Friday, 14 July 2017

A morning at the hospital

It's been a while when I was last in a hospital as a patient. I believe it was in Brighton just after I came back with a shoulder injury I incurred at a Christian youth camp about 8 years ago. I'm not a big fan of hospitals so when I had to go again today, I wasn't very excited.

For a week now, I've had a painful spot on my back. First it looked like a mosquito bite. It itched and the annoying thing was that it was right there where the top edge of the trousers is. The constant rubbing was very painful. I covered it up to relieve the friction and even bought a pair of sweatpants, so I had something to wear that was more comfortable, and expected it too disappear. It didn't. Instead, yesterday I noticed a red/brown liquid flowing out of it and then I decided it might be good idea to see a doctor about this. I made an appointment using my GP practice's appointments tool on their website, I made an appointment for this morning as early as possible. That way, I could see the GP, get the necessary treatment and head to work for 12 pm. When the GP called me in and saw the spot, he was properly impressed and immediately said this was something that needed to be treated at a hospital and may involve surgery. He cleaned the wound and called the hospital in Veldhoven to ask whether I should go to the A&E or the main hospital. In the end, I was sent to the A&E. The GP warned me that I might have to go under general anaesthetics so I shouldn't eat or drink anything from now on. Great! I haven't had my breakfast yet and now I'm told I can't eat anything. With that, I went back home, made some phone calls to arrange transport, packed a bag with a change of clothes in case I needed to stay overnight and made my way to the A&E of Maxima Medical Centre in Veldhoven, a 10 minute bus ride my where I live.

When I arrived at the hospital, I checked in, was given a wristband with my name and date of birth on it - I almost felt like I was at a festival, - and took my place in the waiting room. First I was called my a nurse, who took my temperature, bloodpressure and heartbeat and asked me to explain why I was here. Then an A&E doctor came in and asked me what happened and asked me to show the wound. He looked at it, and poked at it, like doctors usually do. He took a picture of it and went of to show it to a colleague. When he came back, he showed me the photo he took. It was the first time I saw the wound. It didn't look pretty. It looked like an open crater with lots of nasty stuff in it. No surprise that it didn't feel good. Anyways, he explained that it was a pressure ulcer which has gone open and the infection has started to spread. He said they needed to make an echo to determine how deep the infection has spread and whether it could be treated with a course of antibiotics or whether it needed surgical treatment. I was brought to the radiology department where I was welcomed by two, I have to say, very attractive young ladies. The asked me what happened and then the radiologist came in and did his thing, of course after he asked me what happened. Come on! to how many people to I have to explain what happened? After the echo, I was escorted back to the A&E by another nurse, who of course asked me what happened. Back in room 3 of A&E, I was now waiting for the results of the echo. That took quite a while but in the end, a different doctor came in and I had to tell the whole story again. He too, asked me to show the wound and started poking at it. He was poking it considerably harder than the first doctor and he was actually hurting me. Then he said he was going to get some stuff and off he went. A few minutes later, he came back with a bowl, a surgical drape and other scary looking stuff, and I thought "oh no, this is going to hurt". He said he was going to cut away the infected tissue. I asked him whether would get any anaesthetics, but he said that wasn't needed as the wound was already open it was all dead tissue anyways. Okay, whatever. I didn't like it but he says it. He did spray for cooling spray on it, to numb the skin and started to cut away the stuff. The scariest thing about this is not that you don't know what's happening. The pain wasn't too bad, but I was actually not focused on the pain at the moment, but more preparing my self for the pain that might be coming. At one point he told me to take a deep breath. So, I took a deep breath and braced myself for what I expected to be the worst pain I will have in a very long time. That didn't come and then he said he was done. He explained that the wound would be cleaned and an absorbing bandage would be put on it and off he went. Quite a while later, another nurse came in and I had to tell the whole story again. He was the one cleaning the wound, put the bandage on and sent me off home again.

Before I went home, I was given instructions to clean the wound twice a day by rinsing it with a showerhead. That's what I just did and it's actually the most painful of the treatment. The sticking plaster they used is so sticky that it almost felt like I was ripping my skin off to get it off. It flippin hurts! Anyways, tomorrow I might try taking it off after wetting it first so it comes off easier. I rinsed the wound as directed and prepared the bandage. However, as the wound is on my back and I can't see it directly, getting the bandage in the right is a challenge. But God be praised that we live in a time where we have smartphones with cameras with selfie mode so I could see what I was doing. So with my smartphone in one hand and the bandage in the other, I tried to put the bandage on as well as I could. Knowing how much it hurts to take it off, I wanted to make really sure that I would accidentally put the sticking plaster over the wound itself. I hope I didn't and it doesn't look like I did, judging the picture I took from it. So, that was my morning at the hospital. Until next time.....

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Next steps with OM

Today was kind of a big day for me. I had my second interview with OM Netherlands since I returned from Florence 3 months ago now, to talk about serving for a longer term with OM. While I was in Florence, I felt God's call to serve Him on the Logos Hope, and contacted OM Netherlands to talk about my options.

During my first interview December last year, we talked about my experiences in Florence, and the way it helped me to grow as a Christian. From there, we set the whole process in motion, and now I'm here. Before I share the outcome of today's interview, let's go back one month. As part of the application process, all candidates for long term missions are required to do a psychological assessment, and I had to do mine last month. The recommendation from that assessment was that although I had grown spiritually and emotionally during the last year and during my time in Florence, she believed that the Logos Hope may not be the right place for me and that a land based mission field would be more suitable. I would struggle to cope with the lack of privacy and board the ship, and living with 400+ people in a limited space would be very challenging for an introvert like I am. She believed a mission field on land with a strong supportive community would be more appropriate. Secretly, I was relieved to hear this, as these were the very reasons that I was initially unwilling to serve on the Logos Hope. I was also happy to hear that unlike last time, she saw the potential for me to go into the mission field. Secretly, I was hoping that maybe this time OM Lifehope would be back on the map again, or maybe even a return to Florence in some capacity. I had an amazing time there and I would love to serve there for a longer period. So with these things in mind, I went to the interview at the OM Netherlands HQ in Emmeloord.

It was my first time at the HQ. My previous interviews had been in their second office, first in Amersfoort and the last one in Hilversum. A nice touch this time was that I was welcomed with a personal message on the electronic notice board. The interview was with my long term contact and someone from OM's member care team, who will be my OM Netherlands support person while I'm in the field. We talked about my application, the references people have given about me and the psychological assessment. Where I was secretly hoping that the ship was off the radar now and hoping to be sent to either OM Lifehope or back to Florence, that was not what they had in mind for me. I would have loved to go back to Florence, but this would of course be a soft option. It would be too comfortable to go back to a place where I already know the people, have made friends and where I'm not required to really engage in frontline mission. In Florence, I would likely be in a supporting role, something that I'm quite happy to do and am quite comfortable with. But comfortable is rarely what we need to grow, and God's plan for my life is obviously not for me to hang around in my comfort zone, but to be challenged and learn and grow. Well, I guess OM Netherlands have found something that will really challenge me.

First, the ship is still very much on the radar and the idea is that I will eventually end up on the ship. But OM also believes that it would be good for me to receive some extra training in preparation for my time in board. So there proposal for me to consider and pray about is that before boarding the Logos Hope I would participate in OM South Africa's Mission Discipleship Training (MDT) for 5.5 months, before joining the Logos Hope for 18 months. The MDT is a programme specifically designed to train, prepare and equip people for the mission field. It involves living in a cross-cultural community, theological training, practical work and outreaches. I've read the information about the programme and the first impression I got was: Flipping heck! This is intensive! Compared to Florence, the regime at the MDT is much stricter. In Florence, I was relatively free in what I could do in my free time, of course within reasonable limits and as long as I didn't do anything that would put OM and its witness in a bad light. I could go to whatever church I wanted to go to, I was free to leave Florence and visit other places if I wanted to, etc. In South Africa, I don't think that will be the case. It seems to be very disciplined there. I won't be allowed to leave the base on my own. I only have 4 weekends off during my time there and one week's holiday. There are fairly strict dress codes for outreaches and church visits and of course OM's social policy is strictly enforced. I know these rules are there to keep me safe and to help me focus on being a missionary, but it all sounds a bit overwhelming to me. But then, these are common rules in the mission field and the rules on board the Logos Hope are not much less strict, probably even stricter than at the MDT.

So, there you have it. It's a lot to think and pray about. Do I really want this? It would mean giving up my comfortable life as I know it and exchange it for at least 2 years in the mission field, without having a place to come back to. I could easily carry on with my life here in Eindhoven, staying at my church and at my job and if I decided to do that, I believe God can use me here as well, but it wouldn't really challenge me. Moving to South Africa and taking part in the MDT will take me way out of my comfort zone and will really challenge me in many aspects. And although I will give it some time, in my heart I have already made a decision and it is still the same as when I felt God's call to the Logos Hope. As long as God keeps on opening doors for me, I will walk through them until I come to a closed door. So, as it stands now, I will go and face the challenge. We've agreed that a September start would be too early in terms of raising support and preparations, so we decided that if I decide to do this and if I'm accepted, I will start in February 2018 with the MDT in South Africa and board the Logos Hope with the September 2018 intake. As always, I would greatly appreciate your prayers in this time of discernment.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Prayer answered..... but maybe not in the way I expected.

I always thought that if only I would have a meaningful job, which makes a real difference to people's lives, then I would be happy. For years, I have been praying for such a job. And of course, I had my own ideas about what such a job would involve. I hoped that such a job would involve some pastoral work, listening to people and encouraging them with biblical counselling. Teaching the Bible to young people and discipling them. I was hoping to become a youth leader, worship leader, small group leader, school teacher.  I thought it would involve writing edifying articles in Christian magazines and writing Bible studies that would appear in devotionals. I applied for jobs with the civil service in both The Netherlands and the UK. That was what I had in mind when I was praying for that meaningful job that would make a real difference to people's lives.

Well.... since 2 weeks, I have a job. And I have to say, it's the most boring and repetitive job I've had since my holiday job in a powder coating facility, where I spent all day hanging up metal frames on a hook. But, boring and repetitive as it is, there's really no denying that it is a meaningful job and it does make a difference to people's lives. I work for a central pharmacy and my main job is to stick prescription labels on medication. That means that it's very important that I stick the correct label on the correct medication. I don't even want to think about what could happen if the wrong label gets stuck on the wrong medicines. People could get seriously ill, or even die as a result. And through the barcodes on the label, it's very easy to find out who's fault it was. So yeah, I finally have the meaningful job I wanted so badly. It's just not quite what I expected though. Who says God doesn't have a sense humour?

Monday, 2 January 2017

What do I really want?

When I posted my last blogpost, I received a lot of comments on it. One of the comments came from my vicar and said: "When winds blow against us or don't blow when we need them its time to hear Jesus ask: 'What do YOU (really) want?' and to set your face to that." It's a similar question to one I was asked before by one of my work colleagues at my old job. What is my dream job? What, if I'm not hindered by anything whether it's my financial situation, my lack of ability, giftings, talents, age, education, training or anything else, what job or sort of job would be my ideal? It's a question I never really dared to answer, when I've been asked. The main reason for this is because I'm always afraid that people will laugh will me or don't take it seriously: 'Seriously? That will never happen. That's way beyond your ability, You're too shy, you're socially not able enough, forget it'. I'm scared to share my dreams with other people, because I'm afraid to be rejected. 

But now a new year has started, I think it's a good time to start again. Now, I want to take the challenge head on and answer the question, what do I really want. What is my dream job, or if there's no job title for it, what would my ideal job involve? The general answer is that I want to make a real and positive difference in people's lives.

My dream job, and I say again that this is regardless of what I can or can't do in terms of ability, training, skills, etc, would be a combination of pastoral care, discipling and teaching. I have always wanted to work with small groups of people, helping them to grow in their relationship with God. I've always wanted to be the sort of person people turn to if they need someone to talk to, or just someone who listens to them and just be there for them. I want to teach the Bible to people. I want to encourage people to live for Christ, to be involved in the church. So, I guess it comes down to that my dream job is to be a some sort of pastor. I don't really have the ambition to be a lead pastor, but I would be very happy in an assisting role, like a youth pastor, worship pastor or something similar to that. Any role that will give me the opportunity to get alongside people, disciple them, help them grow as Christians and teach God's Word. So, there you have it. That is what I really want.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

When reality kicks in...

Two weeks ago I returned from my 3 month stint with OM Ships in Florence, USA. I had an amazing time, learned loads about serving and mission, made friends for life and had the opportunity to do and experience things I wouldn't have if I hadn't gone there. But as time moves on and Florence is feels more and more like a distant memory, doubts start to rise within me.

Ever since I came back from Florence, my priority has been on finding a job as soon as possible. So far, I've applied for 8 different jobs and have been rejected for 7. I applied for number 8 this afternoon, so I'm waiting to hear back from them. My fear is that the longer it takes to find a job, the more difficult it will become, and as my money is slowly but steadily running out,  I'm afraid that I will end up in the same situation as a few years ago, when I couldn't pay my bills anymore, stopped answering phone calls because I knew they were from debt collectors trying to get their money, when I was a bitter person who felt sorry for himself and was convinced that the whole world was scheming against me, when I actually believed that God didn't care about me; that my prayers ended up on a pile labelled: 'stuff I'll get to when I have nothing else to do', when my only sources of happiness were food and pornography. With God's help and with help of great friends, I've come a long way since then and I'm desperate not to become that person again. But there's a real fear that that may happen.

When I decided to come to Florence, I had to give up my job without a guarantee that I would get it back when I returned. Now I'm back, it turns out that there is no place for me anymore. And as the weeks go by and rejections continue coming in, I start to wonder whether it was a mistake to leave a secure and well paid job to volunteer with OM Ships Florence. At the time it felt like it was the right thing to do. I felt trapped in my job, which although secure and well paid, didn't get my anywhere and I felt that I would probably be trapped in that job for the rest of my life. From April 2015 when I first got in touch with OM in The Netherlands, I felt that I was finally on to something. When a few months later, I decided to accept the offer to serve in Florence, everything went so smoothly. During one of my devotion times, when I was praying for God's guidance, He gave me what I believed to be a clear sign to go. This was further confirmed by, when I informed my church and others about it, everybody was really positive and encouraging about it, and financial support from the most surprising places came flooding in. I was really convinced that OM Ships Florence was the place where God wanted me to go. I guess one of the mistakes I've made is that instead of letting God do his work, I started to project my own ideas on what His plans might be. Why is sending me all the way to the US? I knew the work I was going to do there wasn't going to be very exciting, so it can't be that. One of the things I was hoping for that perhaps I would meet my future wife there. I know this is just silly, as OM's Social Policy doesn't even allow me to start a romantic relationship while I'm in my first year of service with them, but hey, I could still be friends with them and maybe after I go back to The Netherlands, we can keep in touch, develop our friendship further and maybe it will lead to something more special. And I have to admit that I have met one lovely godly young woman that I would love to develop a deeper friendship with, in the hope that a romantic relationship would be possible, but I didn't get any signs that this was mutual. OK, maybe that was because I didn't really made it obvious that she had my attention. Also, I'm very bad at reading these sort of signs. I know, I'm still a wuss when it comes to that. I was so afraid that she would freak out so I thought it would be safer not to let her know. But okay, I'm getting off track now.

Anyways, what did happen during my time in Florence was that I felt a strong calling to the ship, the Logos Hope. This was surprising as the ship was just about the only OM field I didn't want to go to. I didn't like the idea of living in a limited space with 400 others, with nowhere to go when you need some time out, for 2 years. But as I was working in a place that is all about the ship, and working with people who have served on the ship, I felt God was changing my heart and made me willing to join the ship. Earlier this week, I had a good chat with my OM Netherlands contacts and we are now getting the process started that will hopefully lead me to the ship either in September 2017 or February 2018. But that is still 9 months away from now and I need to get a job to pay my bills. And the longer it takes to get a job, I fear that I will fall back in bad and destructive habits of eating too much and watching porn again. I know that the only thing I can do to prevent this is to stay close to God. One thing that I have learned during my previous time of unemployment, and my struggles with pornography and other sinful behaviour was that I had to turn to God to deal with my sins. I have always felt that I had to deal with my sins first, before I was good enough to turn to God, but now I've learned that without God, I didn't have a hope in the world to deal with my sins. And now, more than ever, I need to stay close to God, if I don't want to fall back into that lifestyle again. Florence was a great time. I came home feeling positive about my chances on the job market. I was excited to work towards going on the ship. I feel spiritually energised and I feel I've grown in my faith and relationship with God. I'm much more intentional about my relationship with God, and enjoy spending time with Him. But through all this, I feel the need to work, to do something useful and to earn my living. God created us for work. Work is a blessing of creation (if you don't believe me, go and read the creation account in Genesis and you'll see that God told Adam to work, and that was before the fall). So sitting at home looking for work gives me a feeling of emptiness. So my prayer is that God will open up doors for me to work. Will you pray with me?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The halfway mark - Looking ahead

As I've now passed the halfway mark of my time with OM Ships in Florence, it's time to look ahead beyond 5 December, when I will leave Florence to return to Eindhoven again. For a couple of weeks now, I've been thinking and praying about my future. Before I came here, I had a very strong sense that God wanted me to go to Florence and serve with OM Ships here. I also feel that serving here with OM Ships is just one step in God's plan for me and that there is more to come. But why? Why did God sent me this small city with 37000 people on the other side of the Atlantic to sort, pack and box books, and to teach English for 3 months? Why did He close the door to the UK? I was very excited about serving with OM Lifehope. The work I would have been doing there certainly sounded much more exciting than Florence.

As I've been thinking and praying about this, I was reminded of my first interview at a small office in Amersfoort with two people from OM. One of the questions they asked me was if I had a specific field in mind. My response was something like: Not really, I'm happy to go where you think I could be useful. The only place I do not want to go is the ship. I'm a very private person and need my own space. Spending two years or even just 3 months with 400 others in a limited space and having to share a cabin with 3 others was something that did not appeal to me at all, despite the amazing stories I've heard about serving on the Logos Hope. Absolutely no way!

Well, after my plans to serve with OM Lifehope fell through, OM Netherlands sent an e-mail around asking whether anyone would like to have me serving with them. As far as I know, OM Ships Florence were the only one who responded positively and after God made it abundantly clear to me that I should go there, I reluctanty accepted the offer and now I'm here. I think you can probably guess by now where I'm going, right? Could it be that the reason God closed the door to OM Lifehope and made sure the only place that would have me was OM Ships Florence, was to put me in a place where I am surrounded by people who have served on the ship so I could hear their stories and their experiences, in order to change my heart and bring me to the one place I did not want to go? The Logos Hope?

The only way to find out, as I've learned from how I got here, is to make the first step. So when I get back home, I will contact OM Netherlands again to talk about my options of serving with the ship. Being 38 years old now, I'm at the upper end of the age range to be considered for a 2 year commitment, so perhaps this is the time for me to go. Who knows? I will continue praying for it. Will you pray with me?

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Hurricane Matthew and Go Cocks!

Last week hurricane Matthew honoured the south east of the US with a visit and it made sure its visit did not go unnoticed. Matthew arrived in South Carolina early Saturday morning. The first thing I noticed about the hurricane was on Friday evening. A few of us planned to drive to Columbia that evening to spend the weekend there to see the University of South Carolina Gamecocks Football team play the University of Georgia Bulldogs. Two friends from our Thursday evening bible study kindly treated us to this weekend. Unfortunately, as the weather worsened, we decided to call the weekend off and see if we could go to Columbia on Sunday for the match. Instead of driving to Columbia, we were invited to our friend's parents' house for an evening of games. Early Saturday morning, the internet stopped working and our carpark was flooded. By Saturday afternoon, the electricity went down. In the US, more so than in Europe, there is not much you can do without electricity. There was a plan for a movie night at the OM office, but as there was no electricity, we had to come up with other plans. That's how we ended up at one of the OM staff members' flat with whatever food we had managed to prepare before the power went down. We had a lovely evening. One of the positive things that often happens in crisis situations is that it brings people together. It has something special to spend the evening together with no other light source than a few battery powered torches. As most of the churches we usually go to had cancelled their services this Sunday, we had a plan to meet up at the OM office to have a time of worship, reading the Bible and prayer.  And in case the small congregation that normally meets at the OM office on Sundays, we would join them.

Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day weather wise. At 9.30 we gathered at the OM office where the Community Bible Fellowship happened to be meeting, so we joined them for their service. Apart from the OM'ers, there were 2 members of their congregation present, one of whom is also an OM'er. I have to say that I really enjoyed that service. I'm used to church services with 150-200 people with band led worship and to be in a small meeting room with just 15 people was kind of special. Instead of singing the latest worship songs projected on a screen, we sang hymns from a hymn book. It was refreshing and enriching to sing these theologically rich songs that have been written centuries ago. It was encouraging to share Bible verses with each other. It was just really good to have this kind of fellowship with each other.

As the weather was good, we were picked up by our friend to go to Columbia for the football game. Now, if you have never been to a Football game in the US, I can tell it's a happening. Even though it was a college match and not NFL, it beats the hell out of most top tier football matches in Europe. Even though the players are amateurs and students at their universities, they are treated with the same celebrity treatment as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The 80,000 seater stadium was fully sold out. The only reason there were empty places was that the game, which was originally scheduled for Saturday was rescheduled to Sunday due to hurricane Matthew and not everybody was able to make it on Sunday. The pre-game entertainment is as extravagant as you can imagine. A marching band is marching from a nearby field to the stadium and pretty much fills up a complete section. This visiting team comes with multiple buses with players, coaching staff, medical staff and even their cheerleaders. I would almost say these college teams work with budgets top tier Dutch professional football teams can only dream of. Anyways, the match. I don't know much about American Football. It's something to do with downs and offence and defence. Touchdowns, and that sort of things. Usually when I go somewhere there is some minor thing I forget to bring, which would prove to be very important later on. This time it was either sunglasses or a hat. As the sun was shining pretty much straight into my face, I saw hardly anything of the game. As I didn't understand much of the game anyways, that wasn't really a problem. The experience itself made it all worth it. In the end, Georgia won the game.

After the game, it was time to find a place to eat. We decided on a Japanese steakhouse. The first steakhouse we went to was fully booked with a waiting time of an hour, so we went to the next one. Here, we were promptly seated around a cooking station and ordered our drinks and food. I went for the filet mignon and chicken combination plate, including soup, shrimp appetiser, fried rice, veggies and a sherbet dessert. To increase the entertainment value, our friend told the chef at our table that one of the girls in our group had her birthday that day. Although she tried to convince the chef otherwise, she soon gave up and just enjoyed the experience. It was a great and fun meal. The chef did a great job entertaining us and the food was delicious.

Throughout the day, we kept in touch with Florence for updates on the situation there. We were told that if the electricity was not restored by Monday morning, we couldn't go to work. As we still had our hotel booking, we decided to check in and spend the night there. If the electricity was still down the next day, we would spend the day in Columbia as we planned to do on Saturday. If it was back up again, we would drive back to Florence the next day and go to work as usual. Our friend brought some games, so once we checked in to our room, it was time for a game of Catan. It was a hard fought game and we had loads of fun playing it. By the time we finished the game, it had gone past midnight. At this time, we received news from Florence. The electricity was back up again at the OM Ministry Centre, which meant we had to go to work the next day. At this point, we briefly considered to check out and drive back to Florence again, but soon decided to stay and leave early next morning. We went to bed, the girls in the bedroom and the guys in the living room on the couch and the floor, slightly disappointed as we were looking forward to spending the day in Columbia. The next morning, we woke up at 6.20, had breakfast and were ready to head to Florence by 7 am. Before we left, I made a quick phone call to make a final check, and a last hope of being able to stay in Columbia. It confirmed that the power had indeed been restored in our part of Florence and with that knowledge, we headed back to Florence for just another day at work.

This Sunday in Columbia was probably the best day I had so far. It was not just the football game, but it was a great time together and we had the chance to get to know each other better. Although we had great days out in the weeks before, this was the first time we had the chance to sit down around a table, playing games and eating together and talk with each other. I really feel I made new friends this day and we are already planning future trips. I'm looking forward to them already!