Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The weird and wonderful

I just wanted to take you on a short tour of some of the weird (have you ever noticed how weirdly this word is spelled?) and "different" things you might find in our house, compared to yours. Then again - I have been in some of your houses!


This is a birthday calendar. Every Dutch house will have one. Of course we live in Belgium, but a lot of my "upbringing" is Dutch and we work with the church in Maastricht - the Netherlands. One puts all important birthdays on this calendar - family, uncles and aunts, special friends. The interesting thing is where you will always (or most often) find this calendar. Care to guess? It is where you will always be able to see it and be reminded.

Sometimes our visitors, when asking where the milk might be, search our kitchen for the refrigerator. It is right in front of them, hidden in the kitchen cabinet.

This is not that different from many homes. The size might surprise many of our friends from the US. We had to learn quickly how to pack efficiently.

But they don't sell supersizes over here either - so that is a plus. And if you are looking for the milk, you may not find it in our refrigerator anyway - we use sterilized milk which can be stored in the cabinet without refrigeration. (not very Dutch - they hate the stuff - but very efficient)
More later.

Don't Forget

Scott reminds us "Don't forget!"
Originally uploaded by sraabs.
This past Monday was the yearly gathering of the Dutch-speaking churches, held in The Hague. This is a time of fellowship, of encouragement, and of challenging one another in our Christian lives.

It was great to be able to sing with Listen Up! again after the long hiatus we had taken to finish the CD (which is almost done!). It is such a blessing to be able to serve, to sing and to be with these people who love God so much. Days like these help you to remember what is most important.

My best friend and I always put a PS in our letters - "Don't Forget!" This is to remind us that we have a place we are going, we have a Home, we have a Father who is taking us there - so we want to live as people who have such things. That is the song I am singing - based on 2 Peter 3:9. Don't Forget!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Ascension Adventure

Years ago, when Shirley and I were young marrieds (wait a minute - we are still young marrieds!). we would often go off on a walk somewhere, just wondering where it would lead us. We looked for "adventure" this way. Sometimes taking a new road, sometimes not worrying about whether our shoes would get wet or muddy - whatever. When the boys came along, these adventures slowed down (although they were just as much a part of the adventure!).

Now that the guys are older, can handle themselves at home alone, and aren't always interested in doing what Mom and Dad are doing (did that surprise you?), Shirley and I decided to leave them on their own for a bit and go on an adventure. Ascension Day is a holiday here, so we jumped in the car and drove off - we had a general direction, but simply chose a turn whenever we approached an intersection.

We are blessed to live in a very international area, and a very beautiful area, so we drove through hills in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany - all within 10 minutes of each other. There is a "three-country-point" (which we didn't visit since we have been there before), and lots of rolling hills and picturesque villages. A stop for coffee and lunch in one village, wondering where that road leads to (and finding out), several castles and ending up at a village where they were holding an antique and rummage sale (one man's junk is another man's antiques!).

We got home in time for dinner and played a game with the boys before watching a movie together. It was a great adventure-filled day!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Of dogs and the Holy Spirit

When I first came to the Netherlands I was quite a young Christian. I remember being frustrated at how much I didn’t know and thrilled at how much I could learn. I am still caught in this dichotomy and enjoying it as much. But back then I would take a walk each evening to clear my head and just think and pray. There was a beautiful park close to where I lived and I enjoyed walking there. It was there, while watching someone walking their dog, that I saw for the first time how the Holy Spirit worked at times in my life.

I don’t remember now exactly what was going on, but I had been reading that evening in my Bible (often trying to read in Dutch as well) and that evening I was able to put some things together. Just watching that dog put together some of the points that had been made in the Word barely an hour before. And it made sense because I could see it (I am visual and tend to visualize a lot of things). I believe that that is how the Holy Spirit works. Of course, if I don’t put any of God’s Word into my head and heart, then there is not much for Him to work with.

Yesterday the Holy Spirit was teaching me through Snuffles. Snuffles – for those of you who may not know – has been our dog for the last year and a half (for an interesting lesson concerning “our” dog, click here and see "Finally 'ours'"). She was born with tunnel vision and is basically blind. Since she doesn’t smell that well either, she is pretty wary of other dogs. As a matter of fact, she will attack first in order to make sure that she is not attacked.

This has several consequences for our walks. First of all, she likes to stay on the beaten path. She does NOT want to run off into the grass or whatever, because more than likely she will get some twig poked in her eye or fall off the edge of the road into the canal beside our road. If we go off the path, she has to stay right close to me (following me) to be sure that she doesn’t get in any trouble. And I have to take a path that is not dangerous for her. Where it is safe, she is free to roam around and get spooked every once in a while by the sounds of the rabbits in the bush. She can stretch herself and try new things. She knows I am close by.
Secondly, Snuffles is most ferocious with other dogs when she is on the line. She knows that I am going to pull her back. I have been trying to teach her to be calm around other dogs. But at the same time, I DO have to protect her from other dogs. Some dogs want to bite her head off (and could do with no great difficulty!) If she is loose (which I do when I know no dogs will be around), she is actually a scaredy-cat and stays nice and close.
Finally, she trusts me to keep her out of trouble – I am her eyes. I know when things are approaching and can see the whole picture. She only sees what is right in front of her (and can’t even see that half of the time!). When we drop a special snack for her, we usually have to tap the floor until she finally finds it!

So the HS pointed out how similar we are, Snuffles and I. If I am to stay safe, it’s good to be in close contact with God. Now it may sound strange, or even upsetting to think of this as a leash, but the only reason the leash is there with Snuffles is to make sure she doesn’t fall in the canal or get eaten by big German shepherds. God sees the whole picture, where we often only see what is right in front of us (and not even that half the time!).
When we are loose, it is in a safe environment, although we may not think so at times. And God will always keep us safe, so we need to trust him. When he says we are okay, we shouldn’t be growling like vicious animals (and I think about how we treat one another sometimes – attack first and think later).
Psalm 119:105 says that the Word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path, but 1 John 1:7 reminds us that we WALK in the light as HE is in the light. Having the light isn’t everything – we are walking along. And if we stop, the light continues and we are left in the dark. One of the most endearing things about Snuffles is how she always runs back to me to make sure that I am still there. She hears me, turns around with a little jump and confident walk, and heads back out to find out what is ahead, knowing that she is okay – I am there. Good thoughts. Amazing what the Holy Spirit can do with a dog and a walk.

Monday, May 07, 2007

April Newsletter

Light in the Lowlands
Reaching out to the people of Belgium and the Netherlands

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you have refreshed the hearts of the saints. Philemon 6-7

Dear brothers and sisters, family and friends,
This has been a very challenging month - God is so good and mighty. I’m glad He is in charge - He does such a good job!

Reaching out and reaching in
One of the joys of knowing God is that we have the opportunity to let others know about Him and how good it is to live with Him. Sometimes that means studying or talking, and other times that just means singing His praises.
In April we tried again with the “Getting to know the Bible” series we offered in March. This time we put it in the newspaper as well. We had four good responses, of which one was able to find our building (something to work on in the future). Mr. W. not only came to the first three lessons, he also continued through the second set of lessons and wants to know more about the church. Hopefully you will be reading more about him in next month’s newsletter. Please keep him in your prayers.
At the end of the month Listen Up! went to Antwerp to sing with the a cappella vocal band “Agape-la” from Paris. This was a great opportunity to reach out to people in the neighborhood in Antwerp. Posters and flyers were printed, people were invited and in a meeting place meant for about 70 people we had more than 120 listening to good news about Jesus Christ! It was a sweaty evening (there is no airco in this building and it was one of the hottest days in history for this time of year), but everyone listened with pleasure. We heard afterwards that there were several from the neighborhood as well as a couple who had come from more than 2 hours away because they had seen it on the internet. It’s great to sing of such a wonderful life!
Speaking of singing, at the beginning of the month we went down to camp with our young people for an Easter weekend. Before the weekend we had told the young people to prepare by knowing Philippians. Down at camp we had a quiz and talked about what we had learned, but we also put that knowledge into song. We sent them off in groups for 90 minutes with the task of writing a song based on something in Philippians. Now we have four new songs for our songbooks! Amazing what God can do with willing hearts and minds!

- the view from the "Love Tree" -

We closed out the weekend with a sunrise service up at the “Love Tree” (a tree at the top of a hill nearby camp) remembering what Jesus has done for us. Then everyone headed back to their respective congregations to celebrate this wonderful family that God has given us. It was a great weekend which we are already planning to repeat. First we have a weekend to prepare for June which will also include singing and song-writing. This weekend showed me never to underestimate what God can do.

In addition to the regular studies Scott has with several adults, he and Ruud have also started working with the youth of the congregation. At least once a month they get together to have fun and games, and on other days to challenge their hearts and brains. Sometimes these studies are about current topics (most recently - creation), but also about the basics of real life with God. Please keep these young people in your prayers as they struggle to see if this is real or just something adults do. Pray also for us that we will not be just teachers, but examples of how real this life truly is.
On Monday evenings Scott is involved with university students from Maastricht in a weekly Bible study. Students from Germany, Romania, Ukraine, the Netherlands and the US get together to discuss all sorts of topics. Scott recently led a study on “Who is Jesus” as part of a group of studies on God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus. It has been interesting to see that although these students don’t want to be “told” what is right, they are more than willing to listen to someone who has a little more experience (and hopefully more knowledge). Pray that we can always simply get back into God’s word and see what is really there.
Next month Scott will be presenting a study and helping with a discussion over homosexuality and how Christians should respond. This is quite a current topic for these students (and all of us). It is exciting to see that instead of running away from difficult topics, they are more than willing to examine them based on God’s word.
Some months can be very busy and very challenging. There have been times this month that I felt like the day had stretched into 36 hours. But each evening God brought rest and created new opportunities and strength for the new day. What an awesome God!

Prayer warriors
Please keep the following in your prayers.
- My reading in the Bible with LJ, Gerard, Cor and Titia and Mieke.
- Our continued contact with people in our villages.
- Upcoming youth weekends and concerts in May and June.
- Our upcoming youth activities. What a blessing to see them growing in so many ways!
- Thanks for the “Getting to know the Bible” series and continued prayers for the participants.
- Shirley’s and Ruud’s health. Shirley is doing better.
- Thanks and praise for a wonderful church family!

Although many of you may have gotten showers in April (or even snow - we heard), we have been enjoying summer weather. As a matter of fact, we broke a record for the most days without rain here. Thankfully (yes, I can truly say that!) it has started raining again. But during the sunny days we have experienced a good mix of fun,beautiful and challenging times.
Stephan went off at the beginning of the month to some friends outside of Eindhoven. It’s not always easy when your friends live so far away. But he also spent plenty of time with his school friends and his teammates from basketball. As a matter of fact, his team became champions - which meant that he had to shave his head! Sean couldn’t stop laughing, some girls were quite impressed and Stephan simply continued with a smile (as always).

- Stephan, the champion -

Sean had a real up and down month. He was approached by the coach for the C1 team (two levels up from where he plays at C3) to play with them. Unfortunately, his own coach didn’t want to lose him. So he played for both teams for a little while. But in the next to last game, one the C1 had to win in order to continue at their current level Sean fell and broke his elbow (maybe)! Scott was off in Antwerp at a concert, Shirley was off to the store, but thankfully Ruud (our colleague) was there to accompany Sean to the hospital. After lots of x-rays, they still weren’t sure, so now Sean is in a cast and waiting on new x-rays and certainty about what has happened.
In the meantime, he had been having a good time with his best friend Wouter. Wouter’s parents were off together and didn’t want to leave Wouter alone, so he stayed with us for several days. Both he and Sean are big Genk fans (the pro soccer team) and followed all the news together. Genk is fighting to win the season and they have a good chance.
Shirley is doing well. The latest EMG showed that things are actually getting better. She has doubled her medicine so that it is more effective (according to doctor’s orders) and we will check in again just before we leave for the States this summer. In the meantime it is definitely Spring, which means new flowers and trying to keep up on what is happening in the yard (but being careful about what she does!).
We all have enjoyed the times getting together with our brothers and sisters around the country. At the end of the month Listen Up! had a concert in Antwerp together with a group from Paris - Agape-la. Shirley and Sean had to stay home (the day Sean got hurt, Shirley taking care of him), but Stephan went with Scott and got to see lots of friends and meet new people.

Tidbits of information about
Belgium and the Netherlands

- Most people have heard of Dutch cheeses: Gouda, Edam. Some other typical meals include pea soup and many different ways of preparing cauliflower or cabbage.
- Although the Belgians are not as well known for their cheeses, they do have quite a few varieties. Currently Belgium is more known for their beers and their chocolate. But you might also want to look into recipes for cooking venison or rabbit.
Have you come across something typically Dutch or Belgian? What did you think of it? Let us know.

What’s coming up?
Getting to know the Bible
Listen Up! concert
Youth studies
Youth weekend and concert
Outreach in our neighborhood
- For praying for us - and letting us know that!
- For your continued desire to know and follow God
- For your blogs, emails and calls - it is great to hear what is going on with you.

Sometimes we think we know what to expect. April is supposed to bring flowers and the beginning of showers, right? But if it ends up doing something different - well, then, just keep on going, with a smile (Stephan is always a good example!). We have been blessed through all the things we experienced this month and pray that you too have been able to see the blessings in all that has happened in your life this month. Have a great day today!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Wiser on the Way

Getting to know the Bible

This evening we finished up the "Getting to know the Bible" series of lessons. In Dutch it is called "Wiser on the way". A "wiser" has two meanings: to be wiser and something that points (like the hand on a clock). So the title means that you can become wiser on the way and you can be pointed to the right direction with the Bible.

We had put a press release in the local papers and had 5 good reactions. Mr. W. showed up for lessons 1-3 last week. (We know that at least two others tried to find it, but got lost in our neighborhood - something to learn from for next time!). We have had some wonderful discussions with him each evening. He decided to stay for lesson 4, 5 and 6 this week and has asked for more information on the church and on the Bible. Thank you for your prayers and please keep him in your prayers.

One of the most encouraging things throughout this series has been Willemien, our 85-year-old sister. She has been present each time we have offered lessons 1-3. She makes sure the room is open, turns on the heat if needed (we started these last Fall) and gets coffee ready. But more importantly, she takes part. As she has said, most of the time she arrives tired (the lessons are in the evening) and leaves completely energized. This time she was telling everyone to be sure and come - and she takes the information she has learned and passes it on to people she meets and talks to. What a wonderful blessing she is to the church here!

Thank you for your prayers for this effort. We will repeat the series again in the Fall, hopefully reaching more people from here in the neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Stephan - the champ!

Stephan - the champ!
Originally uploaded by sraabs.
Stephan came home yesterday looking a bit different. This season his basketball team had decided that if they won the championship they would shave their heads.

As the end of the season came into view this promise became a bit more serious - they hadn't lost a single game. The next to last game they lost (their only loss!) to the second-place team. This meant they had to wait for one more game before knowing if they were champs or not.

Well, last night they were crowned (can you say that with a head like that?) champions. Click on the picture to see a few more pictures of Stephan's new style.