Monday, September 27, 2010

Belgium.

Well, I've been home for just about a week so it's probably time I give an update on my trip to Belgium. It's taken me this long to recuperate as well as process all that happened while I was there. It was quite the whirlwind trip with not a whole lot of down time. Between running from ministry to ministry opportunity and then filling our little bit of spare time with sightseeing, we were on the go all the time! This is gonna be lengthy so you may want to grab yourself a cup of tea and sit a while!

Friday, Sept.10: We arrived in Brussels, Belgium around 8am. We were greeted by our host pastor and his associate and piled into vans to be taken to our home away from home...Operation Mobilization (OM), a hostel-like establishment for missionaries. It was a friendly place with coffee and tea available 24/7, Internet access and comfortable bunks. We settled in easily and then took a walk in downtown Zaventem.

Eventually we realized we were all utterly exhausted from the trip and being awake for over 24 hours and decided to head back and take a quick nap before meeting the pastor's wife for dinner. They say not to nap but we couldn't help ourselves. And trust me, it did NOT affect our getting to sleep later that night!

Saturday, Sept. 11: Drove an hour and a half to a small church in Mouscron, Belgium. They were having an outreach concert and barbecue that they invited us to be a part of. It turned out to be a lot of fun...very friendly people, lots of trying to speak French and singing and praising God. The event ended around 11:30 or so and we headed back to the OM. It was after 1am by the time we got back and after talking and settling down a bit I don't think we got to bed until 2am or so.

Sunday, Sept.12: Headed to service at our host church around 8am. What an amazing church. The diversity was unbelievable. The church is known for being a "church for all nations" and they aren't kidding! So many countries represented...Nigeria, Venezuela, USA, France, Italy, Congo, Ireland, England, and the list goes on. As I looked around at all of the beautiful people I whispered to one of the people I was with about how great it was...but I was at a loss for words. I just kept stuttering about how it was...was...was...and she simply states, "Like Heaven?" Yes. Like Heaven. Exactly. After service they treated us to a delicious lunch before taking us to the "Filipino church" in downtown Brussels. We drove through the crazy streets of Brussels, many of them reminding me of driving in San Francisco. We were dropped off in front of an unassuming building and led through the door. We entered into an old garage type building and then up some stairs to a back room. And there it was...their tiny little church. We enjoyed their worship and prayer and then my friend Tina spoke her message. Afterward we had an altar call and prayed for those who wanted it. It was a powerful time. God showed up in a mighty way and before we knew it we had to pile back into the vans and head back to our host church where we attended their Sunday night French service. After a very long day we finally headed back to the OM at around 10 or so.

Monday, Sept. 13: Monday was our first free day and we decided to head over to Grande Place for some sightseeing. We indulged in Belgian waffles, Frites (Belgian french fries...to die for by the way!) and then took a seat at an outdoor cafe for a cup of cappuccino. The best cappuccino I've ever had I must say. What a treat. We were there for 4 hours or so and then decided to head back to the OM for some rest. Of course, by the time we get back to the OM we start giggling and talking and checking email and going from room to room and bunk to bunk pestering each other and laughing, A LOT, and the next thing we know it's 2am! So much for rest!

Tuesday, Sept. 14: Another free day. We head to Fort Breendonk, a concentration camp in use from 1940-1944. It was very interesting...very mind-blowing...very sobering. It's just so unbelievable what humans think they can do to one another, isn't it? Once we left the camp we decided to find somewhere to eat. And can I just say...finding a place to eat isn't as easy as it is in the states. It's not like you can just bop on through a Taco Bell drive thru. They have a few fast food places...like McDonald's. And a place called Quik Burger. But we are in Belgium! We don't want to eat fast food! I'm not sure why but many places were closed. we drove and drove and then it began to rain. We ended up in Brugges and found a strange little Dutch restaurant to eat at. And as a side note...did you know that you have to pay to use the restrooms in many places in Europe? 35 cent! This could have broke me! Anyway...we headed home in the dark and the rain. Once back at the OM more talking, laughing, tea sipping, room wandering ensued and we eventually fell asleep around 1am.

Wednesday, Sept. 15: This is the day I'm scheduled to speak at our host church. Fortunately, we've got a slow morning so while some went for walks and some took naps, I decided to take some much needed quiet time to focus on my message. I knew for the most part what I was going to share, but I didn't have it organized in outline form yet. So I sat in the quiet on my cozy bunk with my bible and my notepad and let God lay it all out for me. Around noon that day we decided to go for a sightseeing drive. We ended up driving past the NATO building in hopes of a tour but they weren't having them that day. So we continued to drive around the city admiring the ancient architecture and beautiful sights. Belgium is a beautiful country. And the weather was perfect...gray and dreary most days, a little sunshine here and there, and even some rain. My favorite! Trust me when I tell you I was disappointed to return to 100 degree days here! We headed back to the OM to freshen up a little before the Wednesday service. Once changed and cleaned up we piled back into the vans yet again and headed to church. When we arrived I was informed I'd be speaking through an interpreter. Huh? I can barely speak on my own! Let alone through an interpreter?! But I have to say, it went well. I am told he was an excellent interpreter and that I was fortunate to have gotten him for my first time. My message went well and I was hardly even nervous at all. I felt confident that God had prepared me and that I was going to share what He wanted me to share. So there was no need to be nervous, right? The whole time I was speaking there was a young lady sitting directly in front of me who was just completely broken. She cried the entire time. It took all I had to keep talking and not just stop in the middle of it all and run to her. But I didn't. I finished what I set out to do and then went to her afterwards. We talked and cried and prayed and then I gave her one of the devotional booklets I'd prepared. It was the first time I wished I didn't have to leave Belgium...wishing I could meet with her for coffee during the week...speak encouragement and goodness into her life. But...reality set in and I knew that I just had to let her go and trust that God would continue His work in her. And I know He will. On the way home we went to a local frites stand for fries and gyros then headed back to the OM. Again, we stayed up too late and had a blast doing it. I don't think we got to bed before 2am once while we were gone. What do I think I am? A teenager?!

Thursday, Sept. 16: This day is quite possibly the highlight of my trip. We were invited to visit the office of an amazing ministry, Breaking Chains. Breaking Chains is a ministry located in Antwerp that helps women find freedom in Jesus and from the prostitution industry in Belgium. Prostitution isn't legal, but it's accepted. And it feeds the disgusting industry of human trafficking. I could go on and on about this issue and I just might in a later post. But for now, I will recommend that you do your own research. I have learned quite a bit about human trafficking over the years and know that I need to be a part of the solution. What makes a person think that they can treat another human in such a horrible, degrading, disgusting manner is beyond my comprehension. All I could do was cry, cry, cry as I watched this video and listened to the "handler" (a so-called man who sells women like pieces of property...a "handler" like the women are animals? Are you kidding me?) talk in an undercover interview. He made me nauseous. And all I can say is...there's a special place in hell. I know that's not very nice. But it's how I feel. Breaking Chains holds a special place in my heart and in my prayer life. Also too, because so many of you gave so generously, I have a bit of money left over in the Belgium Fund. I've been praying about what to do with the rest of it and I believe God wants me to send it to Breaking Chains. God is good, isn't He? **We headed back to the OM to freshen up and get ready for a concert at a small Italian church in Brussels. This was a small church held in an old building in the middle of the city. It was also a very conservative church, with some of the older women wearing doilie-like lace pieces on top of their heads. And would you believe that it had only been very recently that the men and women were allowed to sit together in the pews? Then imagine us loud and crazy Americans coming into the place...we were like fish out of water! But the service was nice...and the concert went well. We had an altar call and I prayed for two beautiful young women, Jessica and Emmaline. They were sisters and they stole my heart. (If you're reading girls...hello!) Afterward two beautiful women, Mima and Antonella, my new best friends, fed us the best meal we ate while in Belgium. Oh my...it was so delicious. Squash and leek soup with crusty bread...veal cutlets, salad with vinaigrette and marinated tomatoes as the main course...a slice of melon to cleanse the palate and then a buffet of Belgian desserts to choose from along with a delicious cup of coffee. We were in heaven! And the people were so nice. SO nice. Again the language barrier was a bit of a challenge but between their broken English and our broken french, we did OK. This whole day was amazing and full of good things. I felt blessed...

Friday, Sept. 17: Time to move to our new hostel. We were sad to leave the OM...we'd gotten quite comfortable. But our time was up and we had to move...so we did. We settled in at the new place then headed to Grande Place for another visit. We wanted to shop for souvenirs, eat waffles and frites and indulge in one more cappuccino at a sidewalk cafe. It was a fun night...and very cold. But worth it. Grande Place is beautiful.

Saturday, Sept. 18: Saturday we headed off to Namur, a small town about an hour outside Brussels. What a cool little town. If I ever get a chance to return to Belgium I will definitely go back to Namur and explore! We were assigned the nicest "tour guides", Vincent and Claudia, the sweetest couple ever. They showed us many historical points of interest in Namur...took us for a ride down the canal in a water taxi...tolerated our broken french and then escorted us to the small church we were going to be visiting that night. They were holding a concert, Hope for Wallonia and we were blessed to be a part of it. We sang and shared testimonies and prayed and God showed up BIG time. It was a great night.

Sunday, Sept. 19: Our last day in Belgium. And we were headed off to Charleois early in the morning. We were invited to spend the day at a french church...joining them for service in the morning, lunch in the afternoon and then a concert at 3pm. It was a good day...a long day...and a blessing. The pastor went on and on about how much it meant to him that we were there spending time with them...visiting them...praying with them...encouraging them...etc. Christianity is not popular in Belgium. As a matter of fact, it's one of the darkest areas, spiritually, in Europe. And many of the little churches feel alone and discouraged. So to have people come and visit and spend time and pray with them makes a world of difference. It was a special day...and a good finale to an amazing trip. ** We returned to the hostel around 6pm and immediately began packing. Somehow we had to pack all that we brought AND a ton of chocolate and lace into our suitcases!

The flight home was quiet and uneventful. We were t.i.r.e.d. It was an amazing 10 days in Belgium but we were all ready to get back home to our families.

Bottom line? God is good. SO good. And He was with us every step of the way. It was an amazing experience...one I am grateful to have been a part of. My favorite parts? In no particular order....

  • Namur, Belgium.
  • Breaking Chains...I left a piece of my heart with that ministry.
  • Frites. With tartar sauce!
  • Belgian waffles.
  • The Italian church...good people, good food.
  • Speaking broken french...inspiration to study my Rosetta Stone CD.
  • Spending 10 days with good friends...I miss them.
  • Laughing. Oh MY the laughing. I haven't laughed so hard in a long, long time.
  • God. He's good. He's faithful. He's in all things.
Thank you for your support, your prayers and your encouragement. This is really a group effort...I couldn't have done it without you and your help or without the help of my wonderful husband who kept things running smoothly at home. He held down the fort and took care of everything and then some while I was gone. I love you, honey.

And I love you guys, too...thank you again.

**This is the Cliff notes version so I may have left something out...feel free to ask questions and I will be happy to answer them!

5 comments:

ThyHandHathProvided said...

Oh, Michelle! Thank you so much for taking time to share this with us- what an amazing experience. It's obvious God has moved you and changed you through this trip. Your description of being in that church surrounded by people of different cultures sounds amazing- what a taste of what heaven will be like one day! I am so glad you had the opportunity to go and you took advantage of it! May we all have the courage to make similar leaps of faith:-).

Anonymous said...

Thank you Michelle for taking the time to write about your trip. It was wonderful to read. I feel like I was there with you in a way. I was moved to tears on Sunday when others from the team shared their stories of what God did on the trip.
I'm so grateful that they had an altar call because I know God's anointing is on this team.
Hummm, I wonder what is next for you and the team?
There is no going back to "normal life" after God has deposited something inside you. I'm excited for what He is doing in your life <3
Deanna

Denise said...

so agree with both comments above. it was so great to follow you on this journey. you are an amazing lady!

Nancy said...

What a wonderful experience! Definitely one you'll remember forever.

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