Saturday, September 24, 2011

Brussels Everyday Scenes - part I

In principle, every (working day) is looks pretty much the same for me. I get up in the morning, have my devotions, exercise, bathe and get dressed, and eat breakfast (not necessarily always in the same order). Then I catch the metro that takes me to my workplace. I'm so blessed to live just right around the corner of a metro station, and it's only 5 stops to get to my building in the EU quarter, so it rarely takes me longer than 20 minutes to reach my office.

Nevertheless, every day looks different (as for the weather anyways here in Brussels), as there are often interesting happenings and encounters. Thus, I have now made it a habit to always take my little camera with me in order not to miss anything worthy to be recorded.

On Friday for instance, I took the metro as I do every morning. In fact, I was quite late as I had a problem with my sciatica again and needed to see my chiropractor for this. So I took the metro around 10 AM, which was very pleasant, as the rush hour is over by then. Surprisingly, the first elder of the French speaking church was in there, and so I sat down and talked with him.

Then a musician came into the metro. Well, not a professional one, but there are definitely people in this city who have musical talents. However, the first aim of these particular individuals is not to show off their talents, but rather to "earn" a little money to make ends meet. So this man came in with his accordion and played while his little son was accompanying him with a small hand bell (by the way, I'm wondering now: shouldn't the boy have been at school around this time?). It sounded really pleasant. While he was still playing, the son collected the money. Of course, it's a voluntary contribution. Some people give, but most people don't. Nevertheless, I can well imagine that this kind of activity can bring in quite some additional income - depending on how many metros you enter!

I hope that young man in the middle doesn't mind that he is on the world wide web now. The woman to the right didn't seem to like the idea anyways. The elderly gentleman to the left is the elder from church - frère Gason.

Let's see if I can catch some more glimpses about my everyday life. I'm sure I will at some point.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In Memoriam of Erich Höllein

This past Thursday, my grandfather would have turned 90. This had actually been one of his goals; as he loved life - especially after his retirement in 1986.

In the summer of 2008, when he was admitted to the hospital because of a quite aggressive and fast developing type of cancer, he said to the doctor: "I would like to live three more years!" They were discussing how they should proceed with treatments, but I'm so thankful that they never even had the opportunity to start chemotherapy on him. He went to his rest during the night of July 14 of 2008 - while I was waiting to board my plane at the airport in Denver, Colorado. I was volunteering at Eden Valley that summer, and a couple of days before, I was told that grandfather was dying. It was a traumatizing experience. I remember getting out of the train at the railway station in my home city. I had only expected my father to pick me up, but it turned out a whole delegation waiting for me, as my aunt and uncle were also present. Then my aunt shared the bad news with me. Well, I found comfort in the Lord. Maybe it was actually the best that could have happened (question is if he had recognized me at all if I had come a few hours earlier). At least he knew that I was on my way, and he was looking forward to seeing me. And he was also looking forward to the "new Heaven and the new Earth", as pointed out in Revelation 21. This made me think about resurrection morning; when the dead in Christ will wake up from their sleep. I will have to make sure to find him quickly then!

Grandfather was a believer, however he didn't talk much about it with others (indeed, this topic has always been kind of a taboo in my family). I remember at about age 19, when I was a baby Christian and didn't know anything about the Adventist church yet, I once spent a few days with my grandparents at their vacation appartment in the Black Forest. On Sunday, I wanted to go to the Lutheran church in this small village, and since grandfather was Lutheran, he would come with me (grandmother is Catholic, so she would attend her church in the meantime). I remember an interesting question the pastor asked the congregation that morning: "Would you like your sins to be forgiven?" It came as a surprise to me, because a Lutheran pastor wouldn't usually ask such questions to their flock (they would rather tell them: "All your sins are forgiven now" or something like that), so I was hesitant to give an answer - all the more Germans are not really used to interacting with the pastor or whoever is speaking up front at church. However, my grandfather affirmed loud and clearly: "Yes".

Anyway, the experience of losing him taught me a very important lesson, i. e. that we should never take things for granted. If you say good-bye to somebody close to you today (no matter who that person is or in what kind of health condition they are in), how can you know that you will ever see them again? When I came for a visit from the US in the summer of 2007, I had no clue that this would be the last opportunity to see my grandfather alive. When we departed, I was sure I would see him the following year when I would come visit again. Well, I did get to see him, but his body was cold, and he couldn't see me anymore.

The very last picture I took of both of my grandparents in the summer of 2007
during my last visit in Germany before grandfather got ill

Yesterday, grandmother turned 87. I'm so thankful how she has been able to cope after this loss. They had been married for 63 years after all, so in the beginning it must have been really difficult for her. Nevertheless, she is doing just great considering her age.

My grandfather's death was the second loss in my family that I experienced. In 1990, it was my great grandmother who went to sleep (also due to cancer). Another dear person I look forward to seeing again.

Indeed, the more people pass away whom I have appreciated, the more I look forward to Heaven. As difficult it may be to lose them for a time, the happier the reunion will be on that great day when we all meet again!

Now this hymn comes into my mind:

  1. Sing the wondrous love of Jesus,
    Sing His mercy and His grace;
    In the mansions bright and blessed
    He’ll prepare for us a place.
    • Refrain:
      When we all get to heaven,
      What a day of rejoicing that will be!
      When we all see Jesus,
      We’ll sing and shout the victory!
  2. While we walk the pilgrim pathway,
    Clouds will overspread the sky;
    But when trav’ling days are over,
    Not a shadow, not a sigh.
  3. Let us then be true and faithful,
    Trusting, serving every day;
    Just one glimpse of Him in glory
    Will the toils of life repay.
  4. Onward to the prize before us!
    Soon His beauty we’ll behold;
    Soon the pearly gates will open;
    We shall tread the streets of gold.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On my way home from the bridal shower...

...I got completely lost. There was construction work on part of the main metro route, and already on my way to the bridal shower, I had to leave the metro, go upstairs and enter the metro bus (which took us to the next metro station), go downstairs and finish my trip with the metro until the terminus.

On the way back home, I went together with Rona and another young lady. It was already dark when we went upstairs to take the metro bus. Then I realized that I might as well walk the rest home. I was aware that it might take me a little longer then by public transport, but I felt I needed a walk. So I said good-bye to them and off I went. However, I somehow lost my orientation - I had thought I knew where I was going, but in the darkness, the surroundings often appear differently. Thus, I ended up at some pre-metro stop far away from my home. So I decided to just take the tram from there, which would take me to a metro stop (from where I could easily get home). Well, it turned out a rather long trip, and I only got home around 10:45 PM - way past my bedtime!

Nevertheless, this was an opportunity for me to observe people. Fortunately, I had my MP3-Player with me, so I could listen to spiritual music and didn't have to listen to what was going on at this time of the evening. Usually I'm safe and secure in my bed after 9 PM. I really can't say that I felt comfortable amongst all these nighthawks. After all, when it gets dark, the moral declines, and people behave differently. However, it was very interesting to observe the people who where on the go on this Sunday evening: There were the Europeans for example: people from all the different EU (and non-EU) countries, speaking all these languages, which I sometimes cannot identify. Then the black people of course - mainly from Africa, but also from the Caribbean. Another group are the Muslims (mainly from North Africa) - the group of people amongst which I feel the least comfortable here in Brussels. To the Muslim men, European women are prostitutes. Yes, that's a fact. After all, in our Western society, it's absolutely normal (and expected) to have premarital sex (you are not normal if you wait until you get married). In many Muslim countries, a woman can be killed by her family members if she fornicates before she gets married. In Turkey, they still practise this, although it's prohibited by law - so no wonder why we don't want to have them join the EU. So for a Muslim man, the Western women are the ones they can "practise" with. Of course, this doesn't apply to every male Muslim living in Brussels - nevertheless, I don't feel comfortable amongst them.

Muslim lady at the bus stop - she was actually wearing a veil
which fully covered her face. In fact, they recently
prohibited these veils in Brussels

Anyway, it was an interesting evening experience. And again, one of my most burning questions came up:
"Who is going to tell all these people about Jesus?"

In Habakkuk 2:11, it says:
"For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it."
I hope the stones in Brussels won't have to cry. May the Lord qualify the called in order to finish the work in the capital of Europe.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rona's Bridal Shower

While living in the US, I only once got to attend a baby shower, which I really enjoyed. On Sunday, I attended my first bridal shower. There is a young couple getting married in our church; she is from the Philippines, and he is from Madagascar (what a mixture), and they are going to exchange vows on September 11 (what a date). It was the very first bridal shower ever held within the English speaking church in Brussels. A sister, who is originally from Chile, organized this event. Her husband is American and works for the NATO, and that's why they are currently in Brussels. She obviously got to appreciate the American traditions while living over there - like I have.

We still had a church board meeting in the morning, which turned out quite long (by the way, we have a new pastor, but this is a different story!). Arrived at home, I needed to eat and take care of some other things, so I was late for the bridal shower. They were just about doing the part when individuals had to give advice to the wife to be. It was almost finished, but they also wanted me to contribute (from my rich experience, haha). So I had to destroy a balloon, in which was a slip of paper. On it, the question was asked whether I agree that respect is important in a good marriage. This somehow reminded me of a saying that I shared with them: "A man wants to be admired - a woman wants to be loved.", and I told them that it implied to me that a man also would like to be respected by his wife. Some of the married women immediately agreed with me - to some others it was a new thought. Most of the about 15 women present at the event were married by the way - some of them divorced and remarried, one widowed, and besides me, only two were never married.

After supper, it was time for the bride to open the gifts. About 50% of the attendees where from the Philippines. Bridal showers are also a tradition over there, so many of the attendees already had lots of experience with these kind of events. In fact, Rona told me it's a custom there (amongst secular people) to present a box with a naked man who is then supposed to seduce the wife to be. How terrible!

Anyway, Rona started opening the gifts, and it turned out that at least ten of the sisters had bought her some kind of lingerie. In my innocence, I hadn't even thought about the option to give her something like this (well, at least now she doesn't have to invest in such items anymore!). We were just asked to bring something special for her. In fact, I was the only one who gave her a "spiritual" gift, i. e. a beautiful CD with German and English Christian songs that I had acquired at our camp meeting. But when she held up the CD, they all assumed it was something for the wedding night! So I needed to clarify that this was definitely not meant for this occasion! I told them how much blessed I had been with these songs, and I emphasized in particular one German song on that CD, of which I shared the translation of the chorus:

From Your mouth, I can hear the most beautiful love song,
At your ear, I can say what the soul touches,
At your hand, I can fall and You lift me up,
At Your table, my hunger shall be satisfied.

Isn't that beautiful? I even found it on YouTube. Unfortunately, the recordings there are all with drums. This is the softest one I found: Click here.

Another question was whether a husband should be perfect. All the ladies said: "Nobody is perfect", but I vetoed that he should at least strive to be perfect. Well, the next question was: "Perfect in what way?" So another lady said: For example spiritually, or physically. Then another sister said: "Ok, spiritually, I understand - but how can he become perfect physically?" I suggested by exercising and eating a good diet. I think this is a challenge for most of the husbands of the ladies who were present at the shower.

The bride to be opening presents
The CD which is not for the wedding night
One of the African sisters was very thoughtful to give Rona this modest apparel,
as the bride is going to meet her African father-in-law very soon!

Food is ready. A wide variety of dishes: from vegetarian spring rolls
to burned chicken wings
This is the only piece of lingerie that I dared taking a picture of ... Cute, isn't it?

To be continued...

Sunday, September 4, 2011


It's almost midnight now and I'm sitting in my living room. One of the heaviest thunderstorms I've ever seen is coming down. It's raining cats and dogs. Thank God I woke up about around 11:30, since my bedroom window is wide open and the rain already began to wet my bedroom floor.

I was rather going to post this blog on Sunday evening, but I've changed my mind. A daughter of a friend of mine sometimes calles her posts "TMI" ("too much information"), and this is exactly my experience these days: So many things happening. What shall I share, what shall I keep? Ok, here goes:

The Sabbath day was just lovely. It was very warm with blue sky and sunshine. What a treat! My time at church was interesting. Not that we had a particularly interesting sermon. In fact, I left the sanctuary before it even started, as there was a sound problem and my ears couldn't handle it anymore. Furthermore, I still have some challenge sitting for a long time, as I had to get some chiropractic treatments last week. Just the day before I left for vacation, I had another show-down (a very bad one) with my deputy head of unit. This really had an impact on my back. Of course it didn't get much better while I was at camp meeting, and since I had to wait until I was back to Brussels ten days later, this didn't make things any better. However, I'm almost restored by now.

Anyway, back to church: I decided to go downstairs and take a peak into our French-speaking church. Another boring sermon was presented there. So I stepped outside on the street, and there was one of our Philippino ladies talking to a Flemish brother, who is maybe in his late 50's. He is divorced and looking for a good wife. The sister had strong doubts about the feasibilty of finding a good wife. She is also divorced, but remarried to an American who was baptized in another denomination. She said, after her divorce, the one and only important thing to her was that her future husband would believe in God. Sadly, they never got any marriage counseling. Thus, there were a few things that surprised her after they got married, for example that he was (and still is) a smoker. In fact, he had lied to her about it. Nevertheless, he comes often with her to church (whenever he doesn't have to work on Saturday), and he seems to be quite open.

In the meantime, the service at the French speaking church was over and they started serving cakes and other sweets, as well as coca-cola. I asked the elder what was going on, and he said that they just had a child dedication and this was to celebrate it. Aha. Then I went upstairs for our church potluck and when I saw one of the little boys drinking the ice tea that was served, it dawned on me why many of our children have such an attention deficit and are so hyperactive. It's really high time to have a health emphasis week at our church!

Ok, the storm is almost over by now, however it's still raining cats and dogs and it starts to drop into my fire place. But maybe at some point I will get back to sleep!