Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Nebraska and Iowa

One of the biggest joys on our trip around the US is seeing family again and meeting new people. We usually have a mix of both at each stop on our way, seeing church family we have stayed with before and meeting new members while there. But in general our family is in different States than the congregations we visit.

Leaving our Minnesota church family we rented a car and began the 'road trip' section of our Home Assignment. From Minneapolis we would drive the rest of the trip - to Omaha, Nebraska, over to  Muscatine, Iowa, on to Curtice, Ohio, back to Indianapolis, Indiana, and finally to Chicago, illinois where we would fly out. We left Minnesota with a light powdering of snow on the ground and fog in the air wondering what Omaha would be like when we arrived about 5 hours later. We heard that Minnesota received a foot of snow after we left, but we arrived in Omaha with no snow.

Once arrived in Omaha we found a hotel, checked in and headed over to Shirley's sister's, pretty much just around the corner. From there we were able to go to her son's house where we were all together for dinner. What a great evening - finally being able to see each other again!
The next day we planned to attend Southwest church of Christ, where we had visited back in 2007. Walking in the door we were enthousiastically welcomed by Joan Hazelwood who knew we were to be in Omaha and hoped that we would be coming by. How fun and encouraging to be so welcomed! Joan and LaVerne had been in the congregation when Shirley was growing up and Joan had allowed us to translate her curriculum for Belgium and the Netherlands. We also ran into Lane Hinton, who had been one of our 'students' for a summer back in the 90's.
We only had a coupe of days in Omaha, but we were able to spend as much time as possible with family, doing a bit of shopping, Scott got his hair cut and we did a lot of catching up. We even drove over to see a neighborhood with an amazing light display. We are so thankful for these opportunities and how this is made possible by the generosity of so many. We couldn't have been in the States if others hadn't brought us over.

After a much too short visit in Omaha, we jumped in the car and headed over to Muscatine, Iowa. It was Shirley's birthday, so we had some heartfelt goodbyes with her sister, stopped to get a Nebraska sweatshirt (some things are just important!) and went out to eat when we finally drove in to Muscatine about 5 hours later.

in Musactine we were staying at our 'regular' place. This place is far from regular, but the Huddleston's see us as family (since we have stayed with them several times) and we feel very much at home. So we simply let ourselves in. Muscatine is a congregation where we have many familiar faces and church family (including the Schellekens, with whom we have worked since 1982!), but it was here that we were thrilled to meet a whole group of new people.

In the 5 days we were in Muscatine we had several chances to meet the congregation and get to know them better. On Wednesday evening Shirley went to the ladies group while Scott went to a different class. Afterwards we had a meet and greet around dessert foods.
We found out that the church family in Muscatine often meets around food. The following three evenings we had dinner and then dessert with various groups - elders, deacons, wives included, long-time friends and then the youth as well. The exciting thing was being able to meet so many new families as well as reconnect with old friends. On Sunday we talked about our work during the class, Scott preached and then went to sing with a group at a rest home. In the evening we visited with the youth again and two different classes before praying with the elders. We always want to be of use when we visit and we were glad to be able to do so many things here.
In the meantime we also enjoyed a quiet home and even went out to The Hobbit - it's a three-parter, so be warned (tongue firmly in cheek). On a rainy morning we drove off on our way to Ohio where we will finally meet our soon-to-be daughter-in-law and see our son.

You can see more pictures over here. We were busy meeting people in Iowa, so we don't have much of any pictures. Did you take some? We would love to see them!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Minnesota


As we arrived in Minnesota, expecting cold, winter weather, we were greeted by the providence of God and the grace shown through his children. Our family at Woodbury blanketed us in warm fellowship and sharing. It was a very busy visit, but full of a restful busyness. And to start it all out we were welcomed with a car on loan, a gps to get us around, and a hotel room for the first night – time to be together after a lot of traveling.
Our time in Minnesota was mostly filled with visits with the various ‘Life groups’ which meet throughout the week – church in practice outside of the Sunday morning. Each evening we met a different group and on Sunday we met three! Sometimes we talked about what we were doing, but most of the time we simply took part in the study and discussion (this time about ‘downward mobility’ – very interesting thought!) and did some singing. So we not only met the members, but heard their hearts for Christ as well.
In the meantime we spent time in the hospitality of two homes as different and similar as can be from each other. We started in the home of the Chenoweths, whose children are married or off to college – much like ourselves. Their home is in the country, out by a lake, and provided wonderful daily walks for us. There was a quiet, a peace – except when we watched Nebraska lose to Wisconsin on the big screen one night. Otherwise, our time was filled with gracious and challenging conversation, gathered in the living room together.
About half-way through we moved over to the Davidson house – a family we have known for some time, but which has changed in the years. This is a growing family, with four young boys (the oldest being just 10) and the last of the four girls (we still remember Malia, now 16, when she was just 5). Plenty of activity, questions, fun and evident loving hearts. Scott played lego all day with the boys, we went for walks in the park and continued to enjoy the life groups in the evenings. Both homes – for they are truly homes and we felt very much at home – were places of rest. One was a place of calm rest and discussion, the other an energetic vibrancy that hugged us deeply.
We met many new people on this stop and look forward to getting to know them more in the future. We saw a vibrant, caring, living church caring for each other. What a great encouragement for us! As we moved on from Minnesota, now driving to Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio, we were greeted with a light snow – just so that we knew that it does snow in Minnesota. It was a day later – after we had safely arrived in Nebraska – that we heard that about a foot more had fallen. Some more busy rest?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Texas


Our relationship with the congregation at S. 11th and Willis in Abilene, Texas molded much of our mission-mindedness. We were married on December 21, 1984  - the day Shirley graduated from Harding University - and drove from Searcy, Arkansas to Abilene, Texas where Scott would finish at Abilene Christian University. We arrived on a Saturday late and Sunday morning went to services with the couple we were staying with. It was S. 11th & Willis that welcomed us and we have remained with this congregation in our hearts all the years since. They took us out to lunch that Sunday (everyone drinks sweet ice tea), showed us around town and made sure that we had everything we needed (including, in the coming weeks, a place to stay and a car to use). 
When we attended ‘Willis’, it was a congregation with a strong emphasis on missions and reaching out no matter where you are. They are still a missions congregation all these years later. It was exciting to see the work being done with some of the refugees from Burundi, the long emphasis and dedicated love for the church in Kenya, both deaf and hearing, the deaf congregation at Willis and all the local efforts to be the body of Christ in the community. We usually end our home assignements here – that is how the loop of travel works out, and it means that we have a safe, restful place before we head back to Belgium. This time Texas is in the middle of our travel loop, but it was just as encouraging.
We were treated to a surprise when the congregation held a reception and money tree for Stephan and Natalie on the first Sunday we were present. They had mentioned to us that they wanted to bless the couple, and Stephan was ‘theirs’! Stephan was born in Abilene and his first Bible came in cradle roll from this wonderful family. To make it complete, we mentioned that we could skype with Stephan and Natalie during the reception – what a great thing technology can be! So, although it was quite difficult to hear one another, many in the congregation were able to meet Natalie and say hello to Stephan.
E.B., Jean and Max
Throughout the week we took the opportunities offered to meet with members – often for lunch or dinner (everyone still drinks sweet tea). Sitting down together always brings with it a level of fellowship and unity. We stayed with E.B. and Jean Dotson who originally arrived in Abilene about the time we did all those years ago. E.B. takes so many missionaries' tax worries on his shoulders and  Jean's heart goes out to everyone seeking peace who doesn't know that peace is truly to be found in Christ. We are so thankful that we are able to spend time with them (and with Max, the parrot this time). We also visited Amanda Martin who is now studying at ACU – amazing to see how ‘our’ young people (Amanda is from the congregation in Long Beach) are all grown up! Scott was also able to connect with a friend from his high school days for a good talk.
Thanksgiviing beckoned and Black Friday loomed this week as well. We were blessed to be ale to share Thanksgiving with the Bundy’s in Graham, Texas (about 90 minutes away). Good food and fellowship there as well. This was all possible because of the giving hearts of members back at Willis lending us their car. As someone mentioned recently: perhaps it was fitting that we were leant a convertible in California and a pick-up truck in Texas. We were very thankful for both!
At home with the McNeill's
Scott brought the sermon the second Sunday morning in Texas and we headed out to Haslet, Texas to meet up with the McNeill’s, our long-time friends and supporters. It was good to drive up, unload and be completely at home. There are some families that can do that for you and such are the McNeill’s. It was a very short visit, but we were thankful to be able to see them and check up again before they drove us very early in the morning to our flight to Minnesota.

These people were some of the first to teach us about giving and sharing. It was good to see them, hard to miss some who have passed away, but encouraging to know that we will all meet again. That has always been enphasized. And their example of giving and sharing is something we try to continue in our lives. Now we are the ones who welcome young couples, young people, young Christians and show them the beauty of living daily with Jesus Christ. 

Sunday, December 02, 2012

On Assignment - at home in Colorado


Visiting with Yumiko
Our next stop was Colorado where most of Scott’s family lives. We only had 5 days to cover Colorado Springs and Denver, so we tried to get in as much as possible within everyone’s schedule. We usually come in the summer when at least the kids are out of school. People cannot simply drop their jobs and spend time with us, but it was great to be able to plan an evening when Scott’s family was able to get together for pizza. A chance to meet the new husband of a niece, talk about plans and school and jobs, and see how everyone has grown. We want to be an encouragement wherever we are and hope the time we spend together is just that.
For the few days in Colorado Springs, we were able to visit with our sister-in-law, do a bit more shopping (shoes!), enjoy a good Bible study evening at the Pikes Peak Avenue congregation and drive around the city visiting old haunts before we headed up to Denver. In the meantime, Scott was also checking his email every morning to make sure that things were going okay back in Maastricht and with son Sean. Technology is great when it keeps us in touch with one another! We were even able to call Willemien (our sister in Christ in Maastricht) one morning. We usually see her every Tuesday afternoon. This time we were only able to give her a call while others are caring so well for her, but it was so good to hear her voice.
We headed back up to Denver to spend time with Scott’s older brother and sister and their spouses. Gathered around the table with good food and lively conversation, memories and stories flowed freely. We all change over time and it is good to see what that change looks like. Imagine if we only allowed everyone to remain as they were when they were our ‘little brother’ or ‘older sister’. We change and we want to allow others to change as well.
We also had a good visit with the Rog family, re-connecting and seeing how they have been blessed. The connection that is shared in Christ is special and exciting. Our visits in Denver hold many of these blessings. Scott’s best friend, Bret Carter, met us for lunch and a good heart-to-heart. The next night we finally got to see one of his musicals performed as well. That evening and the next day at the airport (you try to fill every possible minute) we made the most of the conversations with Ron and Jean Carter and Hans and Julie Oehlert as well (AND we got to see Rachel and Caleb!).

Colorado was a whirlwind family visit full of emotion, nostalgia, beauty and family of all kinds. This leg seemed to fly by and left us slightly gasping for air for various reasons. We were able to get an early birthday/Christmas present for Shirley (an iPad) with the financial help of Scott’s brother, Chris, and generous gifts from church family along the way. But the visit seemed too short. And this will not be the first time we experience this elation and evisceration.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

On Assignment - at home in California


I recently read a very good article stating some things that for us were very obvious, but for many are obviously not very clear. You can read the article here. What Dale mentioned spurred me on to take a moment to let you see what it is that we are doing on this trip. I know that when we explain to our neighbors and some others that we are going to be gone for two months they are astonished that we would take such a long vacation. 
Home Assignment (I used to call it 'furlough') is a blessed mixture of encouragement and encouraging – or at least that is how we see it and what we desire it to be. We want desperately, not only to have time to get to know new people in the congregations supporting us, but to re-establish ties with those we already know and have been missing, to use any time we have at a congregation to encourage and help, and to learn new things while we are in the US. Along the way we also get to see our family. And there are so many people who so much want to be a blessing to us, to give us a time of refreshing and rest.

As you have read, our Home assignment every three years covers quite a bit of territory – usually at least 6 states and 9 cities, visiting at least 8 different congregations. We basically have 4 supporting congregations: Long Beach, 11th & Willis in Abilene, Texas, Woodbury in Minnesota, and Muscatine in Iowa. Our family, however is in neither of the four states those congregations are in. So we are blessed (and it truly is also a blessing) with the possibility for lots of travel – usually a combination of air travel and road travel.

We are now about halfway through our travels. We started this time in Long Beach, California where we were blessed by being able to take part almost right away in ‘First Fridays’. The local businesses spend the evening showing themselves along the boulevard, getting people to come inside, doing something special to let the community know who they are. The congregation in Long Beach understood that they, too, could let people know that they are a presence in the neighborhood. So they pass out water along with information about the church. They are the face of the congregation on that evening and we were able to share this with them.
Our visits are often a micture of food and conversation. This way we get to meet members and catch up on what is happening in our lives or get to know each other. Thankfully, members often invite others along so that we all share this time. In Long Beach Scott preached and answered questions at a meeting of the elders and deacons (reporting on how things are going in Maastricht) and Scott and Shirley were able to sit in the Sunday morning Bible study as well as a mid-week study. We were able to take part in a prayer evening that is regularly organized by the church. This group regularly prays for us and keeps abreast of our needs - what a blessing! And Shirley headed off for a weekend to a Ladies Retreat in the mountains.
Along with these moments of sharing we also were simply part of our host family in Long Beach, the Jablonski’s. Scott went with the family to daughter Zoey’s volleyball game (they were in the play-offs vying for State).  Shirley knew that she needed to find her dress for the wedding at the end of our travels, so Wanda Martin took her shopping – and they found a dress! More shopping time would follow, since shoes are also needed. Walks in the park, making lunch together or taking an afternoon to see local sights were also among the encouraging moments before we moved on.

These are times of blessing and giving that always astonish us - even though they should not. We have learned about giving and how much God blesses, from people like these. The congregation got together to bless us in a special way financially before we left, but they had already lent us their cars, hosted us in their homes and fed us bodily and spiritually. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Learning to share

Thanksgiving with the Bundy's

When we married - the day Shirley graduated from Harding University - we jumped in a car laden with all our worldly goods (they all fit in that run-down Chevelle) and headed off for Abilene, Texas where Scott would finish his degree. We had already both expereinced the amazing wealth of blessing that comes from people who have learned to share.

Arriving in Abilene (gassed by our car - but that is another story), we attended the congregation at S. 11th and Willis. The elders there, the young marrieds there, eeryone was full of a servant attitude that permeated the congregation - a church that put missions above buildings and welcomed all comers with open arms and hearts tuned to Jesus Christ. We began a relationship that has lasted and blossomed in all the years our marriage has also grown.

It was these men and women who taught us to give by their example of giving. They helped us when they could and were always there. Since then we have found similar congregations and people all over. These are the amazing, faithful examples we are blessed to visit along our trips when we come back to the US. And we have again been blessed by their great generosity - for us and for Stephan and Natalie who will soon be married.

This bounty has taught us how to walk, has shown us how good it is to share God's blessings - even when we think we have nothing to share. Bounty comes from our gracious Father and we are blessed with the opportunity to be part of passing that on.
We are so thankful for so many lives through which God has blessed us.

Stop here to see our most recent pictures from the Texas leg of our home assignment.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Old memories and new


At Denver Airport
Originally uploaded by sraabs.
Things change. Kids grow up. Houses are sold. But memories remain and new memories are made. All of this is what Colorado was to us this past week.
We drove down to Colorado Springs to spend time with family there. In order to accomodate everyone we decided to meet at a restaurant - Fargo's pizza - a pizza place themed around the old west. Waiters walk around in period costume, piano's play while moose and deer heads gaze down on the pizza-eating patrons.
This place held all sorts of good memories from when we would come here for church youth activities. It's a good family place. And it was here that we got to meet our niece, Kimberly's husband, Derrick, and talk about their quickly changing life together (new baby on the way). We also had time with the other nieces and nephew, trying to get to know each other a little bit better.
While in 'the Springs' we drove around visiting old haunts. The Raab house on Illinois has been sold, but still looks the same. Elementary school, high school, where we rode the bikes down the hill, where the donkey used to be ... all sorts of memories. The streets have all changed. The city has grown tremendously. But it was fun to reminisce.
Up in Denver we met up with more family for a great evening of food and discussion. The next day we met up with old friends and church family (wonderful how that goes together!). We were also finally able to watch a play from Bret and Ron Carter! We have been wanting to hear and see one of these musicals for years and now finally had the chance.
As we headed out (meeting more friends at the airport) the view in this picture struck me. The kids playing still as time marches on and a hotel is built next to the airport. It's fun to mix old memories with new ones. We are so thankful for family and this opportunity to share this time.

Friday, November 16, 2012

On Home Assignment


California!
Originally uploaded by sraabs.
We are traveling through the United States, visiting family and church family who support us in the work God is accomplishing in Belgium and the Netherlands. This is a time of re-establishing relationships, spending time with family, reporting on what we have been doing in Belgium and the Netherlands, and encouraging and being encouraged in the love that God brings us in Jesus Christ. We travel a lot, spend plenty of time visiting, and mix a time of relaxation with times of energizing encounter.
We started this 'Home Assignment' different than previous years in California. Usually (we return on home assignment every three years) we start in Minnesota, swing through California and end up in Texas, hitting everything else in between. Since we are finishing this time in Ohio with Stephan's wedding, we turned things around, starting in California and working our way east. As we continue our travels, we will try to keep you updated on what is going on, through this blog and through the pictures we take. The pictures from California are now online. You can also always simply click on the photos on the right, here on the blog.
This time back in the US is only possible because so many of you have made it possible. Thank you! In California we were blessed by time with loving family, a Ladies Retreat for Shirley up in the mountains, being able to take part in your family activities (like a volleyball tournament), good food, good fellowship and wonderful examples of service. We are so thankful for God's wonderful people in so many places!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Come fly with me


In just 10 days we will be off to travel the US for two months, visiting many of you along the way. We look forward to seeing many of you, spending time with you, being encouraged and encouraging you with how God is blessing us each day. Here is a quick run-down of what our travels will look like. Until the last leg of the trip we will be traveling without Sean, who is of course in the middle of a semester at university in Brussels.

Use the map in the picture as a link to the numbers if you are like me and like a visual reference.
1. We fly on November 1 from Dusseldorf to Los Angeles and spend the next week and a bit with church family in Long Beach, California.
2. From Long Beach we fly to Denver, Colorado on November 12.
3. We will be in Denver at the beginning anf end of the week (Monday, Tuesday and Friday), down in Colorado Springs on Wednesday and Thursday visiting family and church family in both cities. It has been a while since we have seen Colorado at this time of year!
4. We fly from Denver to Dallas on November 17 and will spend the next 10 days in Abilene and the Dallas area. We will be at the S. 11th & Willis congregation in Abilene.
5. We fly from Dallas to Minneapolis (over Denver!) on the 27th of November. We look forward to several wonderful days with church family at the Woodbury congregation. Wondering if we will also be blessed (?) with snow at that point in our trip. The last time we were in Minneapolis at this time of year holds some wonderful sledding memories.
6. On December 8 we will start the driving section of our trip. Please keep this section in your prayers as we would like to enjoy it and remain safe. We will first drive from Minneapolis to Omaha, Nebraska to visit family. We will be able to celebrate Shirley’s birthday with her family.
7. That same day we will carry on from Omaha across Iowa to Muscatine to visit with the loving congregation there. We expect some interesting weather along the way and look forward to seeing everyon again in Muscatine.
8. December 17 will see us driving from Muscatine to Curtice, Ohio. It is here that we will first meet our future daughter-in-law in person and finally be able to hug our son, Stephan. We look forward to meeting the White’s and helping to get things ready for the wedding on December 22. On December 20 we will pick up Sean and his friend, Wouter, and Wouter’s dad, Marc, from the airport in Detroit as they arrive in time for the wedding.
9. The Sunday afternoon after the wedding (while Stephan and Natalie are winging to Europe), we drive over to Indianapolis to spend Christmas with Scott’s family (the brother we don’t get to see as often).
10. From Indianapolis we drive with a full car to Chicago to spend an evening and morning with Jimmy and Amy Schellekens before flying back home.
11. We depart Chicago on December 28 and arrive in Dusseldorf on December 29.

Thank you to all who are making this trip possible, as always. We only are able to visit because of your faithfulness and generosity. We are looking forward to sharing time with you and your families. Let us know if you are in the neighborhood and we can get together! We would love to see you!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

What kind of child are you?


As you have read, we challenged the young people at the youth weekend in Maastricht to read one of the gospels during October. I am reading through the gospel according to John.
‘Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or of a husband’s will, but born of God.’ (John 1:12-13)
I was supposed to be a girl. That was the plan. My sister is the oldest, then my older brother. So the plan was to have another girl and then a boy, making the perfect family of four kids, two boys and two girls. Of course, I was not a girl. And the next several tries for that girl also never panned out. I am one of 5 brothers, with my sister as the lone sister and oldest.
But that was the plan. My parents had a plan. They decided to have me. That in itself is a wonderful thought. There are plenty of people who only ‘plan’ on having sex, fulfilling themselves. A child is an unwanted, unforeseen (really?) consequence that needs to be dealt with. I was desired. And loved. And cared for. But I did not choose to be here. Someone else made that choice.
John tells us something amazing. Did you catch it? To be a child of God (the Creator of heaven and earth, the Eternal, the Almighty, the Loving One), I can be born. It is no one else’s decision and no one else can do it for me. There is no person who can make you a Christian, deciding for you that you will have wanted to make that choice.
But I can. I can decide to receive him, believe in his name. Then I have a right to become a child of God. I can choose this wonderful Father, because He has chosen me. And He has chosen you. Will I simply stand outside, accept being only a child of my parents, or will I accept the invitation to be a child of God? You see, I am both. God allowed me to be born into the family my parents ‘planned’. And then He invited me into His family. I am formed by both. And God makes both situations glorious, because He is this wonderful Father, able to turn even the worst situation into a victory.
What kind of child are you? Will you be His child?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Growing up in the Lord

We are never too old to grow in the grace and love of the Lord. Every day we need to be reminded and challenged to allow Jesus to truly be our Lord.

In September we organized a youth weekend in Maastricht - at our house actually - with the theme: Meetings with Jesus. We had a great group of young people from Eindhoven, Antwerp, the area around Tienen and from Maastricht and Valkenburg. How well do we know Jesus? How can we know who he is and what he wants? We took time in the two days we were together to read, think about and discuss six different stories of what Jesus did, what he was like.
We met the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, saw Jesus washing the apostles' feet and when he fed more than 5000 with a little boy's lunch. We talked about the night in the garden of Gethsemane and around the fire. We saw how Jesus dealt with Thomas and his doubts. And we looked at Jesus walking over the water and stilling the storm.
Each meeting gave us plenty to chew on for our own lives. Are we willing to ask questions and listen to answers, seeking God's will? Can we serve each other? Why are we afrai of what people think? Can Jesus do anything with the little bit I can offer? How strong do I really need to be? All good questions and challenges. For October we challenged the  young people to read one of the gospels and meet Jesus. Why don't you join us?

At the end of October we are organizing Fall Camp. This is vbasically a youth weekend down at camp in the Ardennes. Since we have our new facility, some things will be easier. The beauty of the season and thrill of change will still be just as present. For this weekend we will challenge ourselves with questions on fighting. How do we fight the good fight? What weapons do we have to use? Who (or what?) are we fighting? Who are we NOT fighting? It should be a great weekend! We will be able to tell some of you about in person.

The nice thing about all these weekends ... we get to learn so much from these young people and their desire to know and follow Jesus!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

September 2012

 It has been quite a while since we put up a newsletter, so this is an update of what we have been doing in 2012 and a bit of what is coming up. To read, simply click on the pictures at left.















If you would like the newsletter as text in an email, just let me know.

Thank you for taking the time to check out what is going on in our lives and how God is blessing us!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Meeting Jesus


This past weekend we hosted a youth weekend in Maastricht. Usually we have a bit more time to announce things and get a group together, but the short notice for this weekend (less than two weeks) didn’t keep too many from coming. We had a great group of young people willing to learn and looking forward to encouraging one another.
One of the things that we so want to encourage in our youth is to really get to know Jesus. That is what we consistently hear from Jesus in the gospels: Follow me. When Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, Jesus replies, “Philip, have I been with you so long and you still don’t know me? If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” (John 14:8-9)
So we took time from Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon to meet Jesus and see what we could learn about him in those meetings. Along the way we also had fun with eggs, a scavenger hunt and marshmallows around a fire. We spent time developing relationships with each other while we developed our relationship with Jesus.
I am always impressed by young people who are not only able but who are also willing to listen to the Word and dig into what is being said. We looked at the 12-year-old Jesus in the temple, at Jesus on the mountain and feeding the 5000, at Jesus washing the feet of the disciples and why he could do this, at Jesus in the garden and walking over the sea. The challenge now is to read one of the gospels in the coming month to continue getting to know Jesus. Why not read along with us? Choose a gospel and take the time to get to know Jesus. We can talk about what you have found next month. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thank you!


Photo from ACU Today
Each time that we are in the US we of course stop in Abilene, Texas. The day after we married (almost 28 years ago), we drove from Arkansas to Texas because I would be attending ACU. Our first Sunday we attended the congregation at 11th & Willis and fell in love with a group of people who were in love with Jesus Christ. One of those people was Neil Lightfoot. We heard from plenty of people how important a teacher he was at ACU, and in the years following I experienced that – although it was only in auditing Dr. Lightfoot’s ‘Gospel of John’.
But what we remember most are the wonderful Bible classes Sunday mornings, the dry laugh and wry little smile, the willingness to listen. Neil and Ollie were great encouragers and examples for us. We had come to Willis at our ‘young married’ stage (just-married as a matter of fact) and attended Sunday morning Bible class with Larry and Michelle McElroy, Neil and Ollie’s daughter and son-in-law. We saw in this young married couple the love Neil aand Ollie had passed on. Sitting in front of the Lightfoots Sunday evening meant sharing their voices in singing praise to God. They were able and willing to listen and guide, gently with their words and truly in example.
When we made plans to go to Europe to spread the gospel, 11th & Willis stood behind us and continue to support us. When I had theological questions and needed advice and guidance, I could email Neil and receive a response. It was good to know that the church was there, not only sending money, but truly as we had talked about – as co-workers. When Ollie passed away, we grieved for the family. We were happy, then, too when Neil met Marjorie.
The last several times that we have returned on furlough, Neil and Marjorie have always made sure to make time for us. A lunch out at the country club (quite a treat for the boys at that time) together with good, real conversation. A real interest and care not only for how we were doing, but how God was using us where we were. It is that heart for which we are so thankful. Neil has taught a thirlll for the word of God - and digging into it honestly - as well as a true, loving, deep concern for living that very word in our life. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

That strange English language


Language is fun! And it reveals so much about a culture. Cultures are influenced by their language and in turn influence that very language. Certain Inuit tribes have many words for the color white, since they can distinguish various shades of the color in their environment. To other cultures, white is white.
English is a language which has a rich history, but which also has allowed itself to be richly influenced by languages and cultures which it has encountered. To some this might seem a frustration. Why do we spell some words in such a strange way? And why do we use certain ‘foreign’ words. Why not use a good English word? 
When we first came to the Netherlands a man asked: “Why do you say ‘u’ for a word with two o’s, like ‘book’. If one ‘o’ is ‘oh’, then two o’s should be ‘ooh’,” he said, making a very rounded ‘o’ sound. “In Dutch we are consistent," he continued, "If one ‘e’ sounds like ‘eh’, then two e’s is ‘ay’. You English speakers confuse everything.”
Of course, much of this is because English borrows words vigorously from any language it comes in contact with. Unlike some countries which fight to keep their language ‘pure’, English simply swallows words whole and spits them out with adapted pronunciations (as one might expect after spitting something up).
I want to have some fun looking at this wonderful language. I will regularly use a Wednesday to pass on the weird way our words warp through time and cultures.
Consider today (although it is Saturday and not Wednesday), for those many of you so looking forward to the rain (something which we typically look forward to getting away from here in Belgium and the Netherlands!), the expression: It’s raining cats and dogs. For animal-loving Dutchmen, this seems an abomination! Although, really horrible weather is called ‘hondenweer’ or ‘dog’s weather’. It is weather even a dog would not want to go out in. So it simply does not rain cats and dogs here. Here it rains ‘steel rods’ or ‘pipe rods’. This is of course only descriptive of what we see in a heavy rain, but I don’t know that I would want cats, dogs or steel rods pelting me from the sky. I would much rather a nice refreshing drenching, whether needed or not.
 
(Want more info on 'cats and dogs'? Check this out.)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Update on Ruud

Typical Ruud
NL vertaling beneden
This past Monday I put up a request for prayers and so many of you responded. It is encouraging to know that we are a family of many, spread all around the world! I wanted to take some time to thank all of you who have been praying for our colleague and brother, Ruud Verheijen.
Ruud has had extreme and chronic pain for several years, due to rheumatism and a car accident (with attendant mistakes in care and follow-up). This past Monday the doctors were going to test a possibility for helping his pain. They specifically deadened certain nerves (a bit like the dentist does before working on your teeth). Ruud was to walk, stand, sit and see how well this helped. It helped … for about 5 minutes before the pain returned.
This told the doctors that a further process of actually burning the nerves would not be useful or helpful for Ruud. So the procedure for this coming Monday was canceled and Ruud was informed that he will need to learn to deal with his chronic pain. This is not new for Ruud. He has had years to accept that he has pain and learn to deal with it.
In October he will begin sessions at the “Pain Clinic” where he will be given advice on how to arrange his life around the pain that is part of his life.
In all of this, Ruud is an example of trust and faith in God’s caring hand. God has told us that He will be with us at all moments, giving us strength to carry on and, even more, be useful and mighty (2 Cor. 4). I am so thankful for Ruud’s faith and example, for God’s care. Please continue to pray for Ruud and his family as he and they work through this time. Praise God for His faithfulness. Pray for peace, comfort and days of refreshing as well as strength and insight into living with this situation.
Thank you for being a family!

Op mandag vroeg ik voor gebeden en velen reageerden daar op. Het is zo een aanmoediging te ervaren dat we een gezin van velen zijn, verspreid over heel de wereld. Ik wilde even de tijd nemen om jullie te bedanken die voor ons collega en broer, Ruud Verheijen, gebeden hebben.
Ruud leeft al jaren met extreme en chronische pijn vanwege zijn rheuma en een auto ongeluk enkele jaren geleden (samen met de fouten die gemaakt werden bij de behandeling). Op maandag gingen de dokters iets uittesten om zijn pijn mogelijk te verlichten. Ze gingen specifieke zenuwen verdoven (een beetje zoals de tandarts dat doet met je tanden). Ruud moest lopen, staan en zitten en zien of de verdoving hielp of niet. Het hielp … voor ongeveer 5 minuten voordat de pijn terugkwam.
Zo wisten de dokters dat een verdere behandeling van de zenuwen ‘verbranden’ niet de gewenste effect zou hebben en Ruud dus niet zou helpen. De procedure voor maandag, 3 september werd dus afgezegd en Ruud werd ge├»nformeerd dat hij moet leren leven met dechronische pijn die hij heeft. Dit is niets neiuws voor Ruud. Hij heeft al jaren gehad om te aanvaarden dat hij pijn heeft en om daarmee te leren leven.
In oktober mag hij naar de “Pijn Kliniek” waar hij advies zal krijgen over hoe zijn leven aan te passen aan de pijn die deel uitmaakt van zijn leven.
In dit alles is Ruud een groot voorbeeld van vertrouwen en geloof in de zorgende hand van God in zijn leven. God heeft ons verteld dat Hij er op alle momenten zal zijn in ons leven, om ons kracht te geven en, nog meer, dat wij bruikbaar en machtig kunnen zijn (2 Cor. 4).Ik ben zo dankbaar voor het geloof en voorbeeld van Ruud, dankbaar voor de goede zorg van onze God. Blijf alsjeblieft bidden voor Ruud en zijn gezin terwijl hij en zij proberen dit allemaal te verwerken en een juiste plaats geven. Loof God voor Zijn trouw. Bid voor vrede, troost en comfort en dagen van verlichting zowel als kracht en inzicht in het leven op deze manier.
Bedankt dat we een gezin zijn!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sing the wondrous love of Jesus


Revelation 7:9-10
I know… I have mentioned it before. I love singing. I not only love to sing, but I love listening to singing, being part of singing, seeing what singing can do to our hearts and our lives. I will be singing even after my voice has gone (I will sign or find some way to take part). Song is created by God. He made our bodies capable of producing sound. That is an amazing thought in and of itself. More importantly, He made us in a way that we desire and can combine our thought with our emotions.
This summer I was privileged to present a day of lessons from Revelation at our Family Camp. My section for this theme of “Those who conquer” was chapters 4-7. Me being me, what jumped out at me, among other things, was all the singing! Have you ever noticed?
Everywhere you look in the vision that John was given of heaven there is singing. Most of the time it says that something was “said”. In chapter 5:9-10 it specifically states that it is a song. But even the places where the creatures and elders and angels and all creation are ‘saying’, they are saying it together. It is a song. And what a song!
Now, I remember when I was growing up that some people said things like, “Why would I want to go to heaven? All that standing around singing all the time.” And the implication was that it is also boring singing. I wasn’t quite sure where they had gotten that idea. But here it is. Sure enough. We’ll be singing. And of course, when you are little, there is no way that you can understand the depth of love, the meaning that singing to the Lamb has.
I certainly would hope that a young child would not truly understand that. Because we understand the love, the beuaty, the power when we finally realize how far Jesus has brought us from our sinful life. We are only able to understand and sing with gusto (as much as our tears may allow us) when we have accepted the love that Jesus has presented us, when we have struggled through trying to make our own lives right and have failed. When we have struggled through all sorts of trials and pains and have come to see that our Father is still there and He has made us victorious!
But we will sing. And I am so thankful that that is possible. I am not only looking forward to that chorus, I am getting started already. Jesus is my conquering Lamb even today! Let’s raise our hearts, our voices, our hands, our lives to praise Him with all that we are – beginning NOW!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Blackberries

Along our canal

No, I’m not talking about a modern communication device. The last several days, after waiting for weeks, I have been able to enjoy the bounty of the weeds along our canal. And that is simply amazing to me. Simple and amazing. These bushes also grow all over our yard – since I do not invest enough time in taking care of our yard.
But along the canal, my two-time-a-day walk with our dog, Snuffles, brings me past these Sleeping Beauty bushes. You know the story: the princess pricks her thumb on a spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep (instead of dying as was designed). The kingdom falls asleep until a prince from outside the kingdom can finally tear his way through the terrible thorn bushes to find his true love sleeping. Those bushes.
And yes, they can be pretty intimidating when they get growing. But it is just amazing what kind of bounty they provide. I like blakberries. And even if I have to risk the stinging nettle, spiders and thorns, I enjoy picking a handful for my morning yoghurt. What I enjoy most, however, is the fact that this is found along the canal, available to any who will see it. And it is considered a pest, a bother to most.
Sleeping beauty, bounty that is simply amazing. Thank you Father.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sticks and stones


We finished up our summer camp weeks last week with a wonderful Family Day at which we heard the encouragement to continue encouraging one another – and then promptly put the desire into action. There were members from around Belgium and the Netherlands, including the French-speaking congregations in Belgium. I love what camp can do for people. Placing yourself together in the middle of God’s creation opens your eyes to who He is and who we can and should be.
And that is what I love so much about how we are created. One day during family camp I was privileged to be asked by a few of the young boys: “Look at my stick collection!” They had just been on a walk in the woods and had gathered all sorts of sticks. “This one is a slingshot … and a gun.” Sticks of all shapes and sizes which, in the eyes of these guys, had all sorts of possibilities.
This reminded me so much of my son Stephan, who will soon be marrying and moving even further away for a few years. When he was young, a walk down the street to the kindergarten took quite a while. This was not only because as a 3 year-old his legs were a good bit shorter than mine. Mostly it was because he loved looking at the stones along the way. There were always some amazing stones to look at. The shining white ones. This one with a black stripe in it, or that one with speckles. The shape of another reminded him of something else. He saw beauty and wonder in all these simple things along the way.
I still have the box full of the stones he gathered then. And I still thrill at the wonder that God has given us for the simple things in life – things that many would say are ordinary. We are truly made in His image, able, if we are willing, to see the marvelous in everything mundane.
Have you looked at a stick collection recently?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Seeing Abraham through ten-year-old eyes


Some interesting spellings of my name
Last week at Benjamin Camp we were learning about ‘Who is God and how can we get to know Him?' The lessons, the songs, the crafts and the activities were all focused on the theme. It was exciting to see how the kids wrestled with the concepts and were not afraid to voice their questions. Even more exciting was seeing how the lessons were impacting their daily lives at camp.
While there, I ‘saw Abraham’. In Belgium and the Netherlands the saying is that when someone turns 50 they have ‘seen Abraham’ (or Sara if it is a woman). A life-sized doll is made of an old man and placed in front of the door with a poem about the person who is celebrating the birthday. This all comes from the text in John 8:56-58. After Jesus mentions that Abraham looked forward to his coming, the Jews remark that this is impossible. How could Jesus have seen Abraham if he were not even yet 50?
Of course, I was not at home, so there was not going to be a old-man doll at my door. I was at camp with 20 kids who were barely 10 years old. But these kids wanted to make this a special day for me. So they filled the camp postbox with notes for me, reminding me of how thankful they were that I was here. They sang for me and presented me with a crown made of balloons (which I had to wear all day – a uniquely humbling experience). The cook had made a cake so that we could celebrate. And that evening during the talent show, the kids sang for me again. 
Interestingly, in John the idea is that the Jews did NOT accept Jesus for who he was. They did not believe that he saw Abraham. And because they didn’t believe who Jesus was, they did not see His glory and His salvation. But these kids who were looking at how to know God knew the love of Jesus as a practical application to life. We had been learning the thought: ‘Do for others what you would like done to yourself’ (also in a new song). And they showed just that.
Getting to know God in this way is a great way to celebrate my birthday – growing in what really counts for eternity. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Taming the fire


The recent Waldo Canyon fire
 which threatened Colorado Springs
The tongue is a fire. Especially in our day and age. We all feel we can just twitter what we want into the ether and no one will be the worse off. Even more, the world will be better because I have put a bit of me out there. And since it rolled from my tongue, it must be valuable. I am simply being me.
We work with people from various cultures, but basically two: Belgian (which is actually at least two cultures) and Dutch. One of the major differences we experienced from the moment we first came to the Netherlands (as a campaign group 30 years ago!) was the difference in how the Dutch view what is said. Rude or honest? Am I being myself or caring for others? Where do we draw the line? The Belgians might not say anything, but they will be thinking it. So their Yes may actually be No. Is this honest? The question is really, how am I using my tongue?
In our current world of instant ‘communication’ it has become commonplace to simply say what is thought, to let drop whatever comes to the tip of the tongue. Is this communication, or are we simply talking into space? Since this has always been one of my major struggles, I recognize it in the world around me. James has some choice advice for us all: ‘Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.’ (James 1:19) 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Speak to one another


I love singing. Singing is the way that God has given us to combine thought with feeling and communicate that to one another, to Him and to ourselves. And communal worship singing is the best of all. It is here that we experience family in the presence of God.
I am thankful that I have had the opportunity many times in my life to expereince communal worship singing in multiple languages. I have no idea in which language we will sing when we kneel before the throne, but it is thrilling to be able to share this beauty and truth with others, even when we have difficulty communicating the simplest things (how do you talk about your hometown or your family in Croatian, or Korean, or French?). We can sing of our love for God, of our joy in His grace, of our burning desire to be His in all we do and say. And with a bit of translating in the beginning, we all know that we are sharing this thought and feeling.
Every first Wednesday of the month the church in Maastricht gets together to sing – learn new songs, learn about singing, share our thoughts in song. The group from Li├ęge (Luik) usually joins us for the evening. Last weekend they organized an evening of singing with Robert McCready and his students from Harding. Glorious! And last evening was the last Wednesday evening in Maastricht until September (after our camp weeks). It was a wonderful evening together, although we missed some who are often there. But we will see them again too – and we will sing together to the glory of God, in any language, forever!

Monday, July 02, 2012

The putty birds

God wants us to get hurt. Last week I talked about the need to be able to fail safely. Let me explain the other side of this by looking at a problem we have down at our Bible camp in the Ardennes. Birds are eating the putty from around our new windows. (I assume they are using this in making nests –  a good use of modern technology? But that’s another post entirely.) The best way to stop this is to put a toxic substance (varnish) on the putty. Other options I have read include blocking off the windows, not using windows, or providing more food for the birds so that they hopefully will not go for your putty (which means that you get fat birds pecking the putty anyway).
Bird-lovers might not like the toxic answer. Birds will get sick and perhaps die because of the substance they are ingesting. And yet, this is the best way to save the other birds. If the few who first tried this died, the rest would not take over the learned behaviour. And it is learned behaviour. They do not need the putty. Only some birds do this.
God wants us to get hurt! Well, he is willing to allow us to get hurt. If we didn’t and were always bailed out of all our difficult situations, then we would never learn how to stop, never learn what the consequences of our actions are. If there is no consequence to an action, then I will think all is okay and will learn and teach this to others who will then also be in danger. It is better that we suffer consequences and teach others that this behaviour is not good.
We are not birds. You can’t put a warning on window putty telling the birds that this is not good for them. But to be honest, most birds don’t even do it. It is the few that are either bold enough (or dumb enough) to try something new, different, dangerous (because unknown) who will do this.
But we do have warnings. There are plenty of literal warnings on all sorts of materials and activities in our lives today. Smoking will kill you. Don’t use the lawn mower to trim the hedges. Don’t stick your hand in the trash disposal of the sink while it is running. Eating too much sugar will rot your teeth.
And those are just the normal warnings concerning everyday things and activities. There are more important concerns if we want to really live well and happy, live fully. God gives us warnings about our spiritual life.
Will we listen? If not, will we learn from the consequences? And if we will not, will others learn who observe the consequences in our lives?
When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:20-23)