How much the European landscape has changed since the founding of YWAM in the Netherlands forty years ago in 1973! Secularism, Islam(ism) and new spirituality seem to have pushed Christianity to the margins in the continent once synonymous with Christendom.
Not much to celebrate, it would seem. Yet over the past few days Romkje and I joined our YWAM colleagues in Holland to do just that–to remember the faithfulness of God over four decades, to gain perspective on our current situation, and to give honour where honour was due.
For it was a young 25-year-old, Ronnie de Graaf, who established Jeugd met een Opdracht after meeting YWAMers in England. Here you see her (a.k.a. my wife) cutting the 40th anniversary cake with current national director, Dick Brouwer, on Saturday in Amsterdam.
Floyd and Sally McClung, also with us from South Africa where they now work, arrived in Amsterdam in 1973 and took over the Ark ‘Ronnie’ had purchased. They laid further foundations both at Heidebeek and back in the city, over time purchasing the Samaritan’s Inn, The Cleft (The Lighthouse) and De Poort–for which we’re deeply grateful. Incidentally, when Floyd conducted our wedding ceremony in 1976, he concluded with, ‘May I present to you Mr and Mrs de Graaf’–a Floydian slip!
Anniversaries like these are moments to take stock. Without past and future perspectives, we can’t really understand our own times.
So we recalled words and names we’d never heard of back in 1973: like ‘p.c.’, laptop, hard drive (a golfing term?), mouse (tell a secretary back then that she would spend the whole day at the office playing with a mouse…!), email, fax, internet, web, skype, facebook, twitter, cd’s, dvd’s, jpegs, pdf’s, sms, gps, tom tom…!
We’d never heard of perestroika, glasnost, Gorbachev, Thatcherism, an actor named Ronald Reagan, Lady Di, John Paul II, Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky, Obama, Osama bin Laden, 9/11, suicide bombers, the Gulf Wars, the Bosnian War, drones, surgical strikes…
1973 was the year of the Yom Kippur War and the end of the Vietnam War; of Watergate, when Nixon was still president; Elvis had still four more years to live. It was the year when the European Economic Community expanded from 6 to 9 members. We had not yet heard of the European Union or the Euro, let alone the Eurocrisis!
Words like modernity, postmodernism, secularism, islamism, new age were not yet part of our vocabulary.
How our world has changed! The centre of gravity of the body of Christ has moved from north to south, from west to east in these 40 years, a truly historic development! And here in Europe we ‘ve be forced to recognise that our continent has become a needy mission field.
Increasingly we as believers feel intimidated by a hostile environment. How then can we live as people of hope in such a post-Christian society?
Firstly, we need to learn to live in three dimensions: rooted in the past, focused on the future, engaged in the present.
This is a uniquely biblical perspective. Societies not influenced by the Bible did not think in terms of past, present and future. They thought cyclically. The Bible is structured this way. Both testaments begin with books about the past and end with books about the future. In between there are books and letters teaching us how to live in the present, in the light of God’s past and God’s future. Without past and future perspectives, we can’t evaluate the present. Short memories breed shortsightedness. Not only do we lose perspective without memory; we lose our identity.
Hence God’s manifold instructions in the Bible to remember, not to forget. Of course, history is littered with stories about what the church did wrongly. That’s faith-destroying. Yet I have learned to look for the stories of the faithful minorities, those who were faithful to Jesus, fleshing out truth and love! I have learned that Christianity is all about death… and resurrection. About 100 years ago, G. K. Chesterton said that at least five times in the previous 1900 years, it seemed as if the church was going to the dogs. But each time, he said, it was the dog that died!
Another dog that died over the past 40 years was communism. Today secularism threatens to swallow up the church. Yet it is not here for ever and ever, amen. It is not sustainable and tends to produce lifestyles that undermine sustainability. Charles Taylor in his weighty tome, A Secular Age, speaks of the ‘long march’ of secularism as it has developed over centuries. Yet he concludes: ‘we are just at the beginning of a new age of religious searching, whose outcome no-one can foresee.’
No, God hasn’t finished with Europe yet! Who knows what the next 40 years will bring?
Till next week,
Till next week,