Several ‘round-figure’ occasions of special commemoration are engaging my wife and me now and in the coming weeks – for our movement (50 years), our church (400 years) and our family (100 years).
In May we celebrate the birth of Youth With A Mission in the Netherlands 50 years ago, primarily Romkje’s initiative as a 25-year-old. She had been inspired by three New Zealand YWAMers she had met in England who had come to start youth missions there. An Alumni Week (May 15-19) will be celebrated simultaneously both in Amsterdam and in Heerde at the Heidebeek community, with a combined national celebration in Heerde on Ascension Day, Thursday May 18.
In April, the church Romkje and I attend in Amsterdam, the Noorderkerk (North Church), commemorates four centuries of continuous worship, starting soon after the city turned Protestant and quickly became the world’s leading city, economically, culturally and through maritime exploration. We are involved in planning activities for the weekend of April 15 and 16 for this occasion.
‘Keep looking to Jesus’
The most immediate occasion is the 100th birthday of my fading mother. Actually we have been celebrating that this whole week, her birthday being last Saturday, February 4. We began with a small family celebration in her retirement home where she surprised us all by uttering a whole sentence: ‘Keep looking to the Lord Jesus’.
Today, a week later, we have just gathered with 140 family and friends in a ‘live wake’ for which she was too frail to attend herself (photo above). Although my mother and I have lived half of her life and two-thirds of my life on opposite sides of the world, relationally we have remained very close. She was always very supportive and encouraging of my choices, even when she realised I would be staying overseas for a long time. She was also most welcoming and accepting with each new family member who came along – starting with Romkje nearly 47 years ago, then with each of our three sons, our foster daughter, and much later daughters-in-law, and later still each grandchild. As they each readily testify.
However, when our third son Philip introduced his future wife Roosje to my mother via ‘skype’, she asked ‘And what are you studying, dear?’ To which Roosje replied, ‘Theology’. ‘Oh, how boooring!’ came the response from down under.
My mother didn’t realise it but she was really into theology herself. Anyone thumbing through her well-worn Bible would see many verses underlined, multiple comments written in the margins and an alphabetical list of the characteristics of God hand-written on the back inside cover. All of which reveals her keenness to know God and know about God – which is ‘theology’.
She wasn’t always like that in my memory. The turning point came in January 1966 when she had an encounter with God the Holy Spirit during a summer holiday convention on Great Barrier Island. Unawares, we were experiencing the beginning of the charismatic movement in New Zealand – it didn’t even have a name then. Back home on the mainland, my radically changed mother became an enthusiastic co-hostess of Friday evening prayer times in our house that began to attract spiritually-hungry people from all sorts of denominational backgrounds. Up to 80 people would crowd into our living room, forcing us to remove a wall, and later even to jack up our house to build a meeting room downstairs. There was no set programme as we literally followed Paul’s advice that ‘when you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said’. (1 Cor. 14;26).
Mother’s gifts were encouragement and hospitality. And she exercised both on these evenings, and in increasingly broader circles. She hosted many influential and international leaders in the movement over the years, including Corrie ten Boom, Ruth Carter Stapleton, David Watson and Loren and Darlene Cunningham.
Among other clues her Bible revealed about her love of ‘practical theology’ was a bookmark with this poem about ‘A Mother’s Love’ by Helen Steiner Rice:
A mother’s love is something that no-one can explain,
It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain,
It is endless and unselfish and enduring come what may
For nothing can destroy it or take that love away…
It is patient and forgiving when all other are forsaking,
And it never fails or falters even though the heart is breaking…
It believes beyond believing when the world around condemns,
And it glows with all the beauty of the rarest, brightest gems…
It is far beyond defining, it defies all explanation,
And it still remains a secret like the mysteries of creation…
A many-splendoured miracle man cannot understand
And another wondrous evidence of God’s tender guiding hand.
That’s our mum!
Till next week,