The last week of January 2003 was a cosmic week in my memory — a week of miracles and transformations and shock. Looking back, three years later, I can hardly believe that so much happened in such a short period of time. Like a wedding or a birth or a death, the recollection of that fateful week is a montage of disparate images — blurred emotion more than chronological record — and yet it is the recollection of an event that was truly significant, that trancends historical documentary. This week marks the three-year anniversary of our family’s move to Amsterdam.
In the third week of January 2003, we were still waiting (after almost half a year) for the sale of our house in Bowling Green. We were still sharing the story of the “Amsterdam Project” with anyone and everyone who would listen, hoping to build a base of financial support that would allow us to focus on full-time ministry in the Netherlands. And we were still wondering if we’d ever actually be boarding a plane across the Atlantic, to help build a new community of faith in central Amsterdam…
Yet by the first week of February 2003, our American automobiles were in other people’s garages and our winter coats were in a shipping crate on an Atlantic oceanliner, while we were struggling through icy winds to frigid tram stops. We had set a fresh bouquet of Dutch tulips on our make-shift dining room table that overlooked the wood pile and the power tools serving as accessories to the semi-furnished apartment beneath what would one day become “The Zolder.” And we were meticulously working to decipher the application forms for our verblijfsvergunningen (residence permits) — providing us with a critical indicator that we were in for more than just a vacation in Europe.
In that week between — exactly three years ago from this week — we witnessed the cosmic alignment of three stars in the simultaneous sale of our house, attainment of our financial support goals, and finalization (and execution) of our travel arrangements. Consequently that “week between” — exactly three years ago from this week — represented a dramatic turn in our path that has caused us to navigate not by sight, not by sound, but by spirit.
After three years of adjustment and acclimation, we still feel a bit disoriented at times — socially awkward, misunderstood, lost. We still miss our native land — back yards, long drives, Superbowls. We still yearn for the familiarity of our old stomping grounds, our family, our old friends… Three years is a long time to live thousands of kilometers away from the sphere of existence that defined the first quarter-century of my life.
Yet after three years of adjustment and acclimation, we’ve also learned our way — gained self-assurance, a sense of direction, a new language. We’ve learned to love Holland — gently-misted bicycle rides, evergreen flatlands salted with sheep, three kisses cheek-to-cheek. We’ve found new familiarity in the hidden corners of Amsterdam, a beautifully blossoming church, an ever-widening and ever-deepening circle of friends.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years. Nevertheless, the fact was confirmed with a roomful of friends in our home this past Wednesday. To commemorate the three-year anniversary of our family’s cosmic week, our home group from Zolder50 “surprised” us with party masks, heartfelt words of encouragement, and three home-made cardboard signs, pronouncing “Fijn dat jullie er zijn” (“Glad that you guys are here”)… And we could simply utter three words in response — to our friends and to our God who carried us here — “Dank u wel” (“Thank you much”).