Thursday, November 30, 2006

A spiritual journey back to Christ

I was born into a family that went to Church on Sundays and I can remember my mom reciting Christian lullabies to me at bed time. I also vaguely remember going to Sunday school and during the week I attended a Christian elementary school. All of this was literary within 1 block; the Church on one end, my home in the middle and the school on the other end.

When I was 7 years old my sister was born and shortly thereafter we moved to another village about 20 minutes away. We didn't go to Church there and I was going to a public elementary school so that was the end of my early-church-era. I was very fortunate though to be in a loving family with wonderful parents (mom and dad are still happily married for almost 38 years now) and my sister and even though we didn't go to Church we led a good, enriched and moral life. I have very fond memories of the five years we spent in that village and of all the wonderful time spent with my family and my friends.

At the age of 12 we moved back to city where I was born, but in a different part of town. I finished elementary school for the last few months and went on to high school, but all were public. I don't recall there were any Christian High Schools in our immediate area at that time. I ended up going to a school where my dads sister went to, about a 20 minute bike-ride away.

During my time in High School I started working at my dads photography shop on Saturdays to make some extra money. I was very lucky to be raised to value money since I had to earn most of it. I think it kinda planted a seed in me that you should spend your money wisely and I saved most of it for my hobbies, at that time mostly being music. I also remember a few visits from my mom's two aunts and uncles who were (and are still) living in Canada. Especially those visits started a fire in me to visit Canada once I had the means and opportunities.

In the mean-time, two of my uncles were truck drivers and the youngest (who is only 11 years older then I am and lived with us for two years after my Grandmas divorce) was pretty much my older brother. With him I started to explore the world from behind the high-up position of a semi. At that time I was living in the Netherlands and saw most of that country and most of Europe throughout the years of my numerous trips during my school vacations. That, combined with the family vacations to Italy, firmly planted the travel-bug in me.

Once I traveled through most of Europe and having English lessons in High School the fire to visit Canada became stronger and stronger. Finally at age 21 I took my first ( 5 week) trip and loved every minute of it. I visited Montreal, Toronto, New York and the lesser known city to people outside the Dutch community of Grand Rapids, MI. My 2nd cousin Chad was doings his Bachelors Degree at Calvin College and we (his Grandparents - my Grandma's older brother and his wife - and me) went to visit him for a camping trip to the Sleeping Bear Dunes while his Grandparents took the temporary dorm-supervisor role. What an awesome trip. I even felt 'reverse' homesick when I boarded the plane back to the Netherlands.

In 1997 I went back to Canada, this time for 8 weeks on a big transcontinental travel plan. Starting in Montreal, through Washington to the Tampa Bay area and from there to Seattle for a 2 week camping Van-tour of the Canadian Rockies followed by a Greyhound expedition from Vancouver to Toronto. Back in Ontario I visited Chad again since we had planned to goto Lake Placid in upstate New York. Unfortunately he was unable to make it due to a last-minute scheduling conflict, but a buddy of his, Joel was willing to go with me. At that point I had no idea how big of an impact that would have on my spiritual life later on, but we had a great time on a crazy trip.

As of 1998 (now out of college) I was able to go at least once a year to Canada and make good use of those wonderful opportunities. I met more and more people through both Chad and Joel and since both of them were Christians I also started to go to Church with them on the Sundays I was with them. That was pretty much the first time since a good 15 years that I went to Church other then for a wedding, funeral or photo-shoot (with my dad). Since both Joel and Chad are of Dutch decent they went to the CRCs (Christian Reformed Churches) which are usually pretty strict and resembled a service from what I remembered.

At that time it didn't do much for me, except looking back now, God was warming me up again to the idea of being a Christian. I pretty much lead a life of adhering to the 10 commandments and followed a course of abstinence, but was not going to Church other then when I was visiting my friends and family in Canada. However, every time I went to Church there was a period of reflection but after I got back to the Netherlands that period ended. It wasn't until late 2000 that another event in Gods master plan was being revealed to me.

In October 2000 I was fortunate to start a job for a Dutch subsidiary of Penske. Penske is a large US-based logistics and truck rental company and the opportunity to use my English, my education in IT Management and my familiarity with logistics was too good to pass on. It also opened the door for a more prolonged stay in North America other then the vacation-trips I was able to make and after 3 years, in July 2003 that was realized and I moved to Cleveland, OH. Since Canada was now only 4 hours away I made many more trips to my friends and family and rapidly developed a group of friends in the Toronto-area.

It was on one of those trips that Joel and I were going to meet his cousin Rodney and his friend (and landlord) Gary. Gary is a worship minister at a local Baptist Church. We went to a service at this Church and that was when I first got introduced to 'contemporary worship'. Until that time the only service-type I knew was in the sense of the 'Frozen Chosen' of the CRC, which is predominantly Dutch and very conservative. I was amazed by the use of such modern things as overhead projectors, full bands, complete studio-style mixing equipment...

Gary and I both come from an engineering background and both have a big interest in music. It was as God's master plan had completed another phase... I went back a few times afterwards and found that there were more Churches like the one Gary was working at. I was still a bit taken aback by it. I had no idea that this even existed. Unfortunately, to this day, it still doesn't in most Dutch Churches.

From that day I was getting more and more receptive of becoming a Christian again, but didn't have the drive to step out of my comfort-zone to take the plunge (funny, since I moved from Holland to the US without much of a fuzz...). I continued to hang-out with my Christian friends in Canada and continued to go to Church with them whenever I was there. However, every time I was back in Cleveland I missed the drive to search out for a Church and build a Christian family in Cleveland.

It wasn't until a few months ago that I realized why... My personal future was not going to be in Cleveland. God has a different plan in mind and first showed me a Church about 35 minutes away. This was a rather large congregation (2000+) and after only one service I realized that 2000+ would be a safe place to re-start my Christian life, but it wasn't what I was yearning for. God apparently agreed and through one of his children showed me a House Church in Canton, OH. After a few visits it became very clear to me that this was the place that God had in mind all along for me. It is the end-station in finding a Christian Family and the start of my new life as an adult Christian.

It's been about 2 months now that I've been going to this House Church and some very important steps in my walk with Christ have happened. I re-learned the meaning the fellowship and more importantly I got baptized in front of the congregation. The baptism was a very powerful act, but is nothing more than an act. It is the process that preceded the baptism (this whole story) and the comforts I hope to enjoy in my walk with Christ and my fellow Christian Family. This past week I was fortunate to facilitate a theological exercise (the term is big word for a group-discussion in a Church setting) on 'Forgiveness' and it was a bit daunting for me when I agreed to do it, but again with the help of my Christian Family I hope to enjoy many more of these discussion to continue to grow closer to God and being a better servant for His Purpose!

It has also taught me that I was right in feeling an emptiness in my life. I had a lot of earthly possessions, a comfortable life through a good job and a body of friends (albeit too far away for any true spiritual guidance). I have since learned that even though being responsible with money is a deed that is appreciated by God (see Matthew 25), but it is but only a small part. Becoming a Christian means to me that my life no longer centers around my earthly desires, but it should instead by focussed on becoming more Christ-like since John 14:6 tells us that "Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (TNIV). We cannot take our earthly belongings into heaven, only our love for Jesus. Fortunately, that is exactly what is needed to enter the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

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