"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." -Galatians 2:20

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Shock of Culture

Just got back from a weekend trip to the countryside of Holland yesterday.  The Gomez family (Melissa-director of lighthouse and very soon expecting baby #2, Moses-her husband, and their son Pascal) and Bongi (Lighthouse staff team member) and I all took the train and arrived in Heidebeek at the YWAM base there on Thursday evening in the pouring rain.  Thankfully the Gomez’ were staying in someone’s house that was not using it this weekend so Bongi and I got to sleep on their couch and not try to figure out our tent situation when everything was soaking outside.

The next morning, we started bright and early for the volunteers orientation/morning worship to get the weekend of the GO Festival ready.  The Go Festival is the gathering of several different teams made up of youth ages about 15-23 and their team leaders who are all preparing to go on outreach trips sharing the gospel in different countries.  This year’s GO teams from Heidebeek were sent out to Rwanda, Ukraine, India, Peru, Israel, Brazil and Namibia.  So they all gather for the GO Festival before they leave, and they will all come back together for a closing weekend after they come back in 2 weeks. (the different colored shirts in the picture are the different teams--volunteers were in the dark blue shirts)

I felt like I was working at summer camp again, but for the first time in 3 ½ weeks, since I’ve been here in Holland, I actually felt like I was in a different country.  Everyone just spoke Dutch.  Thankfully some of the staff were kind enough to try to translate most things for Bongi and I to understand, but Bongi already understands a lot of Dutch since she’s been here for a while and she is in fact engaged to a Dutch guy.  I however, know one work in Dutch, and that is “kaas,” the word for cheese.  In Amsterdam, it is not a problem; everyone speaks in English to you if they know that is what you speak.  Here it was different.  I was constantly surrounded by a language and culture that I have no previous experience with.

For the first time here, I experienced culture shock.  For those of you unfamiliar with the term, culture shock is defined as the feelings of confusion and anxiety experienced by somebody suddenly encountering an unfamiliar cultural environment.  I went from learning a little bit about the culture, to being thrown in the middle of a giant tent filled with at least 40 Dutch girls in sleeping bags… a whole new way to do camping.

Although the camping aspect of it did not bother me, my poor friend Bongi who came with me from Amsterdam had never been camping in her life!  (I don’t think she realized we were going to be sleeping on the ground until I pointed out her “bed”)  I kept having flashbacks of my Dad taking me camping as a kid, and got a kick out of the fact that I can still remember him saying “you’ll be fine, take it like a man.” Naturally, that’s what I told Bongi to reassure her.

I got to know some really nice people and learned more Dutch in this one weekend than I have in the past 3 weeks in Amsterdam.  One of the days I got to hang out with a couple of girls from the team going to Peru and we decided that I could teach them some Spanish and they could teach me some Dutch.  Again, God continues to surprise me in showing me how He can use every experience in my life for His glory. 

Saturday night was the Dance Against Injustice event.  An event to bring awareness to sex trafficking and some ministries that fight against it.  Melissa, Bongi and I stood behind the Lighthouse booth while Moses DJ’d.  Sadly it poured rain so the event, which was supposed to be “beach” themed turned out to be a little soggy.  But it was fun anyway, there was food, dancing, stories told about women who have been trafficked, interpretive dance, and graffiti art.

Took the train home on Monday and the weather is back to cloudy and pouring rain, so I definitely got soaked coming back from the station (story of my life).  Ironically enough, I know that on the days I decide to wear glasses instead of contacts, it will inevitably rain…why is that? 

I was back early enough to make it for the homeless ministry yesterday night though…This week I would like to tell you about a woman named Biata.  She is from Poland originally, though she has been here in Amsterdam for about 10 years now.  I don’t know a whole lot about her family situation or her past, but as of the last year she has been with her boyfriend here.  Biata is 6 months pregnant with her boyfriend’s child and though she has been able to stay in one place for awhile now, she has to leave within the next week and try to find new housing.  The problem is, she wants to be in a place with her boyfriend, but most shelters will not take them both.  The government has paid for her to be taken care of by the hospital, and she goes in for her regular check up tomorrow.  I ask that you pray for Biata and her baby.  Her boyfriend is trying to get work right now, as has some, to provide for her and the baby, but something like a miracle needs to happen for this baby to be healthy, seeing her condition.

More updates to come :)  Only a week and a half left here in Amsterdam and of course, I am not ready to leave…

P.S. No, I did not attempt to go cow tipping in this country...yet

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Heartbeat of the City

For those of you looking to do ministry in a foreign country, I have to warn you: it ruins the tourist aspect of things.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have loved biking around here and seeing all the sights and taking a ridiculous amount of pictures, but there is something different about doing ministry in this city.

It’s as if I were in a scene from a movie where everything around me is moving at an insanely fast pace, a blur of sights, sounds and smells…all the while I am standing there, still and silent.  Here I see the pain of the prostitute as I look in her eyes and see nothing but loneliness.  Here I can hug the woman who is out on the bridge playing her accordion every day trying to earn money to send back to her children in Romania.  Here I listen to the homeless man who can tell me about his day when no one else bothers to ask.  It is here, in the stillness, my hands touching the cobblestone street as I sit on my knees listening for God’s voice that I can feel the heartbeat of this city and its people. 

Last weekend I got to help out with the Open Mic Night at the Dwaze Zaken Café, which is hosted once a month by (soon to be married) Rebekka  (pictured below) and Chris which they started a couple years ago as an outreach for youth mainly.  Ironically enough though, barely any youth showed up this time, but some really good local musicians showed up and it was just a really relaxed night of music and getting to know some people in the area.

Monday I was actually able to go to a Youth House (youth houses in Holland are usually for those between ages 18-23) close by, actually the smallest youth house in Amsterdam with only about maybe 15 people living there, with Rebekka.  A couple years ago Rebekka started going there in hopes to get to know the youth there and the director of the youth house asked her to come in and specifically have discussions about God (HUGE deal!) with them.  So she brought me this week and we just went and hung out with them and I got to know them a little bit. 

This week at the homeless ministry I got to know a man named Hans, from here in Amsterdam.  He comes every Monday and Friday and gets his coffee and cake from us and then goes and stands by a tree, usually very quiet and shy.  This week I went over tried to crack open his shell a bit and boy did he just come pouring out, haha.  He ended up pretty much telling me his whole life story, which basically consists of growing up is a broken home, having a slight mental disorder as a child, and then getting hit by a car a couple years ago so now he has a replaced hip and is on and off depression medication.  Though I shared the gospel with him, he is definitely resistant to anything that has to do with “religion” or “church” or the bible, since “it is so disconnected from God.”  Surprisingly enough, he then tried to argue with me about hermeneutics, and how I interpret the bible…long story.  We talked for awhile and although he seemed to hate what I had to say about God, his life now, and his eternal future, I told him that I was going to pray for him that he would read the Bible for himself and see the truth.  God really needs to break down some walls in his life/mind.  But I believe that it’s possible, and I know that all the hurt and rejection in Hans’ life can be redeemed.

Ministry in the Red Light District is hard, heartbreaking, but awesome all at the same time.  This last week I was with my teammate Rebecca and she was talking to a woman named Maria about the gospel.  It’s sad really, because Maria believes that since nothing is out of God’s control, that her work here must be what He wants for her… that was only part of the long conversation we had with her about her beliefs, Catholicism, and her occupation. 

I think the hardest part about ministering to these women is knowing that in some situations, the only way to break out of this occupation and lifestyle is to make a choice, themselves.  However, ironically enough, most of the time the biggest obstacle is themselves.  It’s almost as if these women have been brainwashed, their logic is twisted, and there spirits are broken. 

I posted a picture here of sort of the entrance to one of the several “sections” of the RLD, called “sexyland” so that you could get a visual of what I need you to pray for.  As you walk past these signs in the picture, the walls get closer as you continue down the narrow pathway through a maze of windows.  Everything is so close it’s almost hard to breathe sometimes.  And it is here, specifically in this section that I can literally feel the presence of the enemy. Pray for God’s presence in this dark place.

“The Conquering Lion will break every chain.  He will wipe every tear away, He will take all my fear and pain.”

This weekend I will be taking a train to another YWAM base in Heidebeek (the countryside in Holland).  I will be sleeping in a tent for a couple nights and helping out with a the "GO Fest" that they are putting on- a large youth event to send a group of youth on mission trips for the summer.  One of the nights there I will be with some other Lighthouse staff behind our booth/table answering questions about the ministry along with many other ministries who are there to raise awareness on different topics. So keep that in your prayers too…woo hoo camping in Holland!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Witnessing and Windmills

Finally, for the first time since I’ve been here, this past weekend started off with hot humid days :)  I’m loving the sunshine in the day and still being hot while it thunderstorms at night when I sit in my open window and dangle my feet outside watching the lighting from my room on the 3rd floor (apparently the Dutch don’t believe in window screens, which I totally agree with).  I am continuing to go out with the homeless ministry team here on Monday’s and Fridays and have tea and coffee and chat with the men and women who come.  Also this week I have been helping out with preparing flyers/posters for an Open Mic Night that is being put on by a couple YWAM staff at the Dwaze Zaken café (owned by YWAM) as an outreach for youth that happens once a month.  This Sunday is when the actual event happens, so I will be helping set up and run that event, which is exciting.

Wednesday mornings I get to babysit for this adorable family, Desi and Lisa Freyling and their kids.  The Freyling’s are a part of the Kompassion ministry here at YWAM Amsterdam, which focuses on reaching out to men and women living the gay lifestyle and those who struggle with same sex attractions.  Lisa is actually my mentor while I am here as well, so we get to meet together once a week.

I don’t know if this was made clear to most of you reading this, but being able to work with the Lighthouse ladies ministry in the Red Light District was a HUGE exception that was made by the staff here.  Volunteers that want to work with this ladies ministry have to make at least a 3 month commitment usually, since the emphasis on building relationships here with the ladies behind the windows is to crucial; so with me only being here 6 weeks, technically I shouldn’t have had the opportunity I do to go out with the team and meet the ladies.  All that being said, I was SO excited to get the opportunity to go out and talk with the ladies for the first time on Wednesday.  The way it works is that the team splits up into groups of 2 and with tea, coffee and cookies and each go to different sections of the RLD and go window to window offering tea or coffee.  If they say yes, we try to get to know them and build that relationship by coming consistently and sharing the gospel and praying with them. 

Wednesday I went out with Rebecca for the first half (who happens to be my neighbor in De Poort, an awesome lady from Mexico) and had a really great conversation (in Spanish, who knew I would be using that here right?!) with 3 transvestite men from Ecuador who were really open and honest and had some great questions about God and life, and their lifestyle.  Rebecca is a straight up evangelist and seriously preached the gospel to these men and we were able to give them little devotional Bibles as well before we left.  We also met this other sweet lady who is German, and boy was she a “talker.”  She had us come in and sit and chat behind the window with her for literally half an hour about her issues with her mother.  Although it was mainly her doing all the talking, we did get to pray over her before we left and while we were praying her body shook a couple of times and she said she felt something really weird and couldn’t explain what it was.  I know that the Lord was at work in her.

The second half I switched partners and went out to two other sections with Annemeika (another Lighthouse volunteer).  A lot of the younger, Dutch ladies were in these sections but we ran into someone that Annemeika knew who actually left the RLD about a year ago and went back to Romania, but sadly is back here now.  Apparently she has a son now, who is back in Romania, and is only here to make the money she needs to pay off her house in Romania so she and her son can start a good life there.  It’s so sad really, because she said she knows what she is doing is wrong, and she asks God to forgive her every night for the things that she does during the day at work, but she says it’s not possible to make enough money at home.

It was kind of surreal to finally be able to meet the women for whom I have been praying for so long now.  Surreal, but heartbreaking.  It’s not just a dream, it’s not just a statistic; these women are real people, living in bondage to the god of this world, and held by the chains of deception by the one who blinds them from the truth.  I thank God though, that this is not my burden to bear.  I know that our God is a God of compassion for the lost, and has the power to redeem those from the darkness.  He knows each of these women by name and loves them more than any human ever could.  “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.  Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” –Psalm 68:19-20

On a different note, in my free time I have been biking all around the city, and adventuring around with some friends I have made who live in De Poort as well, in the pictures are Mirela and Alessandra. 

My favorite part about biking are these cute little traffic lights for bikers haha. 

I went to a music festival the other day in a huge park that had different stages with all different types of music set up everywhere.  I also kind of happened upon another huge food festival the other day too, with lots of cheese, wine, ice cream, and fresh produce. Very cool.

Some people have been asking me lately "how's the food over there?" and I can't say that I have had a ton of Dutch food, since I buy groceries/cook for myself here, but I do make pancakes a lot (Dutch pancakes, that it-thinner, and not as sweet. Great with jams or nutella on them).

And this is just a picture of an awesome arugula salad I made with avocados, chile and lime...so good. Sorry, no exciting pictures of me eating anything that squirms or is still looking at me haha.

Oh ya, and I saw my first windmill here the other day!  It was actually part of a brewery/café, but it didn’t matter, a windmill is a windmill, so I took a picture!

Other than the fact that I’m fighting a little bit of a cold, get headaches often because of being surrounded by the ridiculous amount of pot being smoked in some areas, and getting cursed at in Dutch for the first time today right after I almost got hit by a car on my bike….It’s great!  I’m loving it here and God continues to show me His blessings every day. 

Please continue to keep praying, especially for some of the things and people mentioned above.  Knowing that I am being prayed over is such a huge encouragement, and I know that God is at work in this city.