Before I get more into that, a little fun cultural insight for Amsterdam...
This is true for Europe in many cases as well, but words don't mean the same thing here. For instance, Even though I'm here I still have had a bunch of work to do for our ministry at home, so my plan has been to go to different coffee shops during my time here and work from those places. However, "coffee shops" here are not the same as home. Here, they happen to be where you can purchase hash, marijuana and alcohol. In fact, most sell coffee but some don't.
So, the question is: why do they call them "coffee shops"?
I'm not sure exactly but here is my only conclusion because nobody here seems to know: Coffee is a drug. In our culture we don't think of it that way, but that is what it is. It is a chemically complex drug that has become a social norm. And so, in that sense, it makes sense as to why they call it a coffee shop. It is a place where you purchase, sit, relax, and enjoy socially acceptable "drugs." Plus, if they called it a "marijuana shop" it wouldn't come across well - it's technically not legal but everyone has chosen to let it go. Interesting to say the least.
In fact, thus far I have only found one "coffee house" that would reflect what we would think of as a normal coffee shop. I am writing here as we speak! It is pretty close to the Anne Frank house. This is my view as I write:
Okay, enough of the cultural differences. We can talk about that all day - or at least I can. What am I doing here?
Well, as I mentioned before, I am here for our church planting efforts. Last year our board affirmed the vision of focusing on church planting in 4 international cities: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Shanghai, China; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Mumbai, India.
Our idea is that over the next 3-5 years we will be participating in meaningful ministry in each of these cities. Last year I began moving forward in Dubai and Mumbai and this year I am trying to get things rolling in Amsterdam and Shanghai.
Each city is an international city for its region of the world. Amsterdam is certainly that for Europe. Europe is post-Christian in just about every way and is very "hard soil" to till. We are not looking to plant a Colossae Church here, but rather to come behind what is already happening. I have had the privilege of building relationships with well networked people over the last 15 or so years and I am now able to lean into some of those relationships. For instance, in planning for this trip, I know enough networked people that I can email to find out who I should connect with in a city like Amsterdam. So, I am here for a series of meetings with city-wide leaders who are known, trusted and doing incredible work in this area.
Some of the people I am meeting with work in a church context, others in city-wide development roles, others work in business or for NGO's (non-government organizations). In my meetings I am explaining our vision and desire to come behind what is already happening here. There is nothing worse than for someone like me to come into a city like this and assume nothing is currently going on and that we have all the answers. That is nothing but arrogance. Of course there is good stuff happening here! We don't have the plans and knowledge of this city...we just have a desire to participate. So, it is in these meetings that I get not only an understanding of the sort of things going on here, but also get a feel of who might be the person/organization I eventually bring back to our board as a potential partner.
I had a bunch of meetings but to give you a small picture of them, last night I met with two women who were referred to me through The Palau Association. We talked for over three hours about the city work going on, the effectiveness of the Church, what is broken and the different ways churches are working together (or against one another) here in the city. We also talked about each other's stories a bit, which is vital for potential partnership. I never want to take just one person's or one meetings thoughts as the absolute truth for a city, but their opinions and insights are invaluable at this point. Both of these women are married. One woman is Dutch and one has been a missionary here for the past 23 years. Each provided phenomenal insight. And I trust that all my forthcoming meetings with people from different backgrounds and work experiences here in the Netherlands will provide a well-rounded understanding of how we might participate here.
In addition to meetings set up prior to coming, there are always "referrals." After meeting with people, they always seem to know someone else I should connect with. But one of my favorite ways to gain insight is by randomly meeting people in the city. Yesterday I had about two open hours where I was working from a bakery pretty close to my hotel. It was here that I met a Frenchman who lives in France, but works here in the city 4 days a week. He commutes by train. We talked for about 20 minutes about his perspective on the city, what he likes and doesn't. I see all of these encounters as priceless.
We are already moving forward in Mumbai, India and have narrowed our potential pathways in Dubai. I am hoping to get to Shanghai by the end of the year to further some conversations I've already begun over FaceTime or Skype. But for now, I am here in Amsterdam.
The hope of our board is within the next few years you will all be introduced to those we are partnering with around the world. We hope your heart drifts toward one of the cities or leaders and you can participate personally as well. But for now, I'd really appreciate and covet your prayer for my time here. There is nothing like meeting with people in person which makes my meetings I have here critical. As a board we desire this to be a relational partnership for our entire church but as we all know, relationships take time to develop. Just one example is our Mumbai focus. It has taken over 14 months to build relationship and begin letting our elders get to know the planter we are going to help.
That to say, we are on the front end of our vision where I am in many ways having to cut out a pathway for us, which unfortunately requires me to travel more. I say it often, but I really don't like to be away from my family...I happen to like them a lot! That said, this is necessary and Barbara and my girls are in this with me - as I trust you are. I must say though, it's not entirely painful. I do enjoy other cultures and as more of a visionary person I do enjoy prayerfully being in a city and meeting with individuals that are potentially long-term partners with us at Colossae.
If you have read this far, then you will want to know that I am planning to do a Sunday evening forum where I walk through where we are with each of these 4 cities. I am even hoping to Skype in a person from each city in that meeting - if we can work out all the time zone issues. If that interests you, then keep your eyes on the church newsletter...it's coming sooner than later!
Just for fun, here is a picture I took on my walk to my current location. It is no doubt a beautiful city.