I did a wedding in the New Church in Haarlem.
You need to imagine to yourself: an old square in the old city of Haarlem, dating back to before the Middle Ages. A church built in 1649 (the tower dates back to 1613), modelled after the temple in Jerusalem (at least what people thought the temple looked like).
The organ was built in 1523, restored in 1985, and is known as one of the best pipe organs in Holland. Sounded magnificent.
Amazing to stand in that church before a group of people and conduct a wedding in a language and culture that is not your own.
It is a goal of every missionary to be accepted by his or her “target group”. To be “one of them”. I think that has happened to Cyndi and I. I was asked by this couple to do the wedding, even though other minister colleagues of mine could have been asked just as easily. In attendance were people I have just recently met, but also people whom I have known for 15 years. Churched and unchurched people. Young and old. It was a community around a young couple, and we were part of the community.
Another goal of every missionary is to be a change agent - to see and say things just a little bit differently so that a culture acquires a new perspective and begins to change. It is a slow and ungainly process, but it can happen.
And I think it is happening. New ways of understanding who God is and what He has done and is doing, expressed in different images and words, are beginning to dawn. A new kind of community is being formed, one that desires to be a colony of God’s Kingdom here on earth. There is room for the highly educated professor and the mentally impaired. We are showing the world another kind of Christian.
It is not easy for the change agent – in this case, me (and my wife). I still feel the tension at the beginning of those kinds of services, when I realize that it will soon begin to dawn on a lot of people there that the guy standing in front is not a native Dutch speaker. Many of the customs still feel strange to me, and sometimes I think they are simply stupid. I would love sometime to be able to conduct such a service in my native language, with all the freedom of expression and wealth of resources that would give me.
But that’s what this business of missions is all about, and I am so grateful that God has helped my wife and me to hang in there all these years.
It is worth it.
Anne and Eva – congratulations!