Finding time to keep you all updated in past weeks has been impossible. I do hope that can improve in 2012!
It is common fare, at this time of year, to hear it said that time flies when one is having fun. And indeed it does. It is very hard to imagine, looking back, that this time last year saw each of the current Mission House Team Members begin a journey which would lead each of us to the same location, and yet, simultaneously, to such different places.
As the 2010/2011 season of parties, celebrations and festivities drew to a close, some prepared to return to school or university, some were going back to work, some were already involved in volunteering, each facing their own challenges, issues and decisions.
It has become overwhelmingly apparent from the conversations and encounters we have shared with one another over meals, during our meetings, seminars and in those moments at the close of the day when we simply sit with cups of tea and stroopwafels, that these varying journeys have each had a remarkably strong impact on our lives and which, ultimately, led each of us, emotionally and physically, across land, sea, sky and canal bridge to the door of the Amstelrank on, what was as we recall, a rather good weathered, yet nerve-wracking 1st of September 2011.
None of us, no matter how hard we might have tried, could ever have adequately estimated the sheer power of the feelings, experiences, lessons, transformations, challenges, enlightenments and encounters to be found throughout the Mission House universe in which we were about to immerse ourselves.
As we look back on the past four months, reflecting on our time here in Amsterdam with the help of the myriad of photos we have now collected, as well as our various blog posts and journals, it really is difficult for us to believe that we have done what we have done, achieved what we have achieved and learned what we have learned, all in this relatively short space of time.
We find ourselves miles away from those early days of over-politeness, when the pressures of living this new life, away from home, in new surroundings, with new people and new work, bending, twisting and challenging us more and more, stronger and stronger with every passing day.
It is without any doubt that each of us were very genuine in our commitment to work hard, focus on the tasks in hand and prepared to deal with problems and situations with those living on the edges of society, whom many of us had absolutely no experience of working with previously. However, as has become clear over our time here, there is a difference between believing or saying that you will be committed, loving, strong, assertive, resilient and brave, and having to wake up in the morning knowing that you are about to enter an environment where people will, in all likelihood, be impatient, angry, threatening, rude, ignorant and may even refuse to acknowledge or accept your help of presence at all! To say that this is painstakingly difficult would be to completely undermine the dread and suffering we have each experienced, at least a few times, when preparing to work in our projects.
It is only now, however, when we have the chance to see all that we have been through, that we appreciate fully the ultimate aim of the Mission House, namely that we must do everything in our power to make “Word and Action Meet”!
As hard an admission as it is to make, the single-most important lesson which has come forth during our time in this strange and, quite frankly, often miserable environment is that if you want to make your experience something worthwhile, something special, something which the terms “enjoyable”, “fulfilling” and even “amazing” do not even come close to explaining, then you have to stop reading about the projects, you must stop talking about what skills you have and what skills you lack, you must stop constantly thinking “what if I had said this, or did it that way?” and you must, simply, JUST DO IT!
Everyone who knows me cannot escape my passion for writing and speaking. I love words. I love how they can be used and shaped to express and explain things, bringing hope and sense to a complex and harsh world of despair, turmoil and emptiness. Yet, for the first time, I find myself simply having to repeat myself, with no further reimagining, by simply looking back to October when it was said that it truly is in hearing the tale of an old lady that we see the value of listening. It most certainly is in witnessing homeless people help one another to tackle the challenges of the day that we see the value of serving tea. And it is undeniable that it is in seeing the tears of joy running down a seafarer’s face as he calls his family for the first time in months that we see that value of waiting an hour at the dock on a cold and rainy afternoon so he can finish his work and buy a phone card. It is, truly, in serving, that we see the light which guides us forward.
And the reason for this repetition is exceptionally simple. There isn’t anything else to say. There isn’t anything else to write. There isn’t anything else to think about. Everything else which is to be found, everything else which is to be gained, everything else which is to be learned does not lie in books, or minds or pens, but in the experiences and the paths which God sets before us.
We cannot believe that we have arrived where we are now, but we have gained such confidence, such resilience, such ability, such skills, such love, such compassion, such EVERYTHING, not because we have read the best book, written the best essay or thought up the best ideas. Rather, we have gained so much that is right, because we went out there, among the poor, among the destitute, among the rejected, neglected, denied and outcast, did what we could and allowed the experiences, the conversations with clients, the serving of soup, the singing of hymns, the selling of phone cards, the washing of feet, the crying with people who’se families and friends had deserted them, to completely transform us through their own power.
And what’s more, this transformation has not come from the perfect execution of our duties. It has come because we have gone out with confidence and got it wrong! We have made mistakes. We have judged things incorrectly. We have, at times, hated the ways we have behaved, thought or spoken. But what it vital, what we must all keep with us is the fact that if we did not make these human errors, we would not learn the lessons that we do everyday. Indeed, we would not have had a hope of receiving the light and encouragement, which have made us strong, if we had not first accepted and embraced our frailty.
It is no wonder to us why Christ decided to spend His time on earth with the poor, hungry, prostitute and destitute, for our life among them has taught us more about the realities of life and dealing with hardship than, it seems, any of our individual lives have taught us thus far. We encourage others to learn from this experience also, that they might feel as confident and fulfilled as we do now.
But there remains one, last crucial yet scary truth to be considered. If it is truly through the meeting of Word and Action that has carried us thus far, then it is surely the meeting of Word and Action which must be centre-most in our minds and hearts as we move forward into this new year, which each of us knows will bring yet more challenges, issues and problems for us to face and deal with.
What matters, however, is that we know how far we have come, and we know why we have come this far. We will continue, then, to move forward in faith, trusting that all will be well as we continue our work, keeping calm and, very importantly, getting on with it!
We wish all of you a peaceful and prosperous 2012, filled with every blessing for you, your families and friends, whoever you are, wherever you may be and whatever you may face!