“It’s just a season??”

As I push the stroller back home I watch Zeph struggling to find his thumb. The little guy needs that tiny finger to suck on and help him fall into a much needed sleep as I’m walking back from a coffee date with one of my close friends. She is a great mom, bakes the best cookies, loves Jesus with all her heart and has this never disappearing smile on her face. And we laugh together. So hard. I love her. 

Even though my YWAM life is marked with many – too many, I am tempted to say – goodbyes, the beauty of this revolving door of relationships is that God keeps giving me great friends in every season of this journey.  Read More

Zeph Ceder is born!

Friday May 13, 2016 the time had FINALLY come! After the long, long wait Zeph Ceder was born at 03:22 in the morning.

The plan had been ready for weeks: we were anticipating a home birth, but in case we would need to leave for the hospital last minute, we made sure the Maxi-Cosi was ready, the bed in the guest room was prepared for the ones that would be taking care of the other kids and our car was parked closer by, rather than in the ‘long term parking zone…’

For several weeks the kids had been waking up with this question: “is the baby there yet?” and slowly this question had changed to: “is the baby still not here yet?!”

At about 05:30 AM the midwife left through our front door and right at that moment Luan’s bedroom door flung wide open. A little sleepy-eyed he looked into the hallway, having no idea what all just happened. The girls were waking up slowly and before breakfast they were allowed to just ‘give mommy a little kiss.’

One by one they quietly walked into the bedroom and what they saw next… they literally couldn’t believe their eyes! After some attempts at trying to look for words Luan finally said: “I first thought it was fake!” And Noélani added: “I thought it was real, I just didn’t think it was our baby!” And all that Loïs could do was giggle a little nervously, filled with unbelief that after this long, long wait the baby was FINALLY here!

We are all so happy with our beautiful son and brother! We are so grateful for his life and we’re looking forward to getting to know this little man. We are so curious to find out who he will look like – outwardly, but also in his character. We’re so curious to find out in what ways he won’t look like anybody, but how he will be completely unique. Curious to find out what his interests will be, what dreams he will develop… But what we already know is that his Maker has the most amazing dreams for him. And it’s our prayer that he will learn to dream the dreams that God has for him.

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Click the above picture for more. These pictures were taken by our talented friend and colleague Samantha Aantjes. You can see more of her incredible work here: Shine 1.21 Photography on Facebook.

Signpost

Whenever we need to explain to people where we live we often refer to the blue neon letters on the top of our building. They read ‘Jesus Loves You – God roept U.’ The words in Dutch mean ‘God is calling you.’

This sign was first put on the building when this building was used as the headquarters for the Salvation Army and even William Booth had stayed here at some point during those years. Later in the 80’s when YWAM pioneered in the city and got this building they added the words ‘Jesus Loves You.’ It is always an easy landmark for people to navigate to. For the teams that we host in our building, for the speakers that pass through, the parents from school, the backpacker that wants to stay overnight to see what YWAM Amsterdam is like. It pretty much always seems to work.

But of course the main idea of these words never were to be an indicator for direction, a landmark or a signpost. At least not just for physical direction. They are put there as a continuous statement of truth over the city and its people.

The ‘Kalverstraat,’ Amsterdam’s main shopping street, has about  100,000 visitors every day. A good chunk of those people come from Amsterdam Central (Train) Station passing by our building on their way to the 700 meter long shopping street. Some of those people miss the words, others see it but maybe ignore it because it makes them feel uncomfortable, others mock at it but every now and then those words are the words that open someone’s heart for truth and it brings a change in their journey. We believe those stories happen more often than we tend to hear about them, but sometimes we do hear the stories as well. bblog15

Not too long ago I read one of those stories from a dear friend and faithful coworker of ours here in YWAM Amsterdam, Carolyn Ros. I asked her if I could share this with you as a testimony of how God works and to lay down the challenge to continue to pray for this city and it’s people.

These were her words:

“...We live in a city where many prodigal sons and daughters come on their journey to the ‘far country’. Each day, our prayer has been, Lord, lead us to those who are so in need of Your embrace, Your grace, Your forgiveness and Your hope.

This afternoon, we had our weekly prayer time in the YWAM prayer room called the Tabernacle, we were praying very specifically for those who needed an encounter with the Father. We were asking Him to bring them so that we would recognise whose heart was ‘open’ to the Father.

As I was praying with someone else, a man entered from the streets. As he made his way into the room, I started praying for him and had a sense that the Lord wanted us to pray with him personally.

Together with my prayer partner, we went up to him and asked if we could pray for him. He said yes. As I prayed I had tears running down my cheeks as I sensed God’s Father heart calling him back to himself.

I shared my impressions with him and he concurred that that was exactly what was needed in his life. By this time I was overwhelmed by how God had orchestrated this ‘divine encounter’.

This man had a 4 hour lay-over on his way to Asia and had come into the city to look around. He felt compelled to come in to the prayer room as he had seen the Jesus Loves You sign on one of the other YWAM buildings and had received directions to the prayer room…”

How convenient the blue neon letters may come in at times to have people directed to our building, in the end these are the stories that testify that they really are put there to be a signpost to put people into the right direction spiritually!

The ‘one’

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The day before yesterday at 10:30 pm I turned off the light in our living room while I was chewing on a bite of my evening snack. Reinier wasn’t home yet, but this momma had to go to bed. Outside I heard the noise of wailing sirens of a few ambulances. For a moment it crossed my mind… This sound used to upset me and it always used to remind me of the fact that someone must be in great need. For a while I even made it a habit to say a silent prayer as soon a heard the sirens. But after 4 years of downtown Amsterdam it had become so normal, just a part of city life.

Endless times I had seen the stream of cars in front of our house rush to the sides to make room for emergency services. Ambulances, firetrucks, polices, special forces. It all passes by. Regularly, and often more than once a day. Nothing in me even thought of turning around to have a look out of the window to see what had just happened. Leave alone to pick up my old habit of saying a prayer for the stranger in need. By the time I also wanted to switch the kitchen light of my eye fell on a cup that I had left in the windowsill and I walked over to get it. I like my house tidy and neat when I wake up in the morning to start the tight routine of getting 3 kids to school by 8 am. As I walked over in the dark to pick up the cup that was left in the living room, my eyes were automatically drawn to the flashing lights outside and I saw the white and red marked area in my ‘front yard.’ 2 ambulances, 3 police cars and a firetruck had randomly stopped in the middle of the street as if someone had stopped the time. A tram was waiting with blinking lights by the blocked road. Its passengers most likely annoyedly texting their friends telling them they got stuck in public transportation for some stupid reason again. I swallowed my last bite of my cracker with cheese and found myself not being able to walk away. My glance got stuck on a knelt down ambulance staff that was giving his everything to continuously doing CPR on a person who was lying on the ground. Although all the surrounding people, which are still a lot at this time and place in Amsterdam, were kept at a distance by the red and white tape, it felt as if I was right there in the situation from my spot in our own living room. Strangely enough I could not not watch and without really thinking about it I said a short prayer. It had just overwhelmed me that there was a person lying there, fighting for its life. How could it be that the sound of sirens ever had become normal to me when these are the situations what they are all about?

The next morning when we once again made the 8 o’clock deadline with the kids I came across the following news message on the local news…  “The severely injured man who was found last night on the Damrak near Central Station passed away. This was reported to the police. The victim was a  24-year-old man with no fixed abode. Shortly after 10:30 the man collapsed.   He appeared to have a stab wound in his chest. He got CPR and was taken to the hospital. There he died to his injuries. ” The rest of the day it weighed on me like a heavy cloud. There was nothing I could have done about it, I didn’t even know who he was… still I couldn’t put it aside me.

By the end of this afternoon me and Noélani made our way to the busstop to get to swimming class. We were excited because today was the first time to be in the group for the last level before she would get her certificate. A milestone for an 8 year old and not even to mention for the proud mother. After the traffic light turned green we joined the crowd in crossing the street. I took a look at the stream of people. Calling businessmen, young folks with bags full sale items of H&M and Pull and Bear, mothers with warmly dressed kids in the newest Bugaboos, lovebird couples, tons of tourists… one by one they carelessly put their feet on the place where less than 24 hours ago someone had been fighting for his life on the cold ground. There was no flower, no letter, no teddybear… was there even someone after all that would miss this 24-year old man with no fixed abode, or in other words homeless guy? Who did the police call last night when he passed away in the hospital? Who would cry about him, miss him, mourn for this empty place? For me he had become someone. Not just a siren with a situation.

Once again it stopped me that in this city anonymity and loneliness is so many people’s daily reality. And the strange thing is, finding it horrible at the same time, that way too many times I join in to that flow of business and getting my own to do list done. And that the one, maybe that very one that God will put right in front of me on that day, I just pass by without a blink, while making up an excuse to justify myself.

Being an ambassador of Jesus in a city that is full of anonymity is not easy, but at the same time it’s right in front of me. I committed myself once again to stop for the one. To not think about myself in the first place for a moment. To think that one is somebody else’s business, or maybe he should take care of his own business. Maybe he or she, for that day, actually is my business.

The Red Light District as a theatre and a trash can as a soapbox

Let’s be honest. Street preaching in the 21st century, I wasn’t convinced. Until we started doing Christmas Carols in Amsterdam’s most famous Red Light District named ‘De Wallen’…

The idea is simple. “Where would Jesus go to celebrate Christmas?” That thought was the start of the idea for our friend Miranda Tollenaar to bring together some incredible singers from her network and as YWAM Amsterdam we would mobilise a small army of volunteers to move into the Red Light District to celebrate Christmas.

We started off at Amsterdam Central Train Station to move towards the Dam Square and from there into the different alleys and narrow bridges of the Red Light District. We spent about 10 minutes at every different spot, but every time we had to move on I noticed we were leaving people behind with looks on their faces that seemed to be thinking, ‘what on earth just happened?’ When we arrived at our final spot I couldn’t contain myself…

A little awkward and really quite insecure I quickly asked someone to translate so that I woud have more time to think in between my sentences. The best part about having a translator for someone like myself. I would tell them what we were doing and especially why we were doing that. And to my own surprise, people would stand and listen to what we had to say.

Here and there some smiles appeared on people’s faces. Was it surprise, were they being cynical, was it hope? Whatever it was, their smiles encouraged me to keep going and before I knew it I had delivered the shortest Christmas message ever in one of the least likely places. It was received with clapping and shouting and a loud ‘Merry Christmas’ from the smiling faces in front of me.

Oude Kerksplein

This year it was the fourth time that we were doing ‘Christmas Carols’ in the Red Light District. Filled with the hope from previous years we were starting our ‘power preaches’ at Amsterdam Central Station. The acoustics of the main hall were very helpful in addressing a couple hundred people at a time. Once outside the choir would easily bring that amount of people together as well, but I realised that from where I was standing it was impossible to address them all at once. Right at that moment I noticed a big trash can that had the 3 crosses of Amsterdam’s coat of arms on it, and it reminded me of the accompanying three words, “valiant, steadfast, compassionate.” For a split second I was wondering if this was a good idea with an ankle that was steal recovering from a fracture a few weeks ago, but I brushed that question aside by wondering: ‘what is more important?’

These kinds of trash cans tend to be pretty high, but really solid and from there I could see that the are around the Oude Kerk (oldest church of Amsterdam) had filled up pretty well and even along the outer parts of the square people had gathered to listen. Encouraged by the choir and our little army of volunteers I shouted on top of my lungs: ‘we’re here to put CHRIST back into Christ-mas!’ and added what that means to us. Jesus came to establish a relationship between us and the living God. However far away from God we may feel we are and however impossible it seems to return to him. Christmas is the news that He actually came to us.

And that’s why Christmas isn’t just limited to December: Merry Christmas!