Giving of Thanks

Every so often I get asked what I am doing for the upcoming holidays. Although I am developing a rhythm, there are still some days I don’t even know what I will be doing for work that day. Plans alter and change rather quickly. Any plans for the holidays just have that many more variables and unknowns.

Today is the traditional American Thanksgiving. Here, it is just another work day.  At some point late this afternoon I hope to head over to the house of an American family nearby and see what merriment and chaos may be found there. It will be different that normal, but it was always normal for my family to do things differently. Our most established tradition was never doing things the exact same way twice; not by direct design, but rather by dancing with the variations of life. 

On this day, one thing I am very thankful for is technology that allows me to still be able to see, speak, and play with my family and friends from 6 time-zones away. 

So as you walk through traditions, or dance along with the changes life brings, what things are you thankful for?

Hope

Told to go to a certain conference because I was interested in anti-trafficking efforts, I went knowing next to nothing about the conference or what it was about. It turned out the anti-trafficking thread was only one of about 20 threads represented. Hundreds of people from all over the place came looking to see how the Hope of God’s Kingdom can transform the dark places of Europe; each with our different threads marveling at how God is weaving the whole tapestry.

The tasks that I thought seemed overwhelming before did not diminish in size, but rather grew. And yet the next steps to move forward begin to take shape.

I am reminded over and over again that God’s grace is sufficient to the task.

The good, the bad, and the random

 

The good:

After 2 and a half months, I was finally able to obtain my Belgian ID card. From phone plans to library cards, many things require having this card in addition to it being a requirement for anyone residing here. So after about a half dozen trips to the town hall, I was greatly relieved to have everything in order and the card in hand.

The bad:

Looking at apartments and calculating numbers, I realized it doesn’t make since to sign a contract for my own place until my monthly support coming in can match it. Currently living in a room in someone else’s house, I am able to live within my means. It is hard though, like trying to function without ever getting a full nights rest, just cat naps here and there. Eventually I need a place I can call my-own-home; until then I pray for strength to wait for His timing.

The random:

Having receiving a gift of a phone just before leaving the US so I could have a working phone that didn’t cost me tons of money, I am slowly figuring out how to make it work. The latest accomplishment was how to transfer pictures from the phone to my computer. Now I can start adding photos to my updates (provided I do better at actually taking pictures.)

Two Months

It has now been 2 months that I have officially been here in Belgium. I am still amazed at the support people have given to get me here even when the hassle of visa paperwork took months longer to complete then seemed reasonable. Here is a quick overview of the main things going on. 

Firstly, finding a place to live. The couple I am currently staying with have been very generous in looking after me while I look for a place of my own that I can make into a home for a longer time. We have managed to narrow down the search to a neighborhood that seems strategically central to the different areas I will be serving, now we just need to find the right apartment available. I especially want to find a place soon so I can spend less energy looking (and trying to make do in the mean while) and more time serving others.

Secondly, the past few weeks I have begun language learning. The method I have been instructed to use is designed to build language skills primarily through learning sentences and practicing with many people. It is a very interesting concept, and deserves a post of its own soon.

Thirdly, and dearest to my heart, I have started building relationships with those already involved with the women I long to help. There are several organizations I have crossed paths with who are focused different aspects and working in different areas. I hope to go to a conference in October to further network and get a better since of what is happening and what is still most needed. 

The one organization I have worked the closest with, I have not only been able to lend some assistance in getting one of their safe houses closer to ready, I have also been able to meet with a handful of women who are actively building relationships with those in need and connecting them with the help they require. The more I get to know these few women, the more I am inspired by the love they have shown and the time they put into reaching out. I pray regularly for them and those they are in contact with. Although it is not my place share more of their stories, will you join me in praying for them as well?

Grief

“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” -Audrey Hepburn

Before leaving the States I drove down to visit my Grandparents. When I saw my Grandpa, it was clear this would likely be my last goodbye to him. So when I had begun finding my way here and starting to move forward, I heard news he was in the hospital and my heart caught in my throat. At news of his passing the weight of grief …

Being so far away when good things happen can be hard; when sad things happen it is all that much worse.

While scouting out different communities in my search for my own place I walked past a cemetery and by one of the headstones near the entrance I noticed a container of succulents – these fun little plants often referred to as ‘hens-and-chicks.’ When I saw a few little buds on the slab I wanted to rescue them knowing they would not survive where they had fallen. 

I hesitated for a moment wondering at the appropriateness of taking them, when I remembered that space of time when my Grandpa had a job filling in graves after the funerals. He would often take the abandoned flower arrangements and give them to people as gifts; completely unconcerned with how creepy most people would find such a gesture.

So, with a smile at the memory and in honor of my Grandpa, I took the little plants to tend them. 

Later, when I got an afternoon free, I went to a nearby cemetery and wondered through the grave markers. Unable to go to my Grandpa’s funeral, I wandered the gravesides of strangers; processing, remembering, hoping. And looking for more lost ‘chicks.’ A couple repurposed containers and some dirt gave a place for the plants to become the beginning of a small garden.

How many will survive I don’t know, but watching some of them begin to grow reminds me to keep hoping. The words echo in my heart, “Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:22)

I came here to bring hope to those who have none, even if it costs me grief. It is the Hope of our Redeemer who laid down His own life for us that keeps me moving forward. 

What practical ways to you deal with grief? What things help you remember to keep working towards hope?

Arrival

Last week I arrived in Belgium after a tiring but uneventful flight. The next few days were a struggle against jet-lag and exhaustion as I began the work of getting reacquainted with life and ministry here. Currently I am staying with a couple that lives a stone’s throw from the ministry center while I look for more long term housing. 

Monday I met with the head of another ministry that is already working in the areas I would like to help with. I have a general idea of what ministry might look like but the actual specifics of how that will turn out are still in the planning stages. 

I had intended to look for a place in the Flemish speaking north of Belgium where some ministry is already happening, but it may be more strategic to live closer to the French speaking South where future ministry is likely to grow. I really need God’s direction to find a place I can make into a home that meets my needs and compliments ministry well. 

Thank you all for standing with me as step out to see God’s love made real to those who need it.

Waiting and Return

Last June I arrived back in the States eager to return to Belgium and begin ministry there. A few weeks later I received an email containing a list of the paperwork needed to get the Visa required to enable that return. I figured it would take about 3-4 months to get everything in order and be on a flight back. Well, that is what I hoped.

Of the items on the list I was responsible for, I had most of them by the end of September, but not all of them until the middle of November. I thought the team in Belgium would be able to finish the items they were responsible for soon after. As it turned out, they had as much trouble with their paperwork as I did; mid-April brought a package with their completed paperwork. A couple more weeks to tie up loose ends and put everything together and I sent the full application to the Embassy at the beginning of May, and began the wait for their approval or denial.

More waiting. 

A year is a long time to wait – not knowing what the next month will bring, or sometimes the next week, or the next day.

I’ve been able to visit some and catch up with family and friends, and spent a lot of time praying and reading my Bible. Additionally, I been able to read a lot of other books, watched a lot of The Bible Project videos (you should check them out!) and online teaching and sermons (Door of Hope in Portland has a lot of good ones), worked on some miscellaneous crafty projects, and crocheted blankets for my nieces and nephews (I am currently in the middle of my 10th.)

Now it looks like the long wait is coming to an end.

Last week I received my Visa from the Embassy and a few days later acquired a ticket for the first week of July.

Now for the frantic packing and the start of the next adventure!