June Ministry Update 2011

Greetings from Amsterdam,

Thanks for your prayers over the past few weeks. I will share in this letter how God has answered prayers for both Serve the City and for my friend, Sokol.

Serve the City — Ascension Day Edition:

Close to 300 volunteers participated in 53 projects over 4 days blanketing Amsterdam with love, giving, sharing, helping, kindnesses and smiles. I worked specifically with one painting project that entailed work over 2 days. Our team of four painted Janja’s bedroom (in the 3rd photo from left above, she is wearing dark clothing) - she chose fuchsia for one wall! Nice!!!

As part of the core team I also visited a number of projects to encourage the volunteers and take photos. During the kick-off one morning I shared a 10 minute motivational message with the group of volunteers, part of which addressed the question of how contagious smiles could be (our theme for this summer edition was “We serve smiles”). Here is a snippet from my message:

Henry van Dyke said, “There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.”

Smiles are contagious. It is difficult not to smile when someone smiles at you.

The bible says in Proverbs 15 — “A joyful heart makes a cheerful face, …” (verse 13) and “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart…”. (15:30) So, if we have a joyful heart it’s going to show on our face or in our countenance. And, if we have a cheerful look on our face it will bring joy to those who receive it.

Wiki.answers.com says that contagious smiles bring happiness. But, you know, God has an even greater plan for each of us than promoting “happy” feelings. He has chosen a way to fill us with the fullness of joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

So, Jesus Christ dwelling within us through the Holy Spirit provides the potential for the fullness of joy. Being with God, and understanding His calling on our lives, will bring a much deeper emotional joy than any earthly happiness.

Jesus has given us everything — our very lives. He created us, He came to this earth not to be served but to serve. Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our wrong doings. He gave the ultimate sacrifice because of His love for us. We have received from God and He is pleased as we give to others.

Psalm 41:1says, “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak.” There are several things that we can give away today. Things that won’t cost us a thing, except perhaps some time. We can give a smile, a hug, our time, or talents.

Today as we set out on our projects, I have a challenge for us -- Give away something: a pleasant greeting or smile, or simply a head nod and grin. Try it and see what kind of response you receive. Don’t be surprised if your smile is contagious! Together may we spread joy in people’s hearts as we go out into the city and lift mankind a little higher.

Sokol’s Adventure — God’s Provision:

Thank you for praying for Sokol over the past month. He traveled safely without any problems at all. And, I am excited to report that a few days ago he arrived back in Amsterdam with all of his necessary paperwork and in time to begin his summer studies at Tyndale Theological Seminary. Praise God!

When inquiring how things were going near the end of his 3 weeks in Albania he told me the great news that his student visa was received from the Dutch Embassy. In addition, he shared:

Thank you for all the prayers and your loving support too! I'm doing fine here! And I love it too, but I miss you guys and the service also. This is the first time I'm out of the service for such a long time! Now I can feel something is missing in my heart, and it is my brothers & sisters, my spiritual family in Amsterdam! Thank you for the financial support also. It is amazing for me to see that Christ has been blessing me with great people around my life.

Sokol’s adventure is a picture of why we’re reaching out in this International city with the Great Commission. Here is a bit more about his story, written by our Pastor, Eric Asp:

Sokol grew up in Albania during the last days of Communism; and after the dictator’s iron grip was finally loosened in the early 1990s, his family was caught up in one of the many ferocious “blood-feuds” that flared up in that period of Albanian history. After several years of involvement in organized crime, both in Albania and in Spain, he fled to northern Europe in search of a new beginning. By God’s grace, he eventually found himself in a Christian youth hostel in Amsterdam’s city center, and there he heard the Gospel for the first time–both through the ministry of the hostel and through our church, which had just been established in Amsterdam around that time. His mother having been Jewish and his father having been Muslim, Sokol argued vehemently with the Christians who were reaching out to him at that time. But after a week or two of debate, he experienced a personal encounter with Jesus through a series of dreams; and he made the dramatic decision to follow Jesus. In September of 2003, he was one of the first seven people who participated in our church’s first baptism celebration, and since then he’s been a treasured member of our church community. There’s a whole book waiting to be written from what I just condensed into just one paragraph. I’m convinced that it would be an absolutely riveting, incredible, best-selling kind of story… But for now, we’ll just have to leave it at that.

Anyway, for the last eight years, Sokol has been living in a strange “legal limbo” with the Dutch immigration authorities. People from our church have tried to work with him on multiple occasions, attempting to navigate the system and figure out a way for our friend to live securely and legally within the Netherlands–but we’ve never been able to get things satisfactorily worked out. However, with considerable help from people in our church, Sokol ended up applying to, and being accepted by a seminary in one of Amsterdam’s suburbs called Tyndale Theological Seminary.

In order for everything to work out, Sokol was first required to travel back to Albania and process his paperwork. In order for that to happen, he would first have to come up with the funds for traveling and processing his paperwork, and then he would have to navigate his way through the border crossings, which are always tricky for people like him who have been living in legal limbo. In the end, people from our church gave generously to fund Sokol’s travel costs. We all prayed like crazy for Sokol to make it back to Albania without any problems. You can imagine our joy and relief when we heard that he arrived safely and without trouble.

God is writing a magnificent story through this young man’s life. Not only is Sokol establishing himself legally within the Netherlands; he’s also starting to prepare himself for a career in ministry–strategically positioning himself to reach out to Muslims and atheists and criminals in a way that few others could ever do.

Please continue praying with me for the story God is writing for Sokol. Also, please pray for more opportunities to see the Gospel spread from Amsterdam to other parts of the world and take root.

I am so grateful for your involvement in this ministry–and I hope you realize that you are a critical part of making stories like this possible! Thanks for everything.

God bless you,