After over two and a half months in Europe, I am back in the USA; readjusting to life here and reflecting on all that has happened. I have been doing Christian volunteering work this summer, at the Shelter Hostels in Amsterdam. To say that God has blessed me tremendously would be an understatement.
The following is a summary of my time serving at the Shelter, and testament to God’s goodness in my life.
I cannot say that my first impression of Amsterdam was positive. Within my first three days, I accidentally stumbled upon the Red Light District. It was then that I realized that “coffee shops” sell marijuana rather than lattes. But as I recovered my sleep and settled into the community house, I began to see the city differently.
Before I left the States, many people questioned my choice to serve in Amsterdam. A city known for its blatant, unapologetic sin. To be fair, everything you’ve heard about Amsterdam is probably true. Tourists pour in from all over the world to escape their realities, to party hard, to forget their troubles, and to pacify themselves with all forms of human depravity.
Even so, I have fallen in love with Amsterdam. I love the canals and bridges; the architecture; the flowers; the lights at night; the windmills; the rich culture and history; the Saturday morning markets; the people; the cheese… even the crazy bike traffic. I think many Americans look down on Amsterdam and see it as an irredeemable place. A sort of Sodom and Gomorrah, where no ministry can possibly be effective. The reality is that Amsterdam needs Jesus. Corrie ten Boom once said, “There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”
There are a lot of stories I could share about the ministry in the Shelter hostels. I will share one. One evening I was scheduled to lead a meditation on Scripture. I was exhausted and struggled to invest myself in the preparation. I remember praying, “God, if You decide to do anything through this time, I will know it’s all You because I’m just not feeling it today.” A number of guests joined me at the activity. Afterwards we returned to the cafe and I sat down with two of them to talk more about the meditation. I asked them what they believed. They opened up about their experiences with Christianity and their thoughts on humanity and God. After sharing, they asked me exactly what it was that I believed.
I shared with them the entire Gospel, from Genesis to Revelation. There have only been a few times in my life where I have truly felt the delight of the Lord as much as I did in that moment. I gushed about the indescribable love of God; the undeserved gift of Jesus Christ; and the peace and joy that passes understanding which only comes from a life and identity founded on the promises of God to two strangers. Nodding along to what I shared, they pressed me on some of the details. They told me that they both had a lot of thinking to do and that they wanted Bibles to read for themselves. They had a new interest in this seemingly impossible Gospel story. I gave them copies of the New Testament and prayed for them.
Sometimes it’s hard to do ministry at the Shelter; relationships with guests last only a few days at most and it can be discouraging when you don’t often see people making life-changing decisions to follow God. At times I wondered how our acts of love and kindness could possibly overcome the influence of all that can be found in Amsterdam. But God is mighty to save, and He is more powerful than the forces at work in the darkest places during the wildest nights. He does not need my help; it is my privilege to share the good news of what He has done, to plant seeds which can be watered and grow whether I see it or not.
On Living in Community
I think I can say with absolute certainly that God’s greatest blessing to me this summer was the Shelter community. I entered with some hesitation, not knowing how to fit into a community where over a dozen countries were represented. But after two months of living over three thousand miles from Pennsylvania, I never thought I could feel so at home.
God is undeniably present. He is present in times of prayer and spontaneous worship as well as in late night bike rides and movie nights. He is present in the way volunteers love one another, challenge one another, care for one another, serve one another. We’re all different, coming from different cultures and backgrounds and bringing with us different experiences and brokenness, and yet united in this beautiful example of the body of Christ. I thank God for the Shelter community and for the ways He uses it for His glory.
Answer to Prayer
Before this summer, I prayed for a time of rest after a stressful and busy semester, and I got so much more than I bargained for. I cannot remember a time when I simultaneously felt more known and loved by a group of people. I found the space to be my crazy self, to feel the depth of emotions I tend to rationalize away, to laugh until I cried, to be vulnerable about my struggles and shortcomings, and to freely love others, unhindered by any prideful or selfish reservations. 2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” I can honestly say that the Spirit of the Lord is present in the Shelter community, and it is there that I experienced true freedom.
I am so grateful for this summer, for my new friends and new experiences, and for the ways I saw God move and work in Amsterdam and in my heart.