* I have been corrected on my Dutch grammar. You say “welkom op” (meaning “up” or “on”) to an institution, such as a school, but “welkom in” to a city. So “Welkom in Antwerpen.”
We arrived in Antwerp five days ago to find a number of small house-warming gifts at the furnished manse (flowers, fruit, muesli, cards) and not so small (bicycles, on long term loan from the former pastoral couple who now work with refugees in Sweden). Another bicycle was brought to us a couple days later. Before the worship service on Sunday a couple dropped by with a large bag of other goodies, including chocolate, nuts, and lunch boxes for the kids. We returned from Sunday’s worship service with homemade barbecue sauce (from one of the few Americans in the church), cake, and more. We were told to stop by a woman’s house later to pick up a large home-grown pumpkin. Rebecca somehow strapped the beast of a squash to the back of her bike.
Our house from the back.
We gave away most of our household items when we moved out of our home in California, and we have received many things here. We also give and receive encouragement, prayer, instruction, and so on. It is as if Jesus himself is at work around and through us. Indeed, the church is called the body of Christ. This is one thing it means to be the body of Christ: to give and to receive.
Our first Sunday with the church I did not preach, but enjoyed leading communion and heard an encouraging sermon from a guest speaker. Conversations after the service continued until 1:30 in the afternoon, when we were invited to lunch at a family’s home nearby. After lunch we walked to the park (at their local castle, of course) where there was a festival in progress. We watched a hip-hop dance routine with one young man dressed as the Joker and fifteen or twenty girls dressed as some other super villain I didn’t recognize. As we walked to the bounce houses our Dutch friend chuckled, then explained: “The man making announcements just said, ‘I’m not allowed to leave this stage, so is there a volunteer who could bring me a beer?’ That’s typical Belgian,” he said.
Also typically Belgian, apparently, are open air urinals. You could get arrested for trying to pee in one of these in the US.
There is another typically Dutch/Belgian thing that has quickly gained popularity among the younger members of our household: chocolate sprinkle sandwiches.
The Dutch also swallow filleted raw herring, sometimes accompanied by diced onion. The Dutchman who showed me raved about the health benefits of the Omega 3s and 6s. I didn’t think I could handle a whole fish, so I tried just a bite. “Why not just fry it real quick?” I asked. “It would still have Omega 3s.”
“Ahh, you’re ruining it that way,” he said.
Both individual and cultural tastes come to the fore when sampling the cuisine of a new region It is a strange thing that the same dish can delight some and horrify others. Those differences in opinion can lead people to take offense, or they can lead to humor. One friend here thought our “ants on a log” (celery with peanut butter and raisins) sounded terrible. So we brought some over and laughed at the faces she made. We are greatly enjoying the local cheeses. There are ridiculously cheap gouda and brie in infinite permutations – and more expensive types of cheese as you go up the scale. Nate suddenly decided last night that he likes brie cheese. “It tastes just like butter!” he said with surprise. And we feast on fresh breads, which you put through the slicer yourself at the grocery store.
Then there is the food that Wikipedia describes as “meat-based.” Belgians invented one of the most popular foods in the world when someone deep fried French cut potatoes. Fries are sold here at frituurs (almost as ubiquitous as Starbuck’s). Other deep-fried Belgian foods haven’t found the same worldwide fame, though. When we visited here in June, I asked the man at a frituur what was popular besides fries. “Bitterballen,” he replied. I placed an order, eager to try a local favorite. I can report that bitterballen are, in fact, “meat-based.” Imagine a soft, sticky meat paste. Now imagine that this meat paste is formed into balls, coated with bread crumbs, and deep fat fried. This deep-fried “meat-based” paste with a crunchy crust is bitterballen. Friends here acclaim this dish and its larger, sausage-shaped cousin, the kroket. One Flemish friend, however, dismissed frituur food as “mystery meat.” Americans prefer their meat paste in other forms, such as tubes: Americans are estimated to eat 70 hotdogs per person per year.
Changing topics, school starts on Friday. The kids are all a little nervous about starting school in Dutch, a language they don’t understand. Until then, we continue to adjust things in the house to our style and preferences, get to know the area, and meet with new friends. Our welcome has been literally warm – as in the weather. Belgians continually tell us, “The weather is not usually like this.” Between our different trips here we have spent something like twenty days in Antwerp. We have yet to see it rain, which it supposedly does all the time.
On the zip line at the park next to another castle. We biked there.
Changing topics again, this is the first post I have written in a long time that does not mention Peter. Except that now it does. We still miss him of course. I was moved to tears when the assistant pastor prayed at length about Peter’s life and testimony in the worship service on Sunday. The body of Christ shares both joys and sorrows. There are many in the church here, just as there were in California, who know sorrow deeply. We are not alone in that. Sharing communion, as we did Sunday, is a sharing in both the sorrow and joy of Christ.
I have been impressed with the church’s strengths: hospitality, friendship, evangelism, discipleship, diversity, and flexibility. These gifts are in the church from God, largely through the previous pastor and his wife, I believe. I am very pleased to have a very capable group of leaders to begin working with. They, along with the assistant pastor and some help from the interim pastor, have done well keeping the church moving forward in a year and a half without a full-time pastor.
As a pastor, these things I have heard make me happy and excited about the potential of the church:
“I want to be baptized.”
“I know the basics of the Bible, but I want to learn more.”
“I want more discipleship.”
“I want more training.”
“We are thinking of starting a Bible study in our home.”
“I’m ready to start another course on the basics of Christian faith if there are people who are ready.”
I am eager to begin baptizing, teaching, training, and leading.