DAY 4 Arnhem
Relaxed and comfortable in the home and company of Floor and Ada, today affords us the opportunity of a travel free day. The morning is spent writing and responding to those emails that demand some attention. Leisurely meals, stimulating conversation and the ease, enjoyment and encouragement comes through the gift of friendship and Community is something to be immensely thankful to God for. After a morning looking at the screen on my laptop it was good to go for a walk down into the city after lunch and see the familiar sight of many bikes and also the amazing new Arnhem station that has taken over a decade to complete but is now one of the most amazing railway, coach and bus stations in the world.
We were delighted on our walk to view from the outside, a building that is being purchased by some Christians, some of whom are now connecting strongly with us in the Northumbria Community, to establish a ‘city cloister’. A place that offers a ‘sacred place’ in the midst of the city; a place of hospitality, prayer and contemplation, meeting and sharing. A home where some families and individuals will live and form a rhythm of life that exists for the welfare of the city and a sign of contemplation in a world of action.
In the evening a group of people gather from the city and surrounding area to hear more about the Northumbria Community. The Community Group here, that was established many years ago, has waxed and waned but there is clearly a renaissance of interest and engagement with the Community now. It never ceases to amaze me how God continues to use the Community to bring life and meaning, coherence and a sense of belonging to so many people from so many diverse backgrounds of life and faith experiences. The sense of people, ‘coming home’ is a remarkable thing to witness.
Yet again seeing the impact of people engaging and encountering our liturgies, on this occasion, the Evening Office, was a joy to behold. And you also get those little ‘God moments’ that bring a smile to your face and an assurance in your heart. In order to both share the Office and ‘model’a way of praying for one another and the world, I had brought our Prayer Pot from our home in Wooler. About 150 slips of paper in a mug and the first slip that was pulled out had the names of Floor and Ada Vogelaar, our hosts that evening! The second slip contained the names of an older couple who I had thought we might have popped in to see on our way down to Margate as we travelled south last Sunday. Time did not allow but I have been mindful of them and was so encouraged to see their names coming out of the prayer pot and praying for them. The third, the last slip bore the name Lina, pulled out by one of our guests that evening who knew her. Lina is a close friend and strongly connected with the Community. Now married, she is living in Scotland but was known to the lady who picked the slip from the prayer pot, when they met in Prague, when Lina was a lecturer and Ingeborg was a student visiting the seminary. As we prayed for the world, we passed round the glass globe of the world that I was given by the seminary as a mark of appreciation for the partnership that we has a Community shared with IBTS, (the International Baptist Theological Seminary). Sadly the seminary, primarily for economic reasons, had to move from Prague and is a considerably smaller venture, now located in Amsterdam. These little moments can appear as nothing more than coincidence but to those who have eyes to see, they are gifts of God and hints of his presence. I encouraged people as the globe was passed round to simply name a place, people or nation in the world. It was moving to hear people express the nations that were on their heart to pray for. It was wonderful to link up with Frans, a friend of the Community, who for many years with his wife and family worked in Egypt. It was there that he learned Arabic and now back home In Arnhem, he is spending so much of his time working with the many Syrian refugees that the Netherlands have welcomed and are supporting. In this city alone there are over 3000 refugees from Syria and Afghanistan. Again, our paltry response in Britain to the refugee crisis shames us and gains us no friends across Europe, only those parties that are racist and sectarian in their attitudes and policies bathes in self interest and nationalist tendencies.
The heart of hospitality expressed so beautifully by Ada and Floor provided the context where people, many of whom came not knowing many others, arriving at strangers but going home as friends. What we have experienced on this trip in every home has been ‘hospitality of the heart’ where we have not so much been entertained but welcomed and honoured and where a true meeting of hearts and an enriching of humanity has been allowed to flourish.