Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What struck me about the Netherlands

Is this Holland or the Netherlands? This was the question I asked soon after arrival in this European country on Thursday 1st November. I was told that it was both Holland and The Netherlands. The latter is the official name but the two provinces of Holland are so famous due to the economic role they play in the country that everyone seems happy enough to call the whole country by that name. After all, before "Made in China" took over the world, who was not familiar with "Made in Holland"?

This photo was taken of me by a professional photographer on the day I
arrived in the Netherlands for a newspaper article that came out over the weekend
In this blog post I want to describe a few things that struck me soon after arriving in The Netherlands. Perhaps the first was just how flat the country was. I jokingly told my hosts that I was sure on a bright sunny day one could see the whole country from any position. When I was told that a large proportion of it was actually below sea level I was grateful that Hurricane Sandy decided to go west and not east!

While in the Netherlands, I preached at a Sola 5 Conference where the Dutch
version of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith was introduced for the first time
Then I was also struck by the green-consciousness of the people. To begin with it was amazing to see the number of people who use bicycles. Every church I preached at had more bicycles than cars parked outside. Young and old jumped onto their bicycles at the end of the church services and rode home. The roads also have wonderful cycle tracks on the sides.

The Sola 5 Conference attendance in Ede was a pleasant surprise for
the organizers, as the numbers jumped from the usual 60-70 to well over 200 
Another aspect of their renewable-energy consciousness was their use of windmills. They use these ancient wind powered machines to pump water off the land and reclaim thousands of square kilometres for their people to build houses and live below sea level. They also use hundreds of the more modern windmills to generate electricity. It was quite a sight seeing these windmills--both old and new--all over the country.

These are old windmills used to control the water levels.
20% of the Netherlands is below sea level, hence the need for this.
What else struck me about Holland? It was seeing so many homes without closed curtains at night. Here is a country that, firstly, does not have perimetre walls around their homes as we do, but they even go further and dare to show you their property in the house from the roadside all night. It must give an extra sense of security and community as one walks around the neighbourhood at night because you can see the people in their homes and they can see you.

The A-Team! These are the brethren I went with all over the Netherlands
The team leader was Arjan, who reminded me of Martin Holdt in his younger days
What about on the spiritual front? It was in The Netherlands that I first met hyper-Calvinists in the flesh. I knew of their existence in theory but was still shocked to be confronted by people who felt very strongly that you must simply sit and wait (and hope) for God to save you. One lady was upset with me for not preaching about the suffering of Christ from Psalm 73 and about our suffering with him from Philippians 3:10. I told her that was not the point in both passages, but she insisted it was. in the end she wrote me a long letter in Dutch! She was not sure if she would be accepted by God in heaven because she was not sure that she had suffered enough with Christ, which, she insisted we must all be aiming for. It is up to God to decide if and when he will save her. The mixture of truth and error in the name of Calvin was frightening, to say the least.

There are a few life-size replicas of Noah's Ark around the world. I have visited
the one in Hong Kong as well. I commend the builders of this model for their
effort at making it look as ancient as possible--even on the inside.
Like us, Christians in Holland also have their sensitivities and scruples. In one case I said that Jesus walked all over Palestine. Someone came to me afterwards and asked why I mentioned Palestine and not Israel. It just never occurred to me that such a distinction mattered--but it did. On another occasion, knowing how the Netherlands team reached the finals of the football FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, I mentioned my sons' enthusiasm for football in a sermon illustration. Someone came and told me that I spoilt the whole sermon by that illustration alone "because in the Netherlands football is a religion." Christians should have nothing to do with this idol. Hence, I'm not too sure how my other illustrations (about Ussain Bolt, James Bond, etc) were taken!

The city of Dortrecht is where the Synod of Dort met to come up with the famous
Five Points of Calvinism, long after Calvin was already dead. Above is a model
of the Synod of Dort. I wish I also had time to visit The Hague!
On yet another occasion my interpreter saved me from a similar insensitivity. I spoke of the zeal of some of our young people who do not go home between the church services on Sunday but instead remain at church studying the Bible and praying. I made the mistake of saying they go to buy bread after the service in order to eat together. My interpreter changed "buy" to "get" (they go to get bread) because to many of my listeners Christians should not do any shopping on Sunday. It was going to offend their consciences.

My last evening was spent ministering to some rappers (Hip Hop) in
Amsterdam at the invitation of JayWay (on the right). 
Perhaps closely related to these sensitivities is the fact that on my last night, as a last minute addition to my schedule, I accepted an invitation to preach to rappers in Amsterdam. It was quite an experience! Their very loud music, the fast singing/talking that sounds as if the musician is angry, the sagging trousers, etc., was certainly not the kind of ambience I'm used to. Hip hop is not my kind of music. Give me the Gaither's country music anytime! I was warned that some would not accept my associations with rappers by preaching among them. But I thoroughly enjoyed being with these young people and ministering to them. God loves them too!

Jan Kamminga with his wife Tineke
I think for me the highlight of my visit to Holland was not my preaching but my visit to Jan Kamminga in the rehabilitation centre. Only four months ago he was in active Christian service. Having been a missionary to Zambia and done such a sterling job he had returned to his homeland and had pastored two churches since the year 2000. Suddenly taken ill a few months ago, he became totally paralysed and was found with cancer of the spine. 

After chemotherapy and physiotherapy Jan is now able to move his hands slowly but he is still unable to move the lower part of his body. I was reminded afresh of the need to serve God zealously while we still have strength and health. We don't know when the Lord may cast us into such frowning providences. (I had similar thoughts when I wrote "Why do good men suffer?" on my way to the Netherlands. You just never know when God will have a Job-like conversation with the devil about you!).
Any Zambian carpenter willing to build me a new
pulpit? I have an idea what it should look like.

Well, this was not meant to be a description of Holland but rather a narrative of a few things that struck me while I was there. I'm sure it is not a representative description of the country. I am grateful to the Sola 5 Baptist churches and the Heartcry for Revival ministry of Holland for their invitation to minister in their country. They hosted me very well and did a lot to bring in the crowds to hear me preach the Word of God.

I end by recalling what I wrote on Facebook. Having preached 19 times in 13 cities, towns, and villages in the last 10 days, I have laid many eggs in the Netherlands. These eggs are now in many thousands of souls. I leave them in the hands of God to hatch them at his own time. Who knows what God can do with his Word? 


  1. Wow! That was some experience, Sir! I felt like I was there as your descriptions and pictures helped as well. May God finish the work He has started indeed. Sir, would you please share with me(and others, here) what the points in Psalm 73 and Philippians 3:10 are? Will I be right to say that she ( the lady who was upset) was positing that we had to suffer to measure up to be accepted by God? Suffer, we do in this world, but ''suffering enough?'' When is suffering enough and not?

  2. How interesting to read about our country through your eyes! I feel privileged you came to visit us. I was in the pews at Ede on Sunday and when I closed my eyes I could just imagining myself being at KBC again (if I ignored the interpreter!) listening to the teaching of God's Word. I have good memories of my time worshipping at KBC during my stay in Zambia in 2008 and 2009.
    Unfortunately I had no chance to speak to you as you disappeared right after the service, but having read your blog I now understand why and am convinced it was much more important for you to meet the rappers.
    So thank you very much for coming and I'm praying that the word you preached will bear much fruit in this spiritually dark country.
    God bless,
    Miriam O (dr...)

  3. I am so thankful that you had this opportunity to preach the gospel in a country that had been previously so favoured by God , but which now evidently is in a state of spiritual barrenness. Strangely enough, hyper Calvinism still has its tentacles in the hearts of some believers . I thank God for the work of Kees van Kralingen in Holland . We pray for a new Reformation along with Revival in Europe . Greetings to your family! Joachim

  4. Very interesting Pastor Mbewe. May God Bless you. I would also like to hear you talk about the points in Psalm 73 and Philippians 3:10 just like the my sister Omobolanie above.
    Thank you.

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