On Sunday, I visited the local international Baptist church. This was only my second Sunday with them during this visit in Belgium, and it is where I will be involved for the remainder of my time here. I have been grateful for the hospitality and warm welcome shown to me by the Body in this place. I attended here during a previous stay in Zaventem while I was volunteering with Operation Mobilisation for a few months, quite similarly to this season.
The first Sunday involved a prayer meeting prior to the service which was beautiful. We prayed for those around the globe, those known to be struggling, those suffering, family members and friends, leaders, neighbors, and so on. I almost didn’t go. I almost sat in the car, because I arrived a few minutes late. I hate to be late, and would almost rather not arrive at all. But I’m thankful I went in. It just so happens, that as we split into smaller prayer groups for the latter part of the hour, the lady next to me and I had a connection. I came to find out that her son is living in one of the cities I will visit during my time in Africa. I hope that we can meet and potentially have a coffee. Small world.
That same Sunday, my first visit, I also met Christopher from Nigeria who sat to my right, and Susanna from Romania to my right. It was a blessing to gather with this community, to hear sound preaching, with humility, from God’s Word, and to take communion together. I was also thankful for a time of introductions where the church welcomes newcomers; many went out of their way to shake my hand and share stories. I met a few men who are a part of the local theological faculty at the university. It was a privilege.
Paul and Lisa were of those I met following the service; we exchanged contact information, and Paul told me to send them an email. I did so, and the next thing I knew it was Thursday night, and I’m at their dining table–you know, the one in there home–eating Mexican food and sharing stories, talking about the Texas sticker on the refrigerator, and listening to where God has had them through the past decades. We talked about our varied family situations, our current life circumstances, our hopes and potential plans, and more. This felt like church.
I almost forgot something. Prior to this delicious (and quite unexpected) meal, on Wednesday, I chose to drive over to the church building after dropping my friend Johan off at the airport. I had seen on the website that there was a Men’s Prayer Breakfast. I realized it was something they host each and every week. My first thought was honestly one of curiosity as to how many men would show up for an early morning, weekday prayer time, if one were hosted at my own church. I don’t have my phone set up for over here (it’s cheaper that way), so I was without GPS and certainly took the long approach to arrive. I was once again late but chose to enter. I’m thankful I did. I found a large table surrounded by men lifting praise and petitions to God our Father, in the name of Jesus.
I hope to have access to a vehicle once again this Wednesday morning. Isn’t it awesome that friends have allowed me to drive their vehicles, in order to connect with the church, to meet people and hear stories and shake hands, and hope to likewise be an encouragement? I’m grateful. There’s also an outreach of some sort this Saturday morning leading to the afternoon which I hope I may be available to participate in. But this leads me to the story from this past Sunday: I met a man I will not soon forget. I met George.
After a beautiful time in Sunday School going through an overview of Exodus (I wish I had 24 weeks or so remaining here, for their overview of the entire Old Testament), meeting new friends, learning, drinking tea, and praying, it was nearly time for the service. I left the basement meeting room and went to find a chair in the sanctuary. It’s often an odd thing to search for a chair when you are attending somewhere alone. I know these people to be friendly; brothers and sisters, many of them. Yet, there’s something in us that would rather not arrive alone to the gathering. I chose to leave the cordial gap of one seat between me and my nearest neighbor. As the minutes passed, my new friend Christopher from the previous week came and filled the seat to my right. It was his wife and son that I had sat near, unknowingly. And to my left…
To my left, came George. And for this, I am forever grateful. He, the clear namesake of the blog. I said hello and good morning, as is customary, or ought to be, when someone sits next to you (I was thankful for a conversation later in the day with an unbelieving Turkish man who is saddened by the lack of community he sees in the world. He told me people ought to offer more ‘hello’s and ‘how are you’s, as these are free, yet have great value; I hope I get to share more with him!) George greeted me warmly, and I asked if this was his home church, wholeheartedly assuming it was, as he seemed quite comfortable taking his seat and it had appeared he had arrived with Christopher. George: “Nope, first time!” Awesome. I’m an extended visitor, and I had the opportunity to let this new friend and brother know he was welcome in this space. I learned that George was from Kenya, but was in the Brussels area to complete some studies towards his doctoral degree.
George had been looking for a church and heard of the IBC. I shared that my experiences had been quite favorable, and let him know I would truly like to keep in contact…because I would. It was so encouraging, hearing the little of his story I did before the service started. He asked me about my purpose in being in Brussels and what my life is about, and it was neat to share with him as well. I was grateful to hear the message on this calling to faith from Mark 6 alongside this brother, shake hands with others, and sing Amazing Grace together (Also, we both enjoyed watching new elders welcomed by the church, and the pastor’s description of these elders not as the head of the Body, for that is the place of Christ alone, but rather as servants…and also the sending out of a friend headed off to discipleship training). I also was encouraged by so many who came up to say hello to George after his brief introduction at the end of the service. At a multicultural, international church, it was fascinating to watch as a sister came to greet George in Swahili. Others came to ask where he was from, exactly, and to make sure he felt at home. Because the true, born-again, Body of Christ is the nearest depiction of Home, this side of Heaven.
The simple story could end there, but it gets a little more exciting, next. After the service, the church meets back in the basement for coffee and tea and, primarily, conversation. The American church could learn from this: it’s so beautiful when everyone doesn’t run off. Eat breakfast. Plan to actually make it a point to visit with one another, ask real questions, care, laugh together. I apologize for the rant but I envy this type of community for my home. Anyways, George and I headed down after he turned in his guest card, which he filled out quicker than I’ve ever seen before. I’d say it was an 8 minute turnaround; I think we will see him here again. He had taken a train and a bus to get to church. He said it’s easier to arrive in Kenya. How wild a thought.
I’m dragging on now, and need to get to the good stuff. It’s unlikely that you have made it this far, and if you have, I owe you. I ask George what I had been curious of all service: “why do you have a Chinese-English Bible?” Turns out, George spent several years in China, studying and working towards his Masters Degree in Biomedical Engineering. He studied Chinese for one year upon arrival. I said, “George, I don’t know a lot, but that doesn’t sound like enough. Chinese is most difficult, no?” He agreed it was not enough, but by the grace of God, it was enough. Not only was it enough for George to succeed in his coursework, it was enough for him to be involved with a local house church. It was enough for him to invite in a local woman who did not know Jesus. It was enough for George to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her. She started coming to church. One of George’s friends bought this lady a Bible. Several months after this, and after he had INTRODUCED her to another Chinese woman who loved Jesus who would answer questions for her…this lady submitted her life to Jesus.
George was and is fascinating. I thought he was around my age, but he’s got me by a few years. A call comes in during our discussion; I assume it’s his friend he is supposed to meet following church. It’s quite a call and when he hangs up the phone he is smiling. I ask if that was his friend. George has this huge smile on his face. He said, “No, it was my wife.” As he said this with a smile he showed me his wedding band and told me that Sunday was their one year anniversary and he was so happy that she had called him. I felt like in a few hours I was being invited into so much of this brother’s life. I congratulated him with genuine shared joy.
He went on to finish his story. He’s here on a “sandwich program.” Some of his studies take place back in Kenya, and some here in Belgium, through a sort of partnership program. It’s hard being away from family, but George told me, “by the grace of God, it is good.” He isn’t just saying words when he says this but truly means it. I promise you. Here’s how I know. He was sharing with me a last bit as I had asked how his first few weeks had gone. George told me what what would have destroyed most anyone else I know and sent them packing. My bags would have been packed. I would’ve walked.
His counselor in Kenya told him the classes he would be enrolled in would be taught in English. Neither of the classes are in English. I don’t remember if they are in Dutch or French, as both are common here. I can’t imagine the heartbreak I would have upon this notification on arrival. The level of discouragement. Yet George smiled from the time I met him as he sat down in the sanctuary to the time we hugged and parted ways after coffee in the basement. I asked George what he was going to do and if he had changed classes or decided to do independent study. There were no English options for these. And what does George say? “By the grace of God, I will pass these classes.” George has the sort of faith that I hope and pray that God would grow in me. These are post-graduate courses. These are courses that are hard in your native tongue, never mind in a language you have never studied, and certainly never taken classes in.
George encouraged me and challenged me in ways he cannot know. Upon finding out that the courses were not in English, he has been doing all that he can to learn language and study and read all that he can on the subject material, praying that his head would remain above water. But I want you to know this. What I found out, was that this is not George’s primary prayer. His first and most important prayer when he found out he was coming here, and when he found out his courses were not in english, was that he would be able to learn enough of the common language to share and express the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those around him. He’s here to study, make no mistake. But God has more than this only, through his station as student.
Pray with me that George would be Light in darkness, in a secular world, in an overwhelmingly secular country, on a secular campus. Pray that he would learn quickly, both language and course material. And pray for so much opportunity that it would be clear for him how God is working this for glory. Pray for his wife. Pray for his classmates. Pray for his professors. Pray for George. I pray you meet someone with a faith in the grace of God such as this, but in the meantime I’m thankful to introduce you to this brother in Christ.
I have a connection for George, which I pray will be one of those opportunities for the evident and bright Light of Christ to shine through him. Just this past Tuesday I heard from a Chinese brother and sister who are at work on a college campus near where George is living. They look to welcome Chinese students to the university and to make them feel warmly welcomed, to be friends to them, to show hospitality, and to make known the love of God. I’m hoping that George can meet these friends and that God will be at work through their ministry and hopeful friendship. I don’t find these happenings to be coincidence, chance, happenstance. This is what providence looks like. It’s why I do write, and why I want to write more. I believe that through the words on this page, God can speak to your heart. I pray you’ll open His Word, seek His face, and know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
All this was before 1pm on a Sunday. Praise be to God.