Curses and Blessings

Busy doesn’t really begin to cover it! From the moment we set off for De Glind until right now, there has hardly been a moment of rest for the Mission House team as we have continued our ever growing programme of visiting projects, learning about activities and services for various groups at all levels, associations and affiliations in society, picking up new skills and talents as we go. It seems very strange to think that the first of our ten months will end very shortly, and what a month it’s been!

I remember, quite vividly, my Super-Hero Moment at Glasgow International Airport, when I prepared myself for what I knew would be a life-changing trip. Little could I imagine, however, what a serious impact my first step out of my academic shell into the realities of life for real people would have on my own vision and outlook, especially as I explore these difficulties and challenges in the context of the world’s harsh, unfair and often neglectful atmosphere. While this has been, as I expected, exceptionally difficult and has raised many questions about why people must suffer as they do, whether or not the assistance provided is doing any good and also questions about the nature of the approach taken by groups, both inside and outside Church settings, with regards to the care and services offered by them, it has also offered a great sense of hope and reassurance, not just through the acknowledgement that there are some fantastic support systems available for the most vulnerable in society, but also through seeing and hearing the accounts, experiences, skills and talents of those in need of such help.

Visiting each of the projects has been vital in helping our understanding of the issues which people face and the ways in which different groups deal  with those issues, but perhaps one of the best examples of this is the “Tweede Mijl” homeless shelter, which we had the privilege of visiting before our seminar in De Glind. From the moment I walked in the door, I realised there was something different about this particular shelter. We were met with the same suspicion with which we had been greeted at other shelters, which is, understandably, very common amongst people who have been exploited, neglected and failed so many times by those who should care and support them, but, unlike the other places, there was a distinct absence of pessimism or loneliness at the Tweede Mijl.

People were evidently feeling down and it was obvious that the group faced just as many, if not more, problems than the others we had visited. However, at the same time, a great sense of warmth filled the place, like everyone knew each other, like everyone was working together to deal with their problems, like a true community of welcome, friendliness, openness and understanding had been created in this most unexpected of places.

As we spoke with staff and mingled with clients, our understanding of homelessness and loneliness in the city of Amsterdam grew in a way which only these interactions could have allowed. The textbook had finished and, although our findings were very different to what we expected and, in some ways, left a sense of despair, our interaction with the realities of life on the streets, rather than simply reading about it or viewing it, showed us that hope is, by no means, lost as a result of hardship and suffering.

This is something, as I say, which all the projects have taught us, but, yet again, the Tweede Mijl manages to stick out. For the Tweede Mijl’s unique and interesting focus allows it to achieve a greater sense of community, I believe, than many of the other projects.

The term “Tweede Mijl” means, literally the “Second Mile”. It is a reference to the account in Matthew 5 where Jesus offers the instruction that if one is forced to travel a mile with someone, they should, instead, travel two miles, “or ten miles with some” as one of the Tweede Mijl’s staff members told us! The idea of the Tweede Mijl is to provide a space where people can seek trustworthy assistance and know that when they are promised companionship, support and assistance for their, often challenging, journey through life, they will receive it. If you want to give up drugs, the Tweede Mijl will work with you and other organisations to help you find a suitable rehabilitation programme. If you are feeling lonely, the Tweede Mijl will work with you and other organisations to find somewhere for you to go, or someone to visit you. It’s not simply a place to seek soup and shelter, but trustworthy help, support and, above all it would seem, LOVE! True brotherly and sisterly love, rooted in Christ.

Christ is not over-mentioned. People are not forced to confess any particular belief. People are not denied service if they continue to remain outside the church or belief in Christ. But Christ is undeniably present and no attempt is made to hide that.

I often feel a little uncomfortable with situations like this, not because I don’t believe that Jesus is good for everyone or that the gospel should not be shared, but rather because I feel that grace is often lost when we hold the image of Christ on the cross before everything else. By this I mean that a lot of the hurt, pain, neglect and failings which fill the lives of those who seek help and support find their origins in the fact that a religious community, their friends or even their own family have rejected or neglected them simply due to the fact that they have not believed what they believe, acted as they have acted or confessed as they have confessed.

I believe, very strongly, that the appropriate response to one who is who not a Christian is not to “move on to the next one” as a few people have told me, but rather to continue to share in fellowship and love with ALL of God’s people, as He instructs us to do, regardless of their belief, background, physical, emotional, psychological or social status. However, this has often meant that I have felt much better with groups and projects which barely mention Christ in their work, as this seems to demonstrate to the most vulnerable that no expectation is being out upon them to believe anything in particular.

The Tweede Mijl offers a fascinating alternative however, by holding Christ firmly at the centre of what they do, making it clear that it is not about the Tweede Mijl saving souls for Jesus at all costs, but rather that it is through the presence and power of Christ that staff and volunteers feel equipped to love and care for ALL those who come through the door.

Jesus is not forced on people. He’s simply there, being with people chatting with people, walking with people along life’s journey, just as He asks it to be, helping them in ways we cannot even begin to imagine or explain, because members of the Tweede Mijl Team allow Him, through their actions as His body, to love people with grace, mercy and compassion. This was wonderful to see and something I know I want to be a part of.

Although not as strong, perhaps, this sense was also identifiable on the Immigration Detention Boat which is, for all intents and purposes, a prison (although, strictly speaking, it should not be referred to as such) for people who have been caught entering or living in the Netherlands illegally.

This is the last place one would expect to find any type of happiness or hope and, indeed, the very sight of the place is enough to dampen the spirits of even the most positive person. However, behind the maze of locked doors, keys, security checks, passes, guards and the sheer boredom of having to sit in confinement with nothing to do, lies a group of people who are, for the most part, just like you and me. They are not hard-core criminals. They haven’t done anything to harm anyone. They haven’t stolen anything or damaged someone’s property. They’ve just tried to make their lives a bit better, whether that is by earning some more money to feed their family, or escaping prejudice and torture in their homeland. The only issue with that is that they don’t have the correct forms, or have avoided the main channels of entry due to fear of rejection, have now been caught and must be dealt with by an authority who, like pretty much all authorities across the world at the current moment, doesn’t really have a clue what to do with them. The only thing that can be done, it seems, is to keep them in confinement while their details are confirmed and, where possible, transport out of the Netherlands can be arranged. Some will never be identified for certain. They will be kept in confinement for the maximum period allowed, then released for thirty days with an order to leave the country, which they won’t and then find themselves back in confinement again. On and on it goes and goes and goes…

The fact that they are so like you and me might lead us to think that they must be void of all positivity in their lives, ready to give-up, ready to slip away into non-existence. However, it is this very fact that provides them with the strength and hope they need to deal with their issues, provided the appropriate support systems are in place for them.

For they know the predicament they are in and they know the issues that face them but they also know that despite racial, cultural, religious, language and other difference, each of them is facing the same situation, the same cycle, the same life. And so they can use their time in confinement to grow together as a community, understanding more and more about each other and the various countries and cultures each comes from. This sense of solidarity can help them to grow in their sense of optimism for they can share stories, texts, quotes, customs and many other things which offer meaning and purpose to the concepts of life, suffering and struggle.

This can only happen, however, with very good support systems. Unfortunately, these can be very hard to create and maintain in this very strict and serious environment. The guards do their best, trying to talk to people, play some games with them, but they can’t really do much more without risking their position in the superstructure of the Justice system.

There does exist, however, a Chaplaincy Centre. This Centre focuses its energies on reminding people that they are still valued and cared for, even in this place of almost certain gloom. The Centre aims to build connections between people, helping them to understand one another and to interact in ways that can help members of the community, as well as the community as a whole, to grow and develop in ways that are healthy and prosperous.

Everyone celebrates Christmas. Everyone celebrates Eid. Everyone celebrates Diwali. All because everyone knows, or wants to know, what each of these different festivals, from different theological traditions, is about and knows that they can join together with others in celebration without fear of rejection or ridicule. They are forced to be one community, which can be very daunting and draining, but also engaging and revitalising at the same time.

The Chaplaincy is small and can only allow us in once a week to provide some fellowship and fun for people, but this is most certainly better than nothing and so, once again, I know this is something I want to be a part of.

It is scary enough to think that the end of the month is approaching. It is even more daunting to think that, as soon as Friday, I could be working in one of the five projects which I have chosen, talking to real people in the Tweede Mijl, serving tea and coffee at the Drugspastoraat, listening to stories at the Seaman’s Mission, playing table tennis at the Detention Boat or feeding patients at the Flevohuis Elderly and Aids Care Home.

The textbook really is done. And I’m scared. But I’m also very excited as well.

For the most important thing about out training in De Glind was not, in fact, anything that we were told by leaders, trainers or professionals, but the sheer energy and determination of the group of young volunteers who gathered there, some who had just left school!

This is, perhaps, best summed up in an activity we were challenged to accomplish during our Conference. We all agreed that the best way to understand a person or situation is to understand the reasons behind their beliefs and activities, not simply judge them from what we see on the outside. We all sat, drinking tea, nodding and smiling at one another saying how great this sounded and how we had found the answer to many of the world’s (and, indeed, the Church’s) issues, which are often steeped in judgemental attitudes and pre-conceived ideas.

“That’s great folks!” said the trainer, “Now off you go into the town and start talking to people. See what Dutch life is like for yourself. Don’t judge it blindly!” My heart sank. Talking to strangers about personal issues. Brilliant (sarcasm, in case you didn’t notice). What if we offend someone, or someone doesn’t want to talk to us, or someone is suspicious of us… My list of questions and doubts went on. I believed in the principle, but now had to live it out!

Off we went, nevertheless, into a bustling Amersfoort for what would prove to be a life-changing day.

It wasn’t the fact that people did, indeed, want to talk to us, or enjoyed talking to us or that we found out many interesting things about the Netherlands in the process, that will stay in my heart, but the sheer energy, enthusiasm and determination of the others in the group.

“Yes, it’s scary. Yes, we’ll make mistakes. Yes, someone will refuse to talk to us and might even swear at us. But we’re young, we’re full of energy, we want to learn stuff and we CAN do it!”

This is precisely the attitude needed for Missionary work. It’s not like the textbook, it’s not about personal performance, it’s not about getting a good grade, but it is about faith. It is about commitment. It is about love for others. It is about trying. It is about sacrifice. It is about truly being prepared to get your hands dirty in living out the principles that shape and guide your life so that everyone, and not just yourself, can benefit from them.

I’m aware that this post is rather long, given the gap that has existed between posts recently, and so I will leave you with one last item.

While at De Glind, I celebrated my 23rd birthday. I didn’t expect anything special to happen that day. I was prepared to enjoy the rest of the training and to think a little more about Mission and Ministry in the Netherlands. While we did, indeed, continue our work, the group were not prepared to allow the day to go by without celebration.

In short, a group of people, whom I barely know, took the time and energy to make the most beautiful card for me. Everyone made a section and stuck them all together into a montage of prayers and wishes, each expressing their gratitude for the gifts and talents which, in their eyes, I had brought to the group.

This group of wonderful, energetic, committed young people care deeply for one another and for the work that we each do, both individually and collectively. Whenever we feel down or lost or uncertain, we will be able to look to this group for reassurance and guidance. We are all, truly, brothers and sisters in Christ, gifted to one another by Christ, to achieve His work for us this day and throughout our year.

An uncertain path lies ahead, but the Lord has truly gifted me with faith, fellowship and friends to keep me going along the way. Praise be to His name as meals, wheels, fears and cheers continue to simultaneously and equally curse and, very importantly, bless my life.

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Busy, Busy, Busy

Life has been exceptionally busy with the Mission House crew. Following an excellent seminar with lots of very useful information and activities the realities of house life came back into focus with housework, shopping, washing and cooking on the agenda. Unfortunately, I have not been able to update my blog today and so, faithful readers, you will need to wait a little longer for my reflections. I did, however, manage to write an entry for the CWM Blog, which I leave for you now to fill the gap. Hope you are all well!

A group of theologians once gathered at the head offices of the Protestant Church in Amsterdam. It being a nice day, they decided to spend some time outside in the courtyard. It must be said that the courtyard outside the offices of the Protestant Church in Amsterdam is a good place for one to be when reflecting on the nature of God and His will for the Church, for this peaceful and green space is surrounded by constant reminders of the need to work towards a more understanding, compassionate and just world.

The building across from the offices houses the headquarters and administrative staff of a number of charities and social welfare groups, working day in, day out to improve the lives of the most vulnerable and weak in society, as best they can. There is a project on campus which allows young people who have lived in care to live a semi-independent life as they build up the skills and talents they need to deal with their own wellbeing when the time comes to move out. And, in the centre of this otherwise tranquil square, lies a very small, but exceptionally significant construction which houses the Straatpastorat, providing fellowship and support to the homeless, addicted and lonely of the city.

The group of theologians noticed, as they sat amidst these powerful symbols, that one of their group was sitting further away, in a corner, visibly upset. They decided, in their educated opinion, that the best thing to do would be to leave her to it, let her calm down and come back to the group when she felt better, so they stayed where they were, enjoying the sunshine as the realities of life continued around them.

As she sat there, getting worse and worse in her sadness and isolation, a visitor to the Straatpastorat noticed her sitting there, went over and joined her. Using words which cannot be repeated here, he basically said, “Your feeling rubbish today. I can see that.” A conversation sparked, in which both parties shared their thoughts and feelings about the day. They left with a better understanding of each other’s lives, the challenges they each faced and the ways in which they each dealt with difficulties along the way of life.

The Mission House is situated on the top floor of the Amstelrank, a building which has sat in its place for centuries and now looks over the courtyard, along with its poignant symbolism. As each of us, as new residents of the Mission House arriving on the first of September, have got to know each other, settled in and began to think about the work we will be doing over the next ten months, we have also been able to look out over the courtyard at the great variety of people who look to this whole complex as a place of safety, peace, neutrality, justice and community. These people remind us why we are here. They remind us why we are doing what we are doing. They remind us of the power which each of our lives hold in making the world a better place.

To say that the Mission House is a fantastic place to be would be to greatly undermine the significance of this five year old project lying at the heart of Amsterdam. The House itself is exceptionally comfortable, perhaps even more so as our new House Leader, Willemijn Heikoop, organised, with volunteers from her family, a major clean-up before we arrived. Upon our arrival we were made to feel very welcome indeed, like we were special, like we were valued, like we were at home. And that has not stopped. The support systems here are also quite amazing. Each person has an individual mentor who, along with the many House Friends, the House Leader and Iain Majcher, our Project Leader, ensure that all our needs, both physical and emotional, are catered for as we engage in the very enjoyable, but very difficult work of Ministry and Mission in the city of Amsterdam.

We have already visited some of the projects, from which we will each pick five to work with over our time here, and seen some of the amazing work they do. Whether it’s providing fellowship for seafarers or comfort for the dying, a cup of tea for a homeless woman or rehabilitation for an addicted man, safety for a child or reassurance for an elderly person, support for a native or help for an immigrant, they each help to make the city, and the world, a better place by providing an environment where those who need our assistance and presence the most can receive the help they need, but also where we will be able to learn from them as well, about living and dealing with real life, as real people in a very real world.

We are all very excited to be here. We are all very pleased that everything is going well. But we are also each quite nervous about the fact that the work we are about to engage in is tiring, challenging, difficult, draining, upsetting, life-changing.

As we gather together as a community to eat, however, we have, at the centre of our table, a star with seven pieces, each with a candle inside. One for each of the residents, our House Leader and our Project leader. This stands to remind us that when we come together as a community, deal with our challenges as a community, laugh as a community, cry as a community, indeed live as a community, we can turn our hardship, our pain, our frustration into valuable lessons and memories which will help us to grow and develop in our lives, both now and in the future.

We also see, out of our dining room window, the courtyard and we are reminded of the theologians who once gathered there. The woman did not need a book or a quote or a sermon. She needed someone who understood her situation to come and talk to her about it. This meant that it was not the group of service-providers who held the answer to her very practical, human crisis, but a service-user, who knew the realities of life and was willing to share them with those who would listen and respond.

We need to be here, we need to help these people, but we also have to learn from them and that is why we want to thank CWM and all those who support the Mission House, for here we receive an opportunity to see things, do things and learn things that we simply could not anywhere else.

We ask for your thoughts and prayers, then, as we engage in what will be an exciting, but challenging ten months and pray that we will all, together, be able to live as one community, in Christ, bringing about peace, justice and love, in His name and in His world.


Last Post for 5 Days (Possibly)

Since my last post a torrent of activity has engulfed our small community, taking us to all sorts of places both emotionally and physically. Overall, it has been absolutely amazing and thoroughly enjoyable, although exceptionally exhausting!!! It has, however, kept me away from my blog and so I have been unable to keep you updated over the past couple of days. This, regrettably, will continue as we travel, this afternoon, to de Glind, one of the most remote villages in the Netherland, for our Arrival Seminar which will allow us to meet with other volunteers who will be working across the country over the next few months. There will be very little mobile signal and probably no internet at the centre, so, for the next five days, I will need to go back to the dark ages and write my reflections with a pen and paper (ancient instruments used for making marks and symbols similar to those found on computer keyboards) and type them up after our five days of promised fun and activity are over.

Very fortunately, my washing did survive which has meant I have not been short of clothing. I have also made tremendous progress in terms of cycling, mostly down to the realisation that, when we have a green light, we have a RIGHT to move and, quite frankly, we simply must, otherwise someone else will take our place and we’ll have to wait at the junction for ages. I’ve even managed to cycle at night, which is a miracle!

We also visited the Haarlem Train and Tram Museum yesterday which was AMAZING!!! I even made friends with the curator, who has a flight simulator which takes up a whole room! He’s going to invite me round sometime for some lessons. YAY!!! 🙂

My reflections on our past few projects will need to wait even longer now as we have just been called for a pre-departure group meeting. All I shall say at the moment is that our time with the homeless, the poor and the lonely has allowed what I already knew in my mind to be realised in my heart, that these people are precisely the same as me. They have the same emotions, same reactions, same mannerisms, same passion for life, same passion for debate. The only difference is that the life they are, often forced, to live causes society to ignore, misunderstand and disrespect them. We need to be here, we need to be with them, we need to help them, BUT, we also need to learn from them.

Keep well everyone and see you in five days (if I’m still alive).


Meals, Wheels, Fears and Cheers

 

To say that the past few days have produced many instances of both happiness and sorrow, confidence and fear, doubt and faith would be to undermine the, albeit small, but somewhat significant roller-coaster of a journey this week has produced for all of us in the Mission House.

On Tuesday, much to my absolute amazement, I managed, not only to cook a very tasty (if I do say so myself) meal of sausage and mash with carrots and peas, I was also able, with help from our leader, Wilemijn (without whom, it must be said, the whole building would now be nothing but a pile of burnt rubble), to fry the sausages and boil the potatoes, all without a freezer or microwave in sight! Using the ever-reliable cooking standards of my good friend Ian Munro, I conclude that as no-one projectile vomited or died, that the meal was a reasonable success. The reactions of the crowd were also very good, so that must count for something! lol.

That night, however, joy and fun turned to questioning and doubt. After making the decision to take our first opportunity in an otherwise busy schedule to enjoy the nightlife of Amsterdam (in a completely innocent and respectable way before anyone makes any suggestions, jokes or remarks, dad. 😉 ), we walked out the front gate to be greeted by three people looking very tired, lost, nervous and apprehensive. After much conversation in broken English and calls to our superiors, we established that the people were asylum seekers who had been sent by the government to receive help from a contact who works in the building next door to ours. The only problem with that is that the building is only open from 9am-6pm and it was coming on for 22:20pm (or ten minutes before half an hour to 11pm, as they would say here. Nightmare!) !!!

The sad fact of the matter, regardless of how we felt about what we were witnessing, remained that we, quite simply couldn’t do anything to help. The people inside the building saw us standing outside, but refused to even come to the door. The advice from “on high” was simply to apologise and move on, but we felt terrible, desperate to do something useful. We still think about them now and how they had to spend the night on the streets, waiting for the office to open in the morning. We don’t know what happened to them, or where they are now. We can only hope and pray that they are safe and well. We felt even worse because we knew that there would have been plenty of room and resources to house them for the night, nut we also knew that if we did so, deep trouble from the authorities and the Church wouldn’t begin to cover it! And so we were forced to move on, leaving them in the cold to defend for themselves.

We continue to be haunted by the knowledge that Christ would have, without question, welcomed them in. I’m not saying, in the 21st century, that we should always do precisely that, but we do, I believe, need to seriously think about the fact that we either cannot or do not imitate Christ as we should and establish ways of making our lives and work better. I will leave that with you to ponder and share your thoughts.

On a much happier note, we have been visiting some of the projects over the past couple of days. At the end of October we will make a solid decision, having seen all of the projects and tried some out, about which projects we will work with over the coming months.

Starting with the Seaman’s Mission, we were given a unique insight into life at sea, the adventure, the challenge, the fun, the sadness, the community, the loneliness. Every physical and emotional state imaginable can be witnessed through an encounter with sailors. As one of the Pastors working with the Mission said, the sea is the world but it is also a world of its own. There appears to be a very much macho culture at sea, with strong, tough men dominating, but underneath the facade and pageantry of stereotypical seafarers lie ordinary human beings, living real lives and dealing with real problems. As seafarer is very unlikely to come to a Chaplain, but when a Chaplain visits a ship they will be welcomed on-board as an important guest to share food and hospitality with all the crew. During these times, sailors will share their stories and accounts of their own lives, those around them and their time at sea. They don’t get to do this often as the docks where they rest, around the world, are often very cold and callous places with little warmth or comfort for people who spend virtually their whole lives working at all hours of the day and night, all to earn enough money to keep their families living healthily and happily at home. Shipping is a very big industry and there’s a lot of money to be made, which can mean reduced space on ships for recreation and socialising. It can also mean a lack of support from companies or even unions, who often simply exist because they have to, not out of a sense of duty or care to members.

It surprised me how easy it was for members of the Mission to speak with ship staff as people from a religious background are not often welcome in such secular locations. The Seaman’s Mission, however, finds itself in a very special position as it has spent it’s life working throughout the world, standing up for sailors, their rights and their wellbeing. They have not tried to convert anyone or force anyone to do anything beyond their own will. They have not sought anything in return for their work. They have simply been there for sailors when they have needed their services. Sailors trust the Mission because they know the Mission will help them without conditions or limitations. The Mission does its very best for them and the sailors know they can trust it.

Also, fascinatingly, there is a great sense of Unitarianism at sea. If you asked a seafarer if they were a Unitarian, they would probably look at you as if you were mad. But if you ask them if people of all religions and beliefs get along very well with one another at sea, the answer would almost certainly be, “Why wouldn’t they?” Even amongst atheists, there is a very strong awareness and respect for the concept of a single God and that the way you worship said God, the religion you claim to be a part of or the denomination you consider to be your own is purely a matter of upbringing and context. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh or whatever. What matters is that you live your life with honour and in peace and that you respect and love one another. I found it absolutely amazing to think that the idea of living with peace and unity amongst people of so many different faiths and backgrounds, something which people on land tend to find very difficult indeed, seems to be something that comes naturally at sea. Religion and spirituality have played a huge role in the culture of seafarers, however, for centuries and so religion and spirituality provide great comfort to most sailors. And so we have a group of people who want the services of the Mission and need the services of the Mission, even if they don’t openly admit this to be the case!!!

I can imagine myself working in this environment, despite great physical challenges of boarding ships and moving around them while the risk and unexpectedness associated with heavy industry goes on around me, because here we have real people, working in real jobs, facing real challenges and issues from a whole range of backgrounds and so it allows me to grow and develop the practical skills which I will need to Ministry and Mission in whatever context I end up, but also a great awareness and appreciation, already part of the framework of life at sea, of what I would refer to as Communion Ecclesiology, a way of living life that allows one to respect and love others and to be transformed through one’s encounters with the “other” whatever form this may take. This is something that I strive to make a reality on land and so it would be excellent to see it being nurtured and protected first hand.

Yesterday took us to an entirely different setting with a tour round some of the Regenboog Group’s homeless shelters. Each shelter has its own character, aim and services, making each shelter different to any other, but still part of one organisation, all aimed at doing everything humanly possible to give homeless people a name, for they are so often merely a number, category or statistic, a voice in the community and in wider society and as much physical support as can be afforded. They understand that they cannot do everything and so they encourage each shelter and each individual to focus on doing what they can and allowing those who can do other things the space and time to do their work in order that we all, together, might deal with the issues facing us in today’s society. With this firmly in mind, the Regenboog Group focus on providing day activities and services for homeless people and people suffering from drug addiction, freeing others to deal with offering services for those who need shelter and support throughout the night, when a whole new set of needs arises.

I’ll need to go now as my very first washing has just completed its go in the machine! I’ll give the second instalment soon and tell you if my clothes survived…


Water and Mustard Seeds

On reflection, the past few days have been very good indeed, living in a vibrant and exciting city, meeting new people, learning about new ideas, concepts and theologies and, quite plainly, having a good time with my Mission House friends. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite feel like that during those days, all because of one thing. One thing that has been the greatest cause of stress and upset during my experience thus far. One thing that I would quite happily give up right now, but simply do not have the choice, given the environment in which I currently find myself. Cycling!!!!!!

Riding a bike, not a problem. Using brakes which require one to pedal backwards instead of pulling  levers on the handlebars, very tricky. Trying to cope with aggressive commuters, cars, vans, trucks, junctions and a whole host of other hazards, nightmare! Add some co-ordination difficulties and you have a fine recipe for the greatest cycling disaster in Amsterdam’s history.

Fortunately, no-one has yet suffered any injury whatsoever as I have, very cautiously wobbled along through the streets of this ancient city which, it must be said, has grown very much used to people who perform all sorts of crazy manoeuvres on bicycles, cutting people off, serving in front of someone to miss someone else who also swerved in front of someone, etc… (Apart from a very close shave with one commuter who taught me that certain swear words are the same in Dutch as they are in English!) but, nonetheless, the fear of causing a major accident has prevented me, almost completely, from enjoying the experience and, in fact, has led me to wonder how it might affect other areas of my work in the Mission House. “How can I possibly serve in projects,” I asked myself, “if I am constantly stressing over the only available form of transport to get me there and back???!!!”

A very interesting thing happened this morning, however, as I took Joseph out from the bike shed (We are required, by Mission House regulations, to give our bikes names. A fellow resident with a bike similar to mine gave here’s a female name, Jessie and wanted me to give mine a matching male name. I thought I’d mention this in-case you thought me more mad than I actually am). Perhaps the advice that had come from everyone the previous days of, “You just have to get on with it Simon,” had finally sunk in. Perhaps someone or something more divine was involved. Either way, I immediately began to think of Peter walking on water, how he quickly lost his faith and began to sink. Upon lifting him up out of the water, Christ reminds Peter that he must trust Him if he is to succeed in his work.

Taking Peter’s example, I decided to, quite simply, go for it. And I did it! It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t without its scary moments, but today’s journey saw me travel to and from church with only one dismount due to a busy junction. I realised that I simply had to get on with it, remaining confident that I could do it, remaining calm and following advice. Things which people had said about checking junctions before you reach them and resetting your pedals at traffic lights began to make sense and I was able to confidently ride across the city.

As if to purposefully reinforce the point, the lectionary gospel reading for this morning, read during our Welcome Service at the Oude Lutheran Church, focussed on the parable of the Mustard Seed and how even the tiniest amount of faith can take you to places you could never imagine. Although the sermon was in Dutch, the Pastor very kindly included a section in English which reminded us that it is not about the size of one’s faith. No one is better or worse than another because of the amount, or the perceived quality of faith they possess. It is rather about the potential which ALL faith has. This reading reminds us that even at those times when we don’t have a have a lot of faith or hope, the little faith and hope we do have are, truly, the key to our success, for it is these which will lead us to a place of confidence, renewal and reconciliation with that which allows us to grow, develop and move on.

For Peter, His faith reminded Him in a moment of trial that if He put His trust in God, all would be well. For me, my faith reminded me that in a moment of hesitation and fear, the abilities and talents I was created with, combined with the things I had learned from others and the guidance of the Holy Spirit would lead me out of that situation into one of confidence and success.

In the afternoon, I was able to think about this in relation to the work we will be carrying out at the Mission House as we were privileged to attend the commissioning of one of the Mission House Staff into the Franciscan Order. Here, a relatively young man made a very public and profound commitment to give up all his possessions, all his privileges, all his status, all his former identity and to live the life of the poor.

While workers in the Mission House are, by no means, required to go that far, we do make a public and profound commitment to allow our words and thoughts to meet our actions, so that we do not simply pay lip service to the idea of community, but are truly committed to it in all that we do, in such a way that, as one of this morning’s hymns put it, “Where words fail, may hands express,” and sometimes this can seem quite a daunting task. I have many many words, but very little actions. I simply don’t know how to work with homeless people or comfort an asylum seeker or support a young person whose parents are addicted to drugs.

The point, however, is not that I should know what to do, but be willing to do everything in my power to achieve it. There will be opportunities to learn many new vital skills and methods for dealing with many of the real life cases I will encounter during my time here and I cannot afford to lose those opportunities by remaining in nervousness and fear. I need to look to my faith as a source of constant, steadfast help. For it will never fail me, even if it means having to get up after a fall and try again.

Faith, the size of a mustard seed, can get people across water, it can get dyspraxics on bikes and it can help us a00chieve our greatest potential, whatever that may be.

Who knows, you may see me at the velodrome during London 2012 yet!!!

P.S: Sorry for any spelling/grammar/punctuation errors in this blog. I only have certain times available to write and I must do so as quickly as possible.


Super Hero Moment

The BBC series,  “Ashes to Ashes”, followed the story of a female police officer who found herself in the most extraordinary situation. Without giving away too much for those who haven’t seen it, the main character, Alex Drake, is an early 21st century English police officer who gets shot and, somehow (I won’t reveal that here!), the bullet takes her back to the 1980’s. At first, she doesn’t understand whats happening at all and does not respond well to her surroundings. In time, however, she realises that if she is to have any hope of returning to her own point in time and her own family, she must continue her work as a police officer in the place where she finds herself, fighting to understand what’s going on, despite her fears and anxieties, to find a way home.

Like many, I enjoyed watching the series. It was quite interesting as a sci-fi drama, but also had a murder mystery element to it, not to mention offering the chance to look back at how things were in the not-so-distant past!

I had no idea, however, that it would be of such use to me as I walked through Glsgow International Airport this morning, for today I took one of the biggest steps in my life thus far, stepping, not only out of my home, out of my town, out of my country, but taking a much bigger leap out into the world, on my own, for the first time.

As I walked through the terminal building with my mum, I felt the nerves taking me over. I knew that life in the Mission House would be great, but its all ‘very new. A new country, new culture, new people, new problems, new challenges, new issues… the list is endless.

But as I left mum behind, going throguh security, Drake entered my mind once again, for during the opening credits of each episode, she would make a very short, very simple speech, always the same. She would state her name, what had happened to her, how she had no idea why it had happened, but knew she had to fight on. She reminds me of Super Heros and how resolute they remain in their cause, even in the evident path of fear and nervousness.

I knew I had to do the same.

And so, Ashes to Ashes theme music playing in my head, I made my own Super Hero statement to myself:

“My name is Simon Peters. I’m a Theology graduate. I believe whole-heartedly in building strong and meaningful unity amongst all people which will allow them to learn from and be influenced by one another. For that is how we grow peace, love and community. I don’t know how to help this happen. I don’t know how to repair attempts which have gone wrong, but I do know that the Mission House will bring me face-to-face with real people, real issues, real challenges and help me to understand more fully my role in assisting them. So I have to go, I have to struggle for peace, struggle for unity, struggle to let Word and Action meet!”

My own little Super Hero moment, not because it gave me any sense of greatness or power, whatsoever, but because it reminded me that I just had to keep going as something profound is bound to happen as a result.

Over the past few hours, as I have settled into the Mission House, it has become clear that the challenge and the nervousness and the fear which I expected are, indeed, present, but I know that I NEED to be here. I need to be here because here is where the people of God are, the people who no-one wants to know, the people who are seen as a burden to others, the people who, in their humble situations, often remind us through their own perserverance, their own ressiliance, their own grace, that life together, in community, the very goft of God given to all people, truly opens us to the most amazing and positive findings, which judgement, risk assesment, administration and theory so often miss.

No book could show me that. Only real experience can, and the people here, I know, will offer that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=KVusKwdugiA