God's presence is all around us.We see God's handiwork in the beauty of the rolling hills of western Belgium and in the sandy coast of the North Sea.We hear God's voice in the encouraging words of church members who say, "Your Flemish is really coming along!"We know God's power when Luke and Ben go into the door of their Flemish school with smiles on their faces.We feel God's warmth when we open cards and emails from all of you who write to say you're praying for us.What a privilege to serve this loving God!
Today was a special day.We were in the biggest bunch of Belgian Baptists I've ever seen--70 young people plus 15 adults.Young people from all over Belgium gathered in Peruwelz, Belgium, to spend the day with their fellow believers.Some traveled three hours each way to share in this 6-hour retreat.
Why such commitment?Maybe it is because in Belgium it is unusual to see more than three or four Baptist teenagers in a room together. In fact, because they are Protestants, Baptist teenagers often go to religion class twice a week alone.Public schools in Belgium have separate religion classes for Catholics, Protestants, Free Thinkers, Muslims, and Jews.As is the case with Luke and Ben, a Baptist is usually the only Protestant in the class.They have religion class alone.Imagine the isolation felt by teenagers who typically struggle with identity issues and peer pressure.
But, today, no Baptist teenager in Peruwelz was alone.They clapped their hands and sang "This is the Day" with broad smiles.They played "getting-to-know-you" games and ate worsten broodjes (otherwise known as hot dogs) and drank Coca-Cola.They played in the freshly-fallen and seldom-seen Belgian snow until their hair and clothes were soaking wet and their ears, cheeks, and noses were as red as their Coke cans.They prayed and read the Bible together.
Jim and I watched and listened.Our single contribution to the gathering was the drying of the pumpkin soup bowls after lunch.We didn't have much to say since this gathering was all in French.Lillian, the Peruwelz church member who washed the dishes, gave me a quick refresher course in French as we worked.French 101 was so long ago.
The diversity of languages within the Union of Baptists in Belgium (UBB) presents a real challenge for the churches.While most adults are at least bilingual and often trilingual, most children and young teenagers have not yet mastered their second language.The young people from our church were unable to attend, but I wonder how comfortable they would have felt in this overwhelmingly French-speaking group (even if there were translation).All UBB's planning for young people takes into account language differences, and, often, programs must be duplicated in order to reach both the French and Flemish language groups.This puts a strain on leadership and financial resources.
On a more personal note, Jim and I are back in college.We began Flemish language study at the University of Gent's language center in January.It is very intense, and we are burning the midnight oil to get our homework done!The best part of the class is meeting people from all over the world and getting to know some of their stories.Most of our classmates are studying to fulfill the Flemish language requirements for enrollment in the University.Two of our classmates were excited to find that there are Protestant churches in Belgium and one of them has already visited with us in our church at Melle.
Luke and Ben were elated to have a three-inch snowfall here in Belgium; that is a rarity.They have assured their new friends that the three inches we got here is nothing compared to a real snowfall in Ohio.They are making plans for their upcoming birthdays and reminding us that they are no longer six and eight years old.They are now "almost seven" and "almost nine".They plan daily for the arrival of those rabbits we've been promising to get for them in the spring.
- for teenagers and children in Belgium who go to religion class alone
- for UBB as it holds its annual meeting in the first week of March
- for our two classmates who are looking for a church home
"Be strong and courageous…"Joshua 1:6
It is our mandate here in Belgium, and your mandate there in your place of service.
May the joy of the Lord be yours this day!
Debbie and Jim, Luke and Ben Kelsey