Europe on my Mind

Unless something unexpected comes up, 2015 will be the first calendar year since 1999 that I won’t set foot on European soil. I’m a little bit sad about that, but I’ve also accepted it as just a part of moving on with my life. It’s good and healthy that I spend less time and energy on Europe and in Europe.

What’s weird is that I feel like Europe has been imposing itself on me lately — reminding me that I may never become fully disentangled from that part of the world, regardless of geographic considerations.

First it was an e-mail soliciting prayer for an old friend who’s just discovered she has a brain tumor (and when I say “old friend” I mean a friendship that is relatively old, though the person happens to be relatively young). She was one of the first people baptized within the Zolder50 / Amsterdam50 community, and she became one of the charter members of the Raad that we established to put young Europeans at the forefront of our church’s leadership consciousness. Now she’s undergoing treatment at the hospital on campus at the Vrije Universiteit, which happens to be the very same university where she helped us to establish a ministry presence. She has indeed been in my thoughts and prayers lately. And not just her, but actually all of the ministry relationships that were established during our Amsterdam years — now another decade older and advancing through all the complexities of building careers, having children, fighting diseases, and observing departures. Europe has been on my mind a lot in these first couple weeks of 2015.

It’s not all heavy, serious stuff, though. Another piece of correspondence this week highlighted a vacation cottage for sale in Normandy. Our family spent two delightful weeks there, in Berville-sur-Mer, towards the end of our last full summer in Europe; consequently, we happened to be on the electronic mailing list maintained by the retired couple who had owned and managed the cottages, partitioned from an old stone barn. Now that they were looking to fully retire and divest themselves of the cottages, one could be ours for just €110,000. Never mind the fact that this wouldn’t be very practical for us. The details haven’t stopped me from thinking about the croissants from that village bakery… the slow parade through the ancient church graveyard to commemorate the annual Fête des Marins… splatting stones into the tidal mudflats of the Seine where it empties itself into the North Sea… shopping for fresh artichokes from the street market in a nearby town… exhausting ourselves on the long walk over the causeway to the Mont Saint Michel…

Even though I have left Europe, Europe will not leave me.

I don’t want to forget Europe. I don’t want to lose that part of me. Some of this month’s stirrings are directly-related to some current writing projects — so I can’t pretend like this is all just happening to me. I’m a player in the process. Still it feels like there might be something more significant, maybe even supernatural, pulling my thoughts back to Europe in this first week of the year in which I won’t be visiting Europe at all. I’m curious to think what God might have to say to me on this topic.

When I pulled out an old book given to me a couple of years back — Frederick Buechner’s Speak What We Feel (Not What We Ought to Say): Reflections on Literature and Faith — it seemed like it would be a good stimulus in my ongoing efforts to establish a rhythm and environment for writing. Granted, the book had been given to me during my Amsterdam years — and by an American missionary friend at that — still I didn’t expect it would have anything special to say about Europe. Inside the front cover of the book, however, there were a few pages of photocopied material from an old pamphlet: “World Mission Associates // Reflections on the American Missionary Presence in Western Europe // By Dr. Arthur F. Glasser // Revised Edition March 1986.” I honestly don’t remember how the book and the photocopied pamphlet came together, but then again my friend Bob was always providing fresh fodder for thought. Maybe once a month, he’d bring me a small stack of books and say in his lilting, lisping cadence: “I think you should read this, Eric.” (What a gift Bob was to me then. And now).

If I had read the pamphlet back then, when it had first been given to me, I was probably too close to the situation to see myself in the writing. Now, however, I totally appreciate this window into God’s work in Europe by way of (or sometimes in spite of) American missionaries. The writer presents “three distinct types of American ministry in Europe today” — and I completely resonated with all three, for better, for worse. I thought, “This is really good stuff! This is a conversation that we still need to be having about European missions!” Unfortunately, given the age and relative obscurity of the pamphlet (produced in the mid 1980s by a smaller mission agency), sharing this piece is not as easy as just posting a link with my recommendation.

Consequently, I want to post a freshly-typed version of this piece in serial form over the next few days. I want to do this largely for the sake of my own record and reflection, but I hope and pray it might also be a blessing for others if I bring this resource into the Digital Age. For my friends and readers who are already actively involved in advancing the cause of Christ in Europe, I hope this series might be a helpful mirror into your ministry reflection (as it has been for me). For my friends and readers who are thinking about becoming more active in European missions sometime in the future, I hope this series might stimulate and steer your planning, prayer, and preparation. And for those who fall into neither of these categories, I hope this series will catalyze greater consideration for European missions.

God is moving and working in Europe! I’m just as convinced of this fact now as I was during the years that I lived there on the Continent. I’m also convinced that Americans have a role to play in Europe. I just hope we can think more critically about why, how, and whom we send to participate in this highly-strategic endeavor.

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