must be followed: 1.5 meter distance, hand-washing, no greeting by handshaking or kissing, etc. 
In Belgium churches are also allowed to meet again, with up to 100 people. But only if they can do this while keeping the minimum distance and refraining from any kind of touching. And in both countries there is to be no singing! So, while we have had a challenge to sing together in our skype/zoom gatherings, we are now going to have to figure something else entirely for the coming weeks. 
For our congregation in Maastricht we will have to wait until the 21st of June because the border between Belgium and The Netherlands doesn’t open until June 15. About a third of our members live on the Dutch side while the other two thirds live just across the border in Belgium. So when the border officially opens, we will finally be able to gather together - even if it does mean all sorts of special rules and changes. 
As with so many of you who have already started through this process, we have discussed with one another if we will wear masks or not (we will in the beginning), how we will partake of the Lord’s supper (we figured this one out) and how we will sit while keeping enough distance from one another. We have also had to think about a protocol for hand-washing, toilet usage, and how we can share a time of coffee afterwards. But we will finally be able to be together and that is the most important thing at this time. 
One of the biggest struggles I think we as congregation will face is the injunction against singing. We are a singing church. Every service ends with a prayer after which we all head over to the coffee table and during which at least one brother our sister usually continues singing one of the songs sung during the service. A small group often forms of others who - coffee cup in hand - stand around and sing some more. This is not yet allowed, since the thought is that singing too easily spreads the virus. Still, we will find a way to keep the words of the Lord in our hearts and heads - together. 
And while we deal with these realities we are also making our plans for our summer Bible camp weeks. We had heard a few weeks ago that these would be allowed to continue. Now we are trying to make sure our teams will be able to attend and getting everything ready. Until this last week and news of the borders, we were not sure if kids and team members from The Netherlands would be able to attend. Now that that hurdle has been taken, we can move on to the normal tasks of getting lessons and activities ready. 
And all the while we are aware that we continue to be vigilant in trying to be safe. We know that there are some who have greater fears for the virus - correctly since they are part of a high risk group. There are others who have greatly missed being with others and will need to let the floodgates loose as they get the chance to talk to others. We want to look to one another and see how we can serve each other, care for one another.
This is a daily desire, a daily struggle. There are all sorts of struggles we must face - how to do what is right and good. And often it is not the big things, but the little things that will make a difference - even on the world stage. We continue to try to keep our focus on what is eternally fundamental: our salvation and that of those around us.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:6-11

Monday, May 18, 2020

Salted

I have to admit that this corona thing hit me a bit unexpectedly. I was just planning on starting several different opportunities to reach out in the city when we all had to go home, stay home and only meet digitally. For the church I feel we were ready and moved quickly and fairly seamlessly into not only meeting together but greatly encouraging one another. But looking at the opportunities to reach out with the gospel, I was at a loss for a while. The thing is, I have always believed that we should always be speaking of our King and Saviour - whenever we are talking. So when we talk to people on a walk, God enters our conversation there. When we go to the store, God is in our conversation as well, if in no other way than to thank and bless the cashier. 
But suddenly, people seemed to be wary about speaking. People even seemed wary to look you in the eye. And our digital contacts were minimal. It has been exciting to hear how some people have even increased there conversations, have come across people who are seeking Christ in these uncertain times. And this is great, because Jesus is indeed the only way to find peace and certainty. And a few of our conversations have indeed increased - opportunities to look at who Jesus is and consider how He desires to walk with us in giving real life. 
Am I making good use of my time and conversations? Maybe. Maybe not.  I AM thankful for all of the opportunities we are afforded. I have had much more time to record songs for use in the church - which means that God’s word will speak to those who listen. I have had the chance to write - as a matter of fact, it feels like I am doing more writing now than ever before. But perhaps that is good use of the time. I am writing and translating articles for a new website for those who are seeking God. Or writing lessons for summer camp - which may or may not be possible. So there is plenty to do. And perhaps some of the newer digital methods of reaching people will also light up as people become aware. 
In any case, I need to keep asking myself the question: am I using my time wisely. And I need to keep speaking of my Lord wherever I am. Be salty. 

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:2-6