Gap Year abroad
Shelter blog

How God works through the Christmas story


It can be hard to be away from our families at Christmas time and it can be just as hard on our families for us to be away from them on Christmas day. But as I am frequently reminded here, God is a good God who wants to reveal to us more of His goodness and His perfect plan everyday. This Christmas I was surrounded by a family - a family who had travelled from places like Russia, Brazil, India and Pakistan to see Amsterdam and ended up learning about the God who loves them.

Every year I am reinspired by the radicalness of the Christmas story. The traditional nativity scene commonly depicts the wise men, shepherds, Mary and Joseph gathered around the new born baby Jesus, all who are making the best of less than ideal circumstances. All people who would never have a particular reason to share a room together, nevermind a stable, yet find a unity together when meeting with God. On Christmas eve, I had the joy of sharing this crazy story with around 20 guests, many of whom had never heard it before. The cafe was buzzing with excitement, as people opened up about themselves, asked questions as to how God had revealed himself in our lives and sang Christmas carols together.

The next morning, on Christmas day, I came in to the cafe for breakfast, excited to see again all the guests I had made friends with the night before and wish them a merry Christmas. I was amazed how God’s Holy Spirit was overflowing in that room. Two of the staff members had shared their testimonies of how God had revealed himself in their lives. People were once again absorbed in stories that this God of the bible was still active in people’s lives today. Even a few days after, guests would bring up how something the staff members had said stuck with them.

One of our staff members is from Israel and worked in the military before coming to Amsterdam. He shared this in his talk on Christmas morning, unknowing that in the cafe sat a girl from Egypt. She asked to speak to him afterwards as she really felt that, like him in the army, her life was going in a direction she didn’t want it to. He was able to encourage her and share with her what helped him. Later they went on to chat about the politics of their own countries of Israel and Egypt, and how it influences them to pre-judge people from these opposing countries. Yet here they sat, where no politics could divide them, but united by vulnerable hearts searching for truth in God.

Later that evening on Christmas day we began our hostel night and around 50 guests piled into our humble cafe area to share an unconventional Christmas dinner of spaghetti in sauce together. One staff member shared a short talk with the guests. The talk started with a video of a dog who was hostile due to being abused by owners, but who had began to trust humans again after being loved. It seems amazing how a cute dog video can unite people across nationalities. The host then went on to say how he related to this dog, and was mistrustful towards people and lashed out at them. He then shared John 3v16, and how this had radically changed his perspective and his life, whilst explaining what this can mean for others.

The talk finished but across the room, at every table were staff members sharing with guests, in many languages, what this bible verse means to them, and guests were eager to listen again. We saw people looking at our pile of bibles on the side and were clearly curious to take one but were hesitating. Seeing this, we went around the cafe to every guest and offered them a bible as a free Christmas gift. We handed out around 30-40 bibles that evening. Within that cafe were people from countries such as India and Russia, where some Christian influence is suppressed by the government, yet they now had the incredible freeing power of the gospel in their hand. The evening continued on until around 11pm, with guests warmly thanking us for making their time in Amsterdam so special, and we in turn could thank them for making our Christmas so special.

At 11.30pm, we sat down to do our usual evening prayer. We asked the remaining guests if they’d like to stay, and they were excited to hear more. We got them to open up their own personal bibles and find John 3 v 16-17 and we reshared this with them, and how you can pray to make a choice to follow Jesus. No one decided to take that step then but we ended up praying together with an unlikely group of four Christian staff members, three hindus from India and one guy of no faith who had come to Amsterdam for the weed.

Through doing this work, I am frequently reminded that God doesn’t need me in order for Him to transform lives, but he invites me to be a part of His great mission. Sometimes it seems more comforting that He doesn’t need me, and I recoil back into my comfort zone, of only hinting to people at what I believe. But this evening, as I looked around a room of people who were full of joy and excitement of such a special Christmas and were eager to hear more about this Jesus who loves them, I was reminded that this is GOOD news to ALL people. It is a treasure I have stumbled across in my own messy life and something that I am allowed to be excited to share with ALL people.