Saturday, June 26, 2021

Austria

This past Wednesday, I returned from one of the most blessed and beautiful journeys I've ever been to. 

I first travelled to Germany to be with my family again for a few days. Then I took a whole day train ride to the south of Austria, a region called Carinthia, situated in the eastern Alps. This area is characterised by alpine lakes and mountains, as well as medieval buildings. Already the train ride was stunning to me, as I had never been to this particular area in Austria. 

My first destination was the TGM Institute, a self-supporting school which also runs a small lifestyle center. Young people are trained there in medical missionary work and agriculture, and anyone can come to attend the lifestyle sessions they offer. The place is beautifully situated, with mountain ranges round about and a small lake right by. I especially enjoyed my early morning walks, when I could not only hear the lovely birds singing, but also frogs croaking and deer grazing. 

The second European Agriculture Conference was held there. This is a lay movement within my church, and it's all about encouraging people to get into agriculture as a part of true education. And there are so many spiritual lessons we can learn from the garden. Actually, the spiritual aspects of the programme where the elements that spoke to me most. I especially found the speaker family from Sweden a great blessing. The Karlssons run an apple orchard there, and it was intriguing to learn about their experiences. Furthermore, Simon Karlsson is a physical therapist, and he gave an excellent lecture on good posture. Having been trained as an exercise physiologist, I came to realise again how important this issue is, and how desperately I need to implement in my daily life what I know about good posture.

After the Conference, some participants from the area around Vienna gave me a ride, as I was going to visit the capital for a couple days. This turned out a special experience to me, because I have gained new friends now. One couple actually offered me to stay at their place in the middle of Vienna - close by the hotel were I had originally booked a room. So I was still able to cancel that room and enjoyed their hospitality! 

The ride on the night train from Vienna to Brussels was quite an experience. I would have never thought that they would do border controls in Bavaria, but they actually did! When I suddenly heard them loudly knocking at our compartment, I thought I was in the wrong movie! So they asked me for my passport and whether I was traveling alone. After my response (in perfect German of course), they obviously realised that I was not an illegal immigrant, and so they didn't insist to see my papers anymore :-). 

All in all, it was one of the most beautiful trips I have ever made - and I'm actually planning to do the same again at the end of the year. I think winter in Austria must also be very nice!

At the conference, Simon Karlsson gave a talk about the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3 23). One aspect that stood out to me was his interpretation of the seed that fell in stony places, and how we can apply this to our spiritual life. I really liked how he brought this home:

  • They do not believe he will give them power to overcome their sins
  • Many claim to serve God, but have no experimental knowledge of him
  • They do not crucify self
  • They do not give up their particular sins
  • Love must be the principle of action
  • We do not belong to Christ unless we are His wholly

"The effort to serve both self and Christ makes one a stony-ground hearer, he will not endure when the test comes upon him."

And finally this sobering statement from Ellen G. White:

”The “time of trouble, such as never was,” is soon to open upon us; and we shall need an experience which we do not now possess and which many are too indolent to obtain. It is often the case that trouble is greater in anticipation than in reality; but this is not true of the crisis before us. The most vivid presentation cannot reach the magnitude of the ordeal. In that time of trial, every soul must stand for himself before God.“ (The Great Controversy, p. 622.4)

In fact, I can't say that I'm afraid of the things that are ahead of us. Of course this statement makes you think somehow, but we do not know exactly what is ahead of us after all. Back in 1989, when I had my leg surgery, an osteotomy, I had no clue that the pain would be so excruciating when I would wake up. Nevertheless, I made it through, and I'm so thankful now that I did the surgery. And the same way we will be thankful when we enter the Gates of Heaven, the Golden City, the New Jerusalem one day. And we will all say it was worth it to go through all this trouble! Oh LORD, please come and take us home soon!


Aren't these mountains beautiful?
We all received seeds for microgreens

Beautiful flowers on campus

Early morning walk

The Karlsson family singing
At the highway direction Vienna

In the city park in Vienna

Handwash station in a pharmacy

They have such funny signs in this country

Public "showers", i. e. nebulizers

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

A Memorable Day

So our adventure last weekend turned out a great blessing! There were many people gathering at the "Bois de la Cambre", one of the most popular parks in Brussels, where the demonstration started. We had some very good conversations with the participants, and many took our literature. The police was present, but didn't have to intervene. They only didn't allow them to access the European Institutions after the crowd had marched down there. So the police systematically blocked all the entryways. However, there was no violence emerging. 

We were very thankful for the outcome. Please pray with us that this event will bear fruit for eternity!

The gathering in the park

Police checking the scene

Participants talking with police officers


Offering Literature

People were interested

March to the EU Institutions

Police blocking





Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Ramblings and Prayer Request

I usually only blog to report about some special event that has happened in my life. However, this blog will be different. If you are not so interested in my everyday life, you may skip the next two paragraphs. But please make sure you read the last one. Thank you!

So my main concern at this very moment is my shower. I recently made the unforgivable mistake not to refill the water in my heating tank (or whatever you call that in English) in the bathroom in a timely manner. So just before my vacation, it looked like the apparatus had given up the spirit, so no more hot water and heating. While the landlord was on his way to my place, I did manage to refill the water properly, but there was still this error message on the display! But he seems to have the "magic touch", because after he pressed just one button, everything started working again!

However, now as I have returned from Germany, I noticed that I can only take contrast showers somehow! It's only hot for several minutes, and then cold for at least 30 seconds; then starting over the cycle again! Well, I know it's healthy to take contrast showers, but I would like to choose at least! And also the water pressure went down remarkably. So I need to contact my landlord again. I guess I will have a bill to pay soon. Just hope it won't be that expensive...

And here comes an urgent prayer request: I just found out that this coming Saturday afternoon, there will be a demonstration for freedom and democracy in Brussels (http://www.europeansunited.eu/). An SDA colleague from Luxembourg now suggested that we all go there to distribute the Great Controversy in different languages. What an amazing opportunity! So we have a few more days left now to mobilize people and get as much literature as we can. Please pray for us! More to follow later...

Monday, May 17, 2021

Germany - from West to East

At the time of this writing, I'm sitting in the ICE train heading back to Brussels, after spending more than two weeks in Germany. I'm thankful that I could do this journey, in spite of Covid. Of course I had to undergo testing again as well as a five day quarantine after arrival, but I could spend this time of confinement working from my parents place. 

As far as the encounter with my loved ones went, it was almost like pre-Covid times, as most of my family members are vaccinated by now; and thus, especially my mother and my aunt are not so concerned  about my dad and grandmother anymore. So we gathered without masks, hugging each other like in the past. Of course this was much better than Christmas, when we were sitting there with our masks on, not even sharing a meal together. 

I also spent a few days in our holiday apartment in the Black Forest, which was nice and peaceful. At the beginning of last week, I travelled on to spend some days with dear friends in Thuringia, Eastern Germany. We had a very blessed time together, although it was a little more rainy than we had wished for.  

As I'm writing this blog, I can see the Wartburg Castle near Eisenach from the train. This brings back nice memories when I was able to visit this place about five years ago. Yesterday, we went to a beautiful nature resort with a lake, and while the children were throwing little stones into the water, Alberto shared with us an illustration about these stones making circles in the water, which become bigger and bigger. I was just contemplating that the work of Martin Luther also made a big impact until this very present time. I think this man had no clue back then what far reaching influence he would have in the world. But in a similar way, we may not be aware what kind of impact our words and actions can make within our sphere of influence. May the Lord help us to continuously make circles that become bigger and bigger!

                                             Some impressions of the Black Forest



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Three Blind Mice

It's been about eleven months now that the world has changed forever. There are still lockdowns in many parts of the world, including Europe. I'm thankful though that the situation in Germany and Belgium has slowly improved over the past weeks. In fact, there is a realistic chance that in the month of May, I will get to travel to Germany again, and I really hope I will not be disappointed. 

In the meantime, there is never a dull moment while I'm still stuck in Belgium. My roommate Janice and I have had to deal with mice in the apartment. Yes, you understood correctly: MICE! Some weeks before Christmas, I saw the first one in my living room (after they seemed to have disappeared for a while). And they became bolder and bolder over time, even coming out during the days while I was working from home, jumping around on the sofa, or tiptoeing on the kitchen counter on a mission to find something edible. We were at the end of our wits, because none of my "mice-friendly" measures (like live traps, an electric device, etc.) seemed to be working to get rid of them. So my last resort was poison, which was extremely effective. Within a few hours, we found three dead (respectively half dead) bodies in the apartment! 

Somehow, mice are cute little creatures indeed, however they definitely do not belong into the house! According to Leviticus 11:29, they are unclean animals. Doing some research, I found out that already the Egyptians had to deal with this plague, because mice found ways into the grain stores and fouled their contents (which held true for my multi-grain crackers as well...). Partial walls from houses made of unfired mud bricks were chewed through and patches have been discovered where they had tried to block the rat holes with rocks (indeed, we tried to tape every possible entry, to no avail!). The Egyptians hunted the rodents using cats and ferrets (no, I would not get a cat). There is also some suggestion that they were captured in traps made out of clay. They even spread around fat from cats in bags or bundles or burned deer feces as a repellant (we tried cayenne pepper, but this didn't impress them). They were largely superstitious and kept amulets in the shape of a protective God, or in the form of the pest they wanted to ward away. Such as the locust amulets that have been found in tombs. Well, we are not superstitious, but we certainly prayed a lot about this problem, and others did too!

After we found the dead creatures, Janice was reminded of an old nursery rhyme: 

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?

Ok, joking apart, it was a trial! I was so thankful to have Janice here with me, as it would have been so much harder to go though this all by myself. But compared to the 10 plagues of Egypt, it was probably a light thing. And also compared to what is still about to happen in this world, it was certainly a breeze. Maybe the Lord is using such minor nuisances to help us get ready for the real stuff! 

In any case, I'm thankful that He has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us, even when the tough times come. And the past eleven months were probably nothing compared to what is still ahead of us. The other day, I watched a sermon by Pastor Mark Finley, entitled "Hope for Troubled Times." In this talk, he made it clear that the mastermind behind such events is Satan, and that it's certainly not God who brought this about. But it's definitely an opportunity to consecrate ourselves more to our Lord and Saviour. 

"Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost." Romans 15:13

So let us allow God to fill us with this joy and peace that only He can give; and may the power of the Holy Spirit make us abound in hope for a better world to come soon!

One of the three mice we found

Our Sabbath lunch - homemade pizza

Janice likes to prepare Asian food

Jubilee Park in Brussels (with snow)

And my latest sewing project: little key ring bags!


Monday, December 28, 2020

Oud en Nieuw

I'm in Germany with my parents for almost two weeks now. Due to the quarantine restrictions in most EU countries, my employer granted us to telework from our home countries for up to 10 days prior to the Christmas break. This was a nice gift of course, so I took advantage and came here earlier than I usually would have at this time. 

During my trip, my laptop was stolen. It happened while I was waiting for my connecting train at Cologne station. Although there is video footage of the theft, there is but little hope I will ever see it again. Of course that's quite annoying, especially as it wouldn't have happened if I had paid better attention. But the Lord has given me peace about the matter, and I'm thankful that my files are secure on OneDrive. 

The day after my arrival, the German government imposed a hard lockdown over the country. This has been another desperate attempt to finally achieve a decline in the infection numbers, which have been rising exponentially. So there is not much I can do here, with all non-essential stores closed, and of course also places like saunas and swimming pools. Christmas with family was a bit different than usual. We only met on Christmas Eve (not two or even three days in a row as usual), at my grandmother's house, with masks on and airing out the living room every 15 minutes or so (especially my mom and my aunt are rather concerned about the health of my dad and my grandmother). 

I've been running almost every day, which has been invigorating. On Christmas day, I twisted my ankle though while walking over a muddy grass patch. I was pretty upset, because now I won't be able to run any more while I'm here. But it turned out a blessing in disguise, as I now took up biking instead. So yesterday, I explored the nearby forest, which was a nice outing.

My Dutch teacher (I've been doing online classes offered at work) asked us before the break what we were doing for "oud en nieuw", which means translated New Year's Eve. If you translate it literally though, it means "old and new", and I think this encapsulates what we should be reflecting about at this time of the year: we should look back on the old year and see what the Lord has blessed us with and what we have learned. But at the same time, we should look ahead to the new year, not only coming up with resolutions that we may keep only for a couple of weeks, but really reflect how we can draw closer to God and be a blessing to the people around us. 

I found this beautiful text by Ellen G. White, in which she shares some thoughts for the New Year. The most important points I've gleaned from this writing, is that God has not changed. He is the Live-Giver and His mercies are numberless. But we are stewards of what He has entrusted us with, and it's up to us to return to Him what we have received. 

2020 has in many ways been different than I had expected, and if I were to summarize the year in a few words, I would say "blessings and trials". But I'm thankful that the Lord is still our Sustainer, our Mighty Counselor, and the King of the Universe. Let us embark into this new year with the confidence that we are getting yet closer to Jesus' return, and that there is nothing impossible for Him if we accept our role as collaborators in His work!

 

Some Thoughts for the New Year

By Ellen G. White

The old year, with its burden of record, is fast passing away. The new year, with all its possibilities, will soon be ushered in. What advancement have we made in the knowledge of Christ during the past year? Are we prepared to show, more decidedly than ever before, that we are on the Lord’s side? At this time, when the nations of the world are wavering between infidelity and idolatry, are we prepared to stand as faithful ambassadors for Christ? Shall we not, at the beginning of this new year, give ourselves and all we have to God? Shall we not listen to His voice, which calls us to a renewed contest, to a more thorough consecration of ourselves and our intrusted capabilities to His service?

To God we owe all we have and are. In Him we live and move and have our being. We have not been forgotten by Him. In His book each human being has a page, on which is recorded his whole history. Constantly and untiringly God is working for our happiness. The treasures which He has placed within our reach are numberless. “The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. The earth is full of His goodness. Creation proclaims, with myriad voice, the forbearance, love, and compassion of the Almighty.

Through all the ages God has manifested for the human race a love that is without a parallel. He so loved man that He bestowed on him a gift that defies computation. That the abundance of His grace might be revealed, He sent His only-begotten Son to our world, to live a man among men, to spend His life in the service of humanity. In our behalf the Son of the Infinite God was numbered with the transgressors. Christ was the channel through which the Father poured into the world the rich stream of His grace. God could not give less than the fulness, nor was it possible for Him to give more. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

God has made us His stewards. To every one He has given some talent, which is to be improved and returned to Him. Every one is the possessor of some trust. Time, intellect, reason, money, the tender ministry to which some are adapted,--these are the gifts of God. From the lowliest to the highest, all have been intrusted with the goods of heaven, and all are called upon to make a return to the Giver.

The first thing we are to do is to give ourselves to the Lord. Life, with its endowments and privileges, is God’s gift. Let us remember that it comes from God, and is to be wholly consecrated to Him. Let us say with Paul, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.”

When we have given ourselves to God, we shall be willing to give Him what He has given us. All we have and are is to be laid at Christ’s feet. We have been bought with a price which can not be estimated, and we should count it a privilege to co-operate with God by denying self, by giving of our earthly possessions to make it possible for those in the darkness of error to hear the truth. Each soul saved is worth more than a world; for he is saved unto eternal life. Those who invest their means in this work double their talents.

Whether or not we give mind, soul, and strength to God, it all belongs to Him. God speaks to each human being, saying: “I have a claim on you. Give me your zeal, your capabilities, your energy, your means.” He has a right to ask this; for we are His, redeemed by His boundless love and by the agony of the cross of Calvary from the service of sin. On no account are we to devote our powers to self-serving. Day by day we are to return to the Lord that which He has intrusted to us. And we are to ask Him, not only for temporal blessings, but for spiritual gifts. He who asks in faith, believing that God will fulfil His word, and who acts in accordance with His prayer, doing God’s will in all things, will receive rich blessings from on high. And as he receives, he is to impart to those who need help.

From Signs of the Times, January 2, 1901.

 

                               Nothing spectacular, but I really like the pine forest out here

                                               Christmas 2020 - different than usual


Friday, November 6, 2020

Black Forest and More

At the time of this writing, I’m enjoying a short retreat at our family vacation resort. It’s a nice apartment in a village located in the Black Forest Highlands (about 3000 ft/900 m above sea level), about a couple hours from my hometown. I haven’t been so lucky with the weather, as it has been mostly cloudy and rainy so far, but this doesn’t spoil the experience of having some quietude, great fresh air, and beautiful nature for a few days. My grandparents acquired this place back in the early 80s. When I was younger, I would come here more often, mainly to go skiing. But there has been less snow over the years, so there hasn’t been so much incentive anymore to come here, and also my priorities changed. And when I moved to Belgium, my visits became even more infrequent. But now I’m much more into hiking than I used to in younger years, and so I’m determined to come here more often in the future. It’s such a blessing to have this place, especially in these pandemic times. As of this past Monday, all hotels and vacation resorts in Germany had to close down for tourism again. It’s a kind of a lockdown, but not as strict as back in April. It’s a desperate attempt to get the rising numbers of Covid-19 infections under control. In Belgium, they now have even gone that far to close down all non-essential stores again. I do not really look forward to going back there on Sunday, I must admit!

Anyway, the ASI Germany meetings were extremely blessed. We were very thankful that this convention could still take place – as it ended just a day prior to the lockdown. The speakers were very inspiring, and I enjoyed the fellowship with like-minded brothers and sisters. It’s always good to connect with old friends again, and also to make new acquaintances.  

So it’s truly quiet where I’m at now, and I don’t even have internet access. That’s an interesting change to the usual pace, but I’m enjoying it to be less distracted by social media and internet – although I must admit that I wouldn’t want to do that much longer than for a few days. Especially being by myself, I appreciate the technical possibilities that we enjoy nowadays, being able to connect with friends and family near and far.

Back home in Brussels, my new roommate is eagerly waiting for my return. Janice moved in with me a couple weeks ago. She is originally from the Philippines, and has been living and working in Brussels for a while. Currently, she is in the process of getting a permanent work permit in Belgium, and for this reason, she temporarily needed another place to stay. I’ve been mentoring her for a while now, and she has been assisting me in my health ministry at church. It’s nice having a roommate again, especially in these pandemic times, where people are required to limit their contacts to a minimum. Janice also turns out to be a great housekeeper. During my absence, she did a deep clean of my kitchen and bathroom, so I’ll be looking forward to that!

The Sabbath sermon at the convention was given by the ASI President Gabriel Maurer. It was entitled: “How to use the time until the second coming in a meaningful way”. He mentioned Daniel in the lion’s den, among other faithful warriors. Their characteristics were steadfastness, courage, faithfulness at all costs, unselfishness, they couldn’t be bought, and they were faithful in worship. Daniel’s faithfulness didn’t only start with the “prohibition to worship”. It is important to know the prophecies to the details, but it has to have consequences for our life. He quoted the Desire of Ages, p. 636:

“Satan sees that his time is short. He has set all his agencies at work that men may be deceived, deluded, occupied and entranced, until the day of probation shall be ended, and the door of mercy be forever shut.”

We live in a world, in which we are being influenced without noticing it – we are being conditioned. The only solution lies in Romans 12:1-2:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

Lord, please help us not to allow the world to influence or to condition us, but help us to be steadfast, faithful and always true to you!



Black Forest buffalo


Beautiful flowers

View on lake "Titisee"

Stunning Fall colours

Welcome Janice!


Saturday, October 24, 2020

Volunteer for a Green Change

This past Thursday, I had the privilege of volunteering on a farm near Brussels. It all began a couple years ago when my employer started implementing volunteer actions, where every colleague who wanted could go and help at some project somewhere in or around Brussels. The focus this year was on "green" activities, in connection with the "EU Green Week", which was happening this past week. 

So as the coordinator for environmentally friendly actions in my service, I'm part of a subgroup named "From Farm to Fork"; and this is how I ended up being one of the coordinators for this farm activity. And we had a great time harvesting vegetables and preparing them for their bio baskets that they sell to their collaborators. Our hosts, four young farmers, were extremely hospitable, and the colleagues really enjoyed being out there. I wish I could do that more often instead of office work!


Digging out carrots

Interesting shapes

Fruit of our labour

Beautiful flowers on the farm

Delicious butternut squash

Collecting eggs

Farm animals

Busy chickens

Great production
Preparing onions


Bio baskets for everyone

Group picture (with safe distance, haha!)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Enjoying Country Life

So since Friday I've been staying in West Flanders. My former Pastor and his family are living here at a nice little farmyard. It's quite a big property, and they are keeping hens, a donkey, a goat, and a cat there. They especially needed someone to take care of the chickens while they are traveling for a few days; and today, a church member came to drop off their young dog, which I also took under my supervision until Wednesday. It's been fun taking care of the animals, although the dog is quite exhausting! I'm especially enjoying the beautiful country side out here. In this kind of setting, you don't think about a pandemic raging or anything else of that nature. 

Indeed, things have gotten worse in Europe, as we are facing a second wave with this corona virus. Rules have become more strict, and doing everyday life is challenging in different ways. One positive aspect is the fact that my organisation is still strongly encouraging staff to work from home. Thus, I can stay here at my friend's place without having to take a vacation. I just hope that my travel plans for the end of the month will not be hindered in any way. I'm scheduled to attend the ASI Germany meetings, and then stay with my folks for a week. Since Belgium is considered a "red zone" or a risk area, the German government requires a negative corona test or alternatively quarantine when people arrive from this country. Of course quarantining myself is not an option, and therefore I will go for the test. It's such a nuisance, but I will comply - even though probably nobody will stop me at the border or ask me any questions. It's outright impossible to trace everyone. I'm just thankful that they still allow travels at all. 

So I'm looking back to quite an eventful summer with lots of joys, but also many lessons learned. All in all, I'm thankful for the Lord's leading and for His never changing love, patience and faithfulness. 

Our German summer camp meeting turned out a great blessing, in spite of corona restrictions. At the same time, I'm sad for the loss of my former boss from Uchee Pines, Mircea Dragomir, who unfortunately died from this insidious disease. I authored an obituary in his honor, and if you can read German, you are welcome to check it out under this link

Back in September, we held our first Health Club via Zoom, which was great success. There were about 15 participants, including some non-SDAs. I'm very thankful for these online opportunities to share the health message, and I'm planning another one before the end of the year. 

We are indeed living in interesting times. But these signs and happenings are making it clear to me that we need to double our efforts to finish the work here on earth rather sooner than later. It's really time for the Lord to come back! I recently read a sobering statement in the devotional "The Faith I Live By":

The very last deception of Satan will be to make of none effect the testimony of the Spirit of God. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18. Satan will work ingeniously, in different ways and through different agencies, to unsettle the confidence of God’s remnant people in the true testimony. He will bring in spurious visions, to mislead and mingle the false with the true, and so disgust people that they will regard everything that bears the name of visions, as a species of fanaticism; but honest souls, by contrasting false and true, will be enabled to distinguish between them. {FLB 296.6} 

May we be among those honest souls, who will be able to distinguish between truth and error!



With the Voerman family in front of their house waiting...


...for the "Tour of Flanders" (like the Tour de France of Belgium) coming through.

My new friend Stacy

The hens

The donkey

And the goat!