Every year approximately five volunteers decide to spend their entire gap year in our ministry. Like Albert, from the Netherlands, who spent 13 months in our ministry. In this blog, he shares some memories of his Christian gap year in Amsterdam. More…
Jenna (21) from the United States of America worked for two months as a Christian summer volunteer at the Shelter Jordan. On her blog she wrote about what God has been doing in her life, while being 5,000 miles away from home.
When I first signed up for a summer of service at the Shelter Youth Hostel Ministry, I had no expectations. I only knew God had called me to Amsterdam to use me for His purpose and that He had a plan for this summer. More…
Abigail Khoury has something- call it kindness or a peace that she carries. She is bright and positive and consistently laughing. From the outside, you would never know that Abigail Sarah Khoury experienced the trauma of two wars and the looming danger of terrorist attacks throughout her life. It led to a debilitating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that took away her desire to live and left her grieving and depressed. That is, until God intervened. And now, she works as a volunteer in our hostel and has a clear focus on sharing the gospel with travelers.
Sharing the gospel with travelers
She is amazed by the variety of people she meets on a daily basis: “It is special how many opportunities there are to share the Gospel here! Amsterdam has made me realize how many different people live in this world and how large and diverse our world is. Many people are looking for their identity or for something that gives lasting fulfillment. I think it’s a privilege to give answers to their questions.”
Her family background is an interesting one. Her father was born in England and is half Arabic while her mother is Jewish and comes from New Zealand. Abigail was born in Haifa, in the north of Israel where she and her family spoke both Hebrew and English at home.
Being a volunteer at the Shelter Hostel in Amsterdam, she’s never felt more Israeli than she does being in Europe. Of course, she grew up with Jewish feasts, traditions and food. “And yet I always felt a mix in Israel, also because I spoke half Hebrew and half English and we both honored certain Israeli and New Zealand customs.”
Identity in Christ
The ‘mixed culture’ that she grew up in had formed her identity, “Your character is part of yourself, but factors around you also form your identity. Ultimately, as a Messianic Jew, I discovered where my true identity lies: in Christ. He is my identity. The Bible speaks of identity in Christ, and that is ultimately where my identity lies and is safe. The reason for that is because if my identity is connected to Israel and I no longer live in Israel, I lose my identity. Or if I am in Israel, but I don’t feel completely Israeli because I also carry that New Zealand identity, I would lose my identity again. But I have found my identity in Christ. That means that I am above all a daughter of God. I am loved by Him and I belong to Him. ”
Jewish and still believing in Jesus
That gives her peace. That peace used to be hard to find. Her two years of service in the Israeli military caused a significant identity crisis. Because who was she? Jew? New Zealander? Christian? “I found it very tiring to explain again and again that I have a Jewish, Israeli and New Zealand culture with me. I always tried to explain that I am a Messianic Jew. Because if I were to say that I was a Christian, it was interpreted as a Catholic. But we are Jews who believe in Jesus as the Messiah. ”
And when outsiders eventually understood her background, her behavior caused new questions. Because how could she celebrate Christmas as a Jew? And why did she not eat kosher as a Jew? “My environment did not understand that I am Jewish and still believe in the Jesus of Christians. They do not recognize Jesus as Jewish and do not recognize the New Testament as a Jewish book.” She laughs and takes a sip of her coffee, “So I had a lot to explain.”
Her mixed background was not the only thing from her past that would claim her identity. She openly speaks about how she was haunted by her time in the military. The constant tension of terrorist attacks and overhead bombings were really destructive for Abigail’s soul: she became depressed, she could no longer work and she lost the desire to live. All consequences – as it turned out later – of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Abigail had ignored these stress complaints for years and she did not recognize them as PTSD either. “In Israel everyone has been part of a war. Many people have acquaintances, friends or relatives who were killed during a terrorist attack or a bombing. I felt I had no right to feel sad about it. Everyone makes it. Why would I have a hard time doing that? So I pushed away these feelings of fear and I thought it would be okay. But seven months after the war, I had my first panic attack. When I started to see that I had PTSD, I thought that time would heal these wounds too. ”
But after more than two years of grief and depression, Abigail was in such bad shape that she could no longer work. “You lose your hope and your desire to live.” A friend of the family, a Christian psychologist from Canada, was willing to help. “My parents knew that it was God who would have to heal me and that He could use this person for that.”
She did not expect anything from it. She had already agreed that this would be her life: wounded to the core, depressed and sad. And yet she went to Canada. Much to her astonishment, a process began in which God healed her. “I knew He was [healing me], I have no other explanation for it. I felt totally healed. Of course I still have scars and I am scared faster than others, but I feel 180 degrees changed at the base. God really healed me. Total.’
Sharing God’s love with travelers in the Shelter hostels
Now she works in the Shelter. What’s that like? She looks into the distance for a moment, “Working in the Shelter is my first life experience as someone who is emotionally healed. That is really great to experience. I did not think I would ever experience that. I always wanted to be a missionary, but I was not ready. My inner self was really a mess. I really see my emotional healing as God’s grace and it is His gift that I can work and serve here in the Shelter.”
Precisely because she is healed, she is now also able to give and serve others. And that happens. She has already met several people in the Shelter who are victims of PTSD for various reasons. “Two days ago, a girl from Israel came to me who has PTSD. I know what it is and what you go through, I’ve been through it all.”
Finding healing in God
She has learned that not all grief is the same, “There are many different types of emotional pain, but it is the same root: a deep inner pain that sometimes you can not even put into words. You do not know what exactly it is, but you know something is wrong. Many people with trauma have to deal with depression. And the root of depression is losing hope. That there is no longer any meaning in your life. That you have lost your identity. When I look at my own life, I know that my healing came from God, through Jesus, because He is my hope. I share that hope. For there is no other hope than the hope that we find in Jesus. That changes lives. It impresses people when you share that hope. Of course it is also new for many people, but some understand what I have experienced and also understand something of the hope that I have in me. And I hope that they think back to the conversation and think about it.”
Sharing His story
Has her past changed how she looks at people and purpose? She nods. “Hell yes. Life can end so quickly. Nobody has the promise of a long life and nobody knows when it is his or her last day. That’s why I like to invest so much in people – that’s my mission and my job. I want to be an instrument in God’s hand to reach people with the Gospel. I do not have the strength to convert people, but I do have the strength to reach people and the strength to share my story of hope with them. That is my responsibility. It’s about the soul of the people, it’s about their salvation. In my service in Israel I learned to save lives in the war, but now I realize that there is also a spiritual battle between good and evil. A battle of God wanting to save people to bring them to eternal life. I want to be part of that fight. I no longer live for myself, but for God, He is my hope.”
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.
Staff member Mary Beth (24) from the United States worked for six months in the Shelter Jordan. During her stay, she wrote blogs about working, living and sharing the gospel as a volunteer in Amsterdam. More…