It was one of those mornings. Friday. The days we go give out free Bibles in front of the shopping center.

In my own strength, I’m a ‘weaker vessel’. I’d rather stay home being a Martha doing behind-the-scenes things. Bible distribution Fridays are not ‘in my own strength weaker vessel’ days. They are God’s special appointment days. If you miss them, you miss out on some of the most special appointments you could ever imagine and those beyond imagining as well.

This Friday started with some quiet time with Dad. Quiet time. ‘Stille tijd’ in Dutch. I like that. It reminds me of being still and knowing that He’s God and I’m not. ‘Stille’ is also what we call the Pacific Ocean. Some days my quiet time is like the Pacific in typhoon season. Yet, I try. It helps to set the tone for the day. I beg the Lord for those who will come to receive the free Bibles. May His word be planted deeply and yield an abundant harvest in His time.

And the spiritual warfare begins. We feel the stress between us. We realize that the enemy is not us but him who would cause us to lose sight of our goal. Will one of us stay home? No. That would be victory for the enemy. We go out together in the battle.

When our coworkers arrive in their van with the tables for display and the bulk of the giveaway materials, we join them to set up. They are a bit later than usual. We are not even partially unpacked as people arrive requesting Bibles. One wonders if they have be watchfully waiting for the arrival. At least one woman says, “I’ve seen you here before and this time, I thought I would stop and ask about it.”

We are five today. Some days it is just the sponsoring church’s pastor/evangelist and a co-worker, both natives of the Netherlands plus John and me. In warm weather, we are occasionally joined by an older female church member who is native Belgian. We’ve had visitors from a theological school in the Netherlands join us. Our Georgia team was with us in September. This week, the male cousin of the co-worker’s wife (are you still with me?) joined us. If you have kept a count, you realize how few of those mentioned are Flemish. That is part of the challenge.

We are five today. Four men and one woman. I’d rather stay home and let the men do the work of ‘evangelism’ and broad seed sowing. My Father is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love. He rewards my getting out of my comfort zone in the sweetest, most amazing ways.

One of the first people who came asking for a Bible was a young woman who like many asked why we were giving them away. She offered as a suggestion that it was the Christmas season and these were gifts. I told her that in fact we gave them away year round not just at Christmas. We gave them away because they were God’s word, and she could read God’s word for herself and learn the truth from it for herself. I might not tell her the truth. The man next to me might not tell her the truth. She could read the truth for herself and know it for herself. That was why we gave them away.

My Dutch is always a struggle for me. I want it to be perfect. It is not. I tend to hesitate at times because of that desire. After she’d walked away, the pastor said something about how beautiful my explanation to her had been and how touched she’d been by it. I told him that it wasn’t me, it was God through me and for that, I was very grateful.

The rest of the day continues to be unusual. Middle school/high school is out at noon because the students have finished with exams. Many students come by on their way home or shopping. Many stop by and ask about and receive Bibles: for themselves and for others. One ‘band’ of eight or so middle school aged boys on bicycles attacked us, not literally, all at once and each took a Bible with them as they left.

One couple stopped by hesitantly asking if we had Bibles in any language besides Dutch. The answer is “Yes” and hesitancy turns to hope. Which language are you looking for? Russian. Yes, we have a Russian Bible and hope becomes a big smile and eyes glisten a bit with tears of joy. The next question is, “May we have two? One for us and one for my mother?” It is after all Christmas!

The permit which the church has that allows us to stand in front of the shopping center has some restrictions. We don’t block the flow of traffic. We do not pester the people or call out to them. We don’t have music playing or anything like that to attract attention. There is only a single sandwich board that sits on the ground in front of our area that says “ask for your free Bible”. For the most part I follow the rules.

Do you know me? I watch people walking by. I make eye contact. I nod. I smile. If they make eye contact for 2 nanoseconds longer than ‘normal’ or look the least bit curious – my definition—I speak. “Would you like a free Bible?” If they say ‘No’, I leave them alone but sometimes, they just need an invitation. Sometimes, they just need a little tug.

Yesterday, a lovely young woman was walking by. She glanced our way and caught my eye. She had her laptop in a purple case. I just commented on the beautiful color and touched my similarly colored scarf and smiled as she walked on by. In five seconds, she returned asking about the Bibles and who we were and shared a little about herself. She didn’t need a Bible unless I happened to have one in Arabic, unfortunately not, as she did already. She was interested in taking a children’s book for her kids. She was a PhD student in Nursing here in Gent from Bethlehem! I love it! God is so good.

It could have been colder; some days certainly have been. It could have been windier, some days certainly have been. It sure could have been warmer but then it was our last distribution day in December and was the winter solstice so that’s asking a lot. The company was great and the reception was amazing in a way that only God could orchestrate. We had some good conversations with people and put His word into the hands of the people He sent our way. Our permit won’t allow us to hunt them down; they must come to us asking. We trust God to send them and they do come.

Christmas is coming

In Belgium Sinterklaas comes on 6 December. He puts “goodies” in the shoes of the children who leave treats for him. One child this year left a couple of bottles of beer for the Sint. Maybe his assistant Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) was doing the driving so the Sint would not have to drive impaired. In short, most of the gift giving is done way before 25 December, the traditional Christmas Day.

Christmas Eve is traditionally the big family celebration with extended families gathering together for a massive meal. Traditionally it was followed by the family attending midnight mass and Christmas Day was more for the nuclear family who ate leftovers.

What is missing here? Christ! Midnight mass is now poorly attended and we have yet to see any message this year announcing the birth of Christ. It is generally a Christ-less Christmas.

It breaks our heart to hear children go into great detail about the life and arrival of Sinterklaas and can tell you nothing about the birth of Christ. It is all about tradition and priority.

What is your tradition teaching you about Christmas. What traditions are observed by your family and which ones are you passing down to your children? If you look at your holiday “todo list” where in celebrating the birth of Jesus on that list? Here it seldom even makes the list.

God knew we would not seek Him so He seeks us and send His Son in person to reach out to us. Merry Christmas for without Christ it would be just a great commercial event.

We had a discussion recently about this Lenten season. One of the traditional characteristics of the season is that some people choose to fast in some form or another. Fasting is something I personally have done in various seasons of my life. I usually choose to fast from something edible or drinkable that I enjoy eating or drinking. When I miss that thing, when I must do without that thing, I am reminded of those things my Lord gave up for me.

Last year, after my hospitalization, fasting was rather pointless. Nothing tasted right. I could drink and eat anything I wanted and I really didn’t want it. I was thankful for life and very much aware of the nearness of God.

This year, we’ve been so busy with other things that the Lenten season began without me really taking much notice. I’m just not too sure I have a lot of heartburn over it either.

There is a pilgrimage that is made in Europe. It is typically a Catholic pilgrimage but some of our colleagues have talked about making it as a manner of sharing life with people, spending time with people and having a platform from which to discuss spiritual things. This year one of the local TV stations has had a “roving reporter” sort of thing and a young man has been hiking from Belgium to Compostela, Spain. It has been interesting to watch his weekly reports.

The reporter recently encountered a Dominican monk who originally spoke to him in Spanish. The monk sounded so much like my nephew, Jake, that I knew his Spanish was American Spanish! He is 72. After being a “Beatnik”, he studied the Bible and decided to become a Dominican monk. He works now in southern California among the Mexican refugees.

As the young Belgian interviewed this American Dominican, the monk told of the three vows that Dominicans take: poverty, celibacy and obedience. He said that by far obedience was the hardest.

That brought our discussion back to the idea of fasting. It’s not the giving up but rather the doing that is sometimes the harder thing. We need to re-focus. Set our eyes on the goal that God has set before us. Not what we think He wants us to leave behind but what He wants us to achieve.

We’re back from the “farewell ceremony” for the father of a friend. Since cremation was involved, the ceremony was held in a facility affiliated with the crematorium. Someone who as a profession does these ceremonies, spoke at this one. I cried. Yeah, I know, Lucy crying is nothing new.

I do genuinely grieve the loss of this man. He was a sweet, funny curmudgeon of a man. This family will need some time to adjust to him no longer being part of their day to day lives. He was married over 50 years — you can understand why his wife will miss him. My friend lives in an apartment in her parents’ home so she also will miss him.

For me, this ceremony was extremely sad. I’m used to the joy of ceremonies when believers go home. That joy was missing. I was used to sadness being mixed with the hope of seeing our loved one again. That hope was missing. There was talk of “living on in your thoughts” but no talk of eternal life.

I cried. I realize that I have grown to love this family and they just don’t “get it”. They don’t have a clue what they are missing. There are not just senior adults in this family, people who have lived their lives without God and who are clueless that His heart is broken over them but there are young adults in this family. These are young adults who missed growing up being told “Yes! Jesus loves you.” The whole family is unaware, blind, deaf, clueless that yes, Jesus does indeed love them.

Oh, God break their hearts and open their eyes. The enemy has them bound and unaware that You have won this war.

Need a push?

The trams are “onderbroken”. The number 1 tram and the number 4 tram are supposed to run through the middle of town on the Korenmarkt. For now and until the spring, the Korenmarkt is torn up and being reworked. The little house that sold tickets and had a breakroom for drivers got torn down this week. There is a big stink about removing the cobblestones and replacing them with something artificial. Just at this moment there is more dust that cobblestone and every dry wind raises a cloud of dust. Going into town is an adventure that requires calculating where to walk and how much longer will the trip take since more of it has to be done on foot.

We left for the Friday Market this morning. We took the tram to the Duivelsteen Castle — where it has to reverse direction since it can go no further. We planned to walk the rest of the distance into town. Friday Market is both a place and an event. Most days, there are restaurants and stores that exist with the address of Friday Market and sell their various “goods” to all who visit. On Friday’s, there are extra vendors who come in and set up shop in the middle of the plaza that these others encircle. When these extra folks are here, you can buy cheap clothes, fresher fish, horse meat, cheap tablecloths and towels, and our favorite, apples and pears that come from Belgium. The vegetable/fruit vendor sells other fruits and vegetables as well. Some of his produce comes from Italy or Spain or France. In season, he has field crates of Belgian pears and apples that he sells by the kilo. I recently made apple butter with some of his apples.

We went to the market early. We took the tram as far as we could and walked the rest of the way. John asked for 5 kilos of pears and apples mixed. I got a head of cauliflower and five figs. John put the heavy stuff in his backpack. I carried the figs. We stopped on the way back and had coffee/tea/chocolate croissants. Then we headed for the castle to take the tram.
When we arrived, there were not one but three trams waiting. We joked with the drivers about whether they were having a “strike”. One driver told us that it would probably be quicker for us to walk to the station. He said that the first tram was broken. I asked if we needed to push it for him. John told him to just pull forward and then off to the right.
I’m enjoying being able to joke with locals. We all experience the little challenges of day to day life. It’s fun to be able to laugh and go on