Wednesday, 14 September 2016

I'm in the USA - The first days

As I've been in the USA for 4 days now, I thought it's time that I share some of my experiences with you. I arrived last Thursday after travelling for about 27 hours. The flight was actually not too bad. In fact, I was positively surprised by the legroom I had during my flight from London to Charlotte. The only bit of the journey I didn't enjoy was the last leg from Charlotte to Florence. It was in a small propellor plane and it was very hot inside. What made it worse was that before the flight, the staff made an announcement that the plane needed to be refuelled before we could board the plane. The fuel car came, stood there for 20 minutes and then left without having done anything. I thought that they were going to get another fuel car, but instead we were told the plane was now ready for boarding. Now, I may be overreacting here, but when you say the plane needs refuelling and no fuel goes into the plane, I get a little bit worried. I boarded the plane anyways, hoping that there would be a dial in the cockpit to let the pilot know whether there was enough fuel there. Nothing happened and the plane took off. Apart from the heat, the flight was fine..... until we were approaching Florence. The engine suddenly seemed to lose power and the plane lost speed and altitude. And I was sitting there thinking: Oh no, we're going to crash! I'm going to die! Seriously, I have rarely been this scared. Fortunately, it turned out that this is just how these type of planes land. When I had collected my suitcase, I was picked up by a lady from the OM staff who first took me to a drive through to get me some food. It was good she was there to help me order, because I have no idea what they said. With the salad for example, I picked blue cheese, not because it's my favourite but simply because that was the only one I could understand. I was dropped off at my apartment where I settled myself down and had my dinner before going to bed. Although I was completely shattered, I still woke up just after midnight, which was annoying because I didn't have to be at the office before lunchtime the next day. So I tried, not very successfully, to get back to sleep. This wasn't easy, as I completely misunderstood how the airconditioning worked. I only found out in the morning that dial on the airconditioning is not to regulate how fast the airconditioning is blowing, but what I want the temperature to be.

So, Friday was my first full day in Florence. I had the morning off and went to the office at lunchtime to join the team for lunch and for orientation. I was shown around the building, introduced to the other STEP'ers (that's how the short-termers are called here), and reminded of some of the rules within OM. I then had to do a quick driving test, so I could use the OM cars when I need one (which is pretty much everytime I need to go anywhere, apart from going to OM. In the evening, I joined the other STEP'ers for dinner at a place called Cook Out, where they have burgers and milkshakes in all sorts of weird flavours like peanut butter-banana. We had a really good time there. The burger was okay and my milkshake (cheesecake flavour) was decent. Afterwards, we took a short detour to downtown Florence to see what that was like. Then it was time to go back home and to bed, because the next day would be a busy day.

Saturday morning, at 7 am we left to go to Carowinds, a theme park on the border of North and South Carolina. Yes, it's located in both states and as a result, to ticket fee includes VAT for both North Carolina and South Carolina. This was also the first time I got introduced to some genuine Southern food. On the way to Carowinds, we had breakfast at Bojangles. I had a cajun chicken fillet biscuit. The biscuit is actually not a biscuit but more a scone, but without the jam and cream. I like it! Once we are at the park, we went straight for the big one: Fury 325. Depending on what definition you use for a rollercoaster, this is the tallest, third tallest or 4th tallest collercoaster in the world. To clarify, it is the tallest rollercoaster in the world that has a chain lift hill and runs a complete circuit. Two others are higher, but don't have a chain lift hill but instead or launched and another one is higher but doesn't run a closed circuit. Anyways, with it's 325 ft (or 99 m in SI units) it's properly high. And it's really good fun. The plan was to go on all rollercoasters in the park, and I would have done it if I didn't get sick on one of the rollercoasters we did. I think it was the third one and it was so bad that I had to skip the next 4. The rollercoaster in question was Nighthawk. In this rollercoaster, the seat is tilted backwards, so you lie flat in your back. Then the train is lifted backwards to the top of the hill where the train flips over so you are literally hanging off your seat facing downwards, as if you're flying. Because at several you switch from the hanging off your seat position to lying on your back position and back again, it was very disorientating and I will never go on that one again. Apart from that, we had a great day and it was good to spend time with the other STEP'ers. On our way home, we had dinner at another Southern culinary landmark: Waffle House. It was here that I tried grits for the first time. I didn't like it. The rest of my meal (which was actually a breakfast) was good, especially the waffle.

On Sunday, we went to Church (of course). I went with 3 others to a church called The Church at Sandhurst. It was a good service. The preacher was good and he preached on the importance of relationships for Christians. After church, we went to an all you an eat Chinese place, which here is a bargain. For less than $7 you can go on and stuff your face. In The Netherlands, you have to pay around 25 euros and you only have 2 hours. However, we couldn't really stuff our faces, because we were also invited by our team leader to come to his house for ice cream.

Monday was my first proper day at work. The day starts at 8.30 AM with a prayer meeting and we start working at 9 AM. I'm working in the sorting area. Here the books come in from publishers across the country. These are usually books that haven't been sold. When they come in, a couple of people will sort the books according to the last digit of the ISBN number. Other people will then take the books and sort them by title and then there are people who put them in boxes and label them. That's what I do. Yes, it's pretty much the same job I did for more than 4 years back home. They probably read my application form and must have thought that with my experience, I was the best person for it. Later on, someone will take these boxes and put them in the warehouse and entered into the system so people can order them. We work till 5 PM with an hour long lunch break at 12. After work I invited the other STEP'ers to come over for dinner before heading to the cinema to see Pete's Dragon.

Work on Tuesday was the same as on Monday. During lunch break, we celebrated all the August and September birthdays, which unfortunately includes mine as well. There was a live Skype link with Hans van Baaren, the director of the Florence base, who is currently home in The Netherlands. After work, I went to the gym for some excercise. You may be surprised, but going to the gym is pretty much the only choice you have if you want some excercise. Going for a walk or cycling here is pretty much suicide here. Anyways, it was nice to work out a bit.

Well, that's all for now. Anyways, I almost have to go to work again.


Friday, 29 April 2016

Dinner at Wynwood Eindhoven

Yesterday I had dinner at Wynwood, a restaurant in Strijp-S area in Eindhoven, with the Social Dining Group I joined a few months ago. I've heard great reviews about it and they have been mentioned as a candidate for a Michelin star, despite being in business for less than a year. So this was a place I have wanted to try for a while now.

When I arrived, there were already 2 others there. We were shown to our table at the back of the restaurant. On the table next to us, there was a somewhat interesting company of one guy accompanied by a group of attractive young ladies, while near our table the new Maserati Quattroporte was on display, while outside a group of people were re-enacting a scene from some Quentin Tarantino film. While we were waiting for the others to arrive, we started with some drinks. When we were all their, a waitress explained the menu to us. They were serving a surprise menu and we could choose between 3 to 9 courses. As the dishes would be small, we were recommend to take more than the minimum of 3 courses. Most of us, including myself, went for 5 courses while 2 of us went for 4 courses. With that settled, it was time to enjoy the dinner.

We started with 2 amuses from the house. One was a mousse of asparagus with herring caviar and mini shrimps. The other amuse was a cracker of Parmesan cheese. I might have eaten it in the wrong order by taking the cracker first, which was so salty that my taste buds were numbed and I didn't really taste anything when I had the asparagus mousse.
After the amuses, it was time for the first course. Before I start, I have to admit that the dishes were quite complex, as one would expect from an establishment at this standard, so I can't guarantee that I've remembered everything correctly when I'm describing the dishes, so I apologise for that in advance. Having said that, let's go.

The first course was tuna in two ways, raw and seared, with different textures of cucumber, a marshmallow of Tom Kha Kai and a courgette flower. Normally, I don't like fish and this is the reason I always go for the surprise menu when I have the chance. Let me explain. I don't like fish because I can't cook it properly. When I cook fish it tastes horribly, and based on that experience, I would never order fish from a menu. But I also know from experience that fish, when cooked properly and able chef, is absolutely delicious. So, when I go for the surprise menu, I can just sit back and enjoy whatever the chef comes up with and so far, it's always been good. The tuna pieces were coated in some crispy stuff, which gave it a nice combination of textures. The different textures of cucumber added a refreshing note to the dish, making it a pleasant combination. A good start to our dinner, I would say.

The second course was a soup of king prawn, with a king prawn dumpling and fennel. Although still nice, I have to say that this was my least favourite dish of the evening. The soup was too strong for my taste and the fennel, which I assume was there to balance it, didn't have the chance to do it's job. The soup was just too overpowering.

The third course was only served to those who had the 5 course option. This was a leg of quail with asparagus and some other interesting stuff which I can't remember now. There were some dots of green stuff and white stuff. Yeah, I know I will need some more practice before I can make a living out of being a restaurant critic. I should probably start paying more attention when the waitress is explaining the dish. But I did remember the most important thing. It was very nice.

At the fourth course, the people who chose the 4 course menu were back in again. This was black grouse with asparagus (yes, it's asparagus season here), a crisp of grouse with red wine sauce and again some interesting blobs on the plate that I don't remember what it is anymore. Once again, it was very tasty. I liked the crispy stuff. I never had grouse before. I looked it up on the internet and it looks like a sort of chicken. I like it very much.

The fifth and final course was the dessert. For me, desserts are the highlight of any dinner. It was various preparations of honey and lime, with several textures of ginger and white chocolate. It was very nice. Normally, when I have dessert at home, it's sweet on sweet, so not very exciting. Here we had the sweet of the honey and white chocolate, with a tanginess of the lime and a slight heat of the ginger, which was an interesting and very nice combination.

With the dessert done, it was the end of our dinner. After a cup of coffee or tea, it was time to say goodbye and to go home. I really enjoyed this evening. The food was delicious and the company was great. The restaurant, although the food was of a very high standard, was very accessible. There's a certain buzz which you wouldn't find in more traditional fine dining establishments. At Wynwood, nobody would blink an eye if you came to dinner in jeans and shirt. What I also liked was the open kitchen, on which I had a good view. It was nice to see how the kitchen was working. It's kind of reassuring to know that your food is actually prepared freshly and not microwaved. All in all, it was a great evening and I can definitely recommend it to everybody. And the prices are very reasonable too. You pay 9 euros per course. In total, I paid 60 euros including drinks, which I think is reasonable at this level.

So, that's it and I'm already looking forward to the next dinner.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Goodbye, granny

I had been expecting this phone call for a week now. Last Saturday, I left halfway through the monthly practice of my church's worship team to see my grandma, who was nearing the end of her battle with stomach cancer. I got a call that she was very weak and could go very soon. I went there, spent some time with her to say goodbye and to pray with her. I hung around for a bit and then went home again. I had said goodbye and felt I could let her go now. I was now waiting for the phone call to let me know she's gone.

Fast forward to today. I had just finished work and was at home cooking dinner. I had almost finished cooking, when the phone went again. It was my brother. "You need to come immediately. Granny is about to die. The doctor is here." I finished off cooking, put everything on a plate and in the microwave to keep it warm. Then I got on my bike and rushed to my grandma's place. When I arrived, I went to her bedroom where she was surrounded by her children and grandchildren. I joined them around the bed and took the opportunity to pray for her. 5 minutes later after I arrived, she breathed her last breath and went home to be with Jesus.

It was good to see that she died peacefully and didn't suffer. It is also a great comfort to know that she knows Jesus and trusted in Him for her salvation. I know she is with Him now and enjoying all the good things He has to offer her. I also know that one day, I will join her and sing praises to God with her. In moments like these, it's easy to be sad and mournful and it's appropriate to be sad and mournful. But I'm also thankful. I'm thankful for the 85 years God has given her. I'm thankful for the children she mothered, and her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I am thankful for the 37 years, that she was my grandmother. I am thankful for the good times we shared together, and thankful for what I've learned from the not so good times. There is so much more to be thankful for than there is to be mourning for. Yes, I will be mourning her death, but above all, I will give thanks for, and celebrate her life.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Canada 2015 - Day 0

I was planning to write this last night, but by the time I finally found the B&B in Toronto, I was so shattered that I couldn't be bothered anymore. So, that's why I'm here, sitting in the lounge of my B&B at 7.20 in the morning.

So, back to yesterday. I've been looking forward to this trip for a few months now. It's my first proper holiday in many years and my first time on this side of the Atlantic. Normally when I go on a trip, I would start packing about 15 minutes before leaving. My reasoning is that everything I haven't packed within 15 minutes is either not necessary or something I could easily buy there. For this trip, I started packing 3 days in advance. That's how excited I was.

So, after having breakfast and a quick check to see if everything was switched off, I left for the bus to the station and from there to Schiphol Airport. Once arrived at the airport, I was told the flight was delayed by 2 hours, and as I arrived at the airport 3 hours before departure as recommended, I was in for a long wait. Finally, aroung 4.30 pm we were ready to board the plane. The flight was pretty uneventful. The most thrilling part was probably trying to eat dinner without spilling it all over the place. The seats were not exactly of the standard I expected for long haul flights. Trust me, you have wider seats and more legroom on Ryanair. Anyways, 8 hours later we arrived in Toronto. While waiting in line at immigration, I could see that the immigration officer in my line was a pleasant man. He was friendly, greeted everybody cheerfully, smiled a lot and had what seemed to be a nice chat with everybody. That was until it was my turn. His cheery smile disappeared and without saying a word, he grabbed my passport, looked intensely at my face and the photo and then started to interrogate me. Where do you come from? What are you here for? Where are you staying? With who are you staying? What is your friend doing for a job? What are you doing for a job? Does your boss know you're here? Are you going back? When? Finally he stamped my passport and said: "Have a good day, sir. Welcome to Canada". I was finally in. From there, it should be an hour before I got to the B&B. I just needed to take a bus into Toronto and another bus from there, followed by a short walk. Easy. Well, not really. First I had to find the bus station at the airport. There were signs pointing me to the buses, but at some point, those signs just disappeared. There were signs for everything else, but not for buses. When I finally found the bus, it got stuck in traffic. It was 9.30 pm on a Tuesday evening an it was as busy as full peak hour traffic in Europe. We literally moved a few feet per minute. When we finally got to the stop where I had to change, the problems weren't over yet. I was waiting there for the next bus to come, but it didn't. The annoying thing about Toronto bus stops is that none of them have a timetable or show which buses run there. What I also didn't know that when you're talking about something like Yonge and Sheppard, it's not just a bus stop but a junction and every bus stop near that junction is referred to that junction. So, while I was patiently waiting at Yonge and Sheppard for my ongoing bus, I was unaware that just around the corner there was another Yonge and Sheppard bus stop and that's the one I needed. When I finally got on that bus, I had good hopes I would be there soon. And I would have been if the driver didn't ignore my stop calls twice and finally stopped two stops after the one I needed. So now I had to trace back two stops, which wasn't that easy. It was dark and I didn't really pay attention in the bus. And I also get the impression that they don't believe in streetname signs here. But finally, at 11.15 pm (my flight landed at 7.00 pm) I finally arrived at my B&B.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Songwatch: Jesus, I my cross have taken - Indelible Grace (music by Bill Moore)

Time for another instalment in my Songwatch series. As I said in my first post in this series, I'd like to use this opportunity to highlight some of the songs I use in my personal worship time that aren't as widely sung as songs from the usual big names. This time, I'd like to introduce you to a modern rendition of Henry Francis Lyte's "Jesus, I my cross have taken" by Indelible Grace.

Indelible Grace is not so much a label as it is a group of Christian artist who put new tunes to old hymns. I have only in the last few years gained an appreciation for the theological richness of these hymns. What I like about them is that they are biblical and do not shy away from the difficult and painful stuff. 'Jesus, I my cross have taken' is a good example of this.

Jesus, I my cross have taken is a song about the cost of following Jesus, but also about the joy of following Jesus. The first line: "Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee" refers to passages such as Luke 9:23, where Jesus says that whoever wants to be His disciple "must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me". Each verse speaks about the cost of discipleship. It speaks about taking up our cross, being despised and left by the world, as Jesus Himself was despised and left. But, it's also a song of hope and joy. The song has 6 verses and each the first 4 verses begin with the cost, which following Jesus involves, but each of these verses end on a high. Take for example the first verse:

"Perish every fond ambition
All I've sought or hoped or known
Yet how rich is my condition!
God and heaven are still my own"

I believe this song is really valuable for the Church today. In today's consumerist society, we tend to fix our attention to all the nice bits, but forget the pain it involves. The Church is sadly following suit. It talks about God's love, grace and forgiveness, but it often fails to teach people about sin and the devastating effects of it. It fails to teach that following Jesus means leaving those selfish sins behind and take up our cross and follow Him. That transition from selfish ambition to follow Jesus is hard and painful. But, the joy of following Jesus goes beyond anything.

The final two verses are in my view the highlight of the song. It describes the joy and reward of being a disciple of Jesus:

Verse 5
"Soul, then know thy full salvation
Rise o'er sin and fear and care
Joy to find in every station,
Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee
Think what Father's smiles are thine
Think that Jesus died to win thee
Child of heaven, canst thou repine"

And finally verse 6:

"Haste thee on from grace to glory
Armed by faith, and winged by prayer
Heaven's eternal days before thee
God's own hand shall guide us there
Soon shall close thy earthly mission
Soon shall pass they pilgrim days
Hope shall change to glad fruition
Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.

As a final note, this song is a very ambitious prayer. As sinful humans, we are unable to fully live out this prayer. That's why I find verse 5 so encouraging. "Soul, then know they full salvation" and then the second part of the verse: "Think that Jesus died to win thee. Child of heaven, canst thou repine". Jesus died on the cross to win us. We cannot live out this prayer in our own strength, but Jesus already did that in our place and died in our place for failing.

OK, that's enough talk from me. I'm sure you want to hear the song now, so here it is:

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Songwatch: Shine into our night - Sovereign Grace

As a worship leader at my church, one of the things I like to do is look out for new songs. Of course I follow the usual household names like Chris Tomlin, Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, and big labels like Hillsong, Bethel, Soul Survivor, etc, but I'm also interested in the smaller, less well known labels: Indelible Grace, Red Mountain, Sovereign Grace, Page CXVI and things like that. They don't get as much attention as the larger names, at least not on this side of the Atlantic, but they have some really good stuff that I think is well worth including in our worship repertoire. So, I thought I would use this blog to introduce some of these songs and hopefully people will pick up some of these songs and use them either in their own churches or at home. I know that with an average of about 60 readers, this blog doesn't have the largest of audiences, but hey, you might be worship leader yourself, looking for some new songs to introduce to your church...

This time, I'd like to introduce "Shine into our night" by Sovereign Grace. Sovereign Grace is a name that may not be very well known here, but most of you will know "Before the throne of God above", which also comes from them. I learned this song a couple of months ago during the WorshipGodUK conference in Bath and I have since then used it regularly in my own personal quiet times as a song of confession. The first verse describes our sinful nature before God. It's a confession that we are not what God intended us to be. We are created in the image of God, but that image has been stained by sin:

"We are not what we should be
We haven't sought what we should seek
We've seen your glory Lord, but looked away
Our hearts are bent, our eyes our dim
Our finest works are stained with sin
And emptiness has shadowed all our ways"

The chorus that follows is an awesome prayer for God to shine into that darkness of our sin and let his glory fills our eyes

"Jesus Christ, shine into our night
Drive our dark away till your glory fills our eyes
Jesus Christ, shine into our night
Bind us to your cross, where we find life"

It always amazes me how generous God is in forgiving. Whatever we've done, we can always come back to God. This is what the second verse says:

"Still we often go astray
We chase the world, forget your grace
But You have never failed to bring us back
Reveal the depth of what You've done
The death You died, the victory won
You've made a way for us to know your love"

I find this really comforting, knowing that God never fails to bring me back to Him. As I said, this song has become one of my regulars when I'm spending time with God and especially in the context of confession. I just love the chorus, because it's such a beautiful prayer to ask God to shine into our night.

So, without further ado, here's a youtube clip of that song. Enjoy.

Monday, 31 August 2015

An amazing time with God.

As I'm writing this, I've just had an amazing time with God. No, it was not at church or with friends and I haven't just come back from some amazing Christian conference. No, it was just me and God in my lounge.

I have to confess something. I'm pretty rubbish when it comes to prayer and Bible reading. I can go through months without actually opening my Bible for private Bible reading. Yes, I will read the Bible when preparing for my youth group or preparing to lead worship in church, but that's all. My prayers are usually limited to "Thank you Lord for this day. Amen" and then go to sleep. It's not that I don't want to, but somehow, something is keeping me from spending time with God.

But tonight, I somehow felt it was time to spend time with God. I wasn't planning on it at all. I was just watching TV. I just finished watching an episode of the Great British Menu and was flipping through some channels to see what was on, when I suddenly got the urge to just turn off the TV and open my Bible and read. I have a Bible in a year schedule, which I printed off at the beginning of the year. I think I got stuck at 6 January, so now I'm just picking it up at 1 September. I started with a simple prayer asking God to open my eyes and ears to His Word and help me understand it and then read it. After reading it, I picked up my guitar and started worshipping. I just went through some songs that remind me of who Jesus is and what He's done for me. I then put my guitar down and starting praying. I wasn't praying for anything in particular. I just wanted to thank God for everything He's done for me and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill me. And you know, for the first time in probably years, I really sensed God's presence. I walked around me room praising God, went down on my knees in submission to the King of all kings (something I never do) and lied down on my couch, just enjoying God's presence. After that, I picked up my guitar again and started strumming some random chords and just started to sing the amazing truths about God, how He sent his Son Jesus to die for my sins and rose from the dead. How His peace, that passes all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Jesus. How His grace is enough and that His power is revealed in my weakness.

If it sounds like I'm boasting myself and how spiritual I am, I'm not. I'm boasting about Jesus. I wasn't planning on doing this tonight. If it was up to me, I would have kept on watching TV. I just felt an urge to spend time with God and I'm glad I did. As you've read in my previous blog, I came home from New Wine a bit disappointed, as I haven't felt God there as I hoped. Yes, I know He was there and was at work in me, but I didn't feel Him. I was also reminded that feelings can mislead you. I know for a fact that God loves me and Jesus died on the cross for me. My salvation is completely external from my emotions. It's based on Jesus dying on the cross and His resurrection and my feelings won't change that. But tonight, after spending this time with God, reading the Bible, praying and worshipping, I really feel refreshed.

I've learnt that God does things in his own time. I expected this to happen at New Wine. In my opinion, everything was there to give me an amazing experience of God's love and power. There were loads of people praying for me, but I didn't feel anything. I didn't experience God's presence. But tonight I did. At home, on my own. Just me and God. I think we had a great time together. I'm looking forward to our next appointment. (Just kidding, I'm His child. I don't need an appointment.)