by Lauren Brown
Of the few mission trips I’ve taken, none influenced my life like the trip to Amsterdam. While I’m sure God wanted me to go on the other trips, I never before felt His prodding and pressuring me to go a particular place. When my finances grew tight at the beginning of last semester, I seriously considered dropping the trip. God apparently had a different plan as He showed His amazing providence. During these months of preparation, He also burdened my heart as never before for the people I would encounter. I’ve never felt so drawn to, and concerned for a group of people before. I felt bolder than ever, burdened heavily with a need to tell people the Good News.
God continued to lead in Amsterdam. I was aware of a change in my heart, consciously sensing God forming me for a purpose He has for my life. I have always been very timid and generally very quiet. However, all of my fear and intimidation melted away at the sight of the people of Amsterdam. I found it easier to strike up conversations and steer toward the Gospel than in any other country I’ve visited. It was easier to understand the culture and find its emotional vacancies, its inadequate answers for the emotional questions and heartache that its people suffered.
My favorite places to visit were the Balkon Café and Burger King, where I found the majority of good conversations. The people were so wonderful and so willing to talk, though some less enthusiastic to talk about religion than others were. What struck me was how easy it was to find a bridge to present the Gospel, and how many people would listen to what I had to say. I enjoyed asking them “How do you feel about that?” to see if they were paying any attention as well as to see what reservations they held concerning spiritual matters. I was impressed that most everyone listened very well and was able to give good feedback on what they had heard. I was also struck by the peoples’ candor in how many of them would openly and honestly share their opinions and questions concerning the information they’d heard. Their questions and issues were similar: a struggle with pain, a distaste for the disrespectful attitude of the Church toward others, the hurtfulness of hypocrisy, the fear of no purpose in life, the problem of evil and fairness. Most every response was rooted in emotion. Though some were smokescreens, the majority were genuine concerns.
Amsterdam’s culture lacks the ability to answer life’s toughest questions with any satisfaction, and the people seemed genuinely concerned about that. Most people who said they didn’t believe in any truth came down to this point: The lack of sufficient answers led them to distrust anything claiming to be true because how could any one thing can have all of the answers? Many responded that they wished it were so, but believed it was too good to be true. There seemed to be a certain suspicion to being optimistic that there may be hope.
One girl, Patricia, in particular whom I talked with was sitting with two others. She seemed to be the most disengaged of the three, and I didn’t think she was listening as she sat back in her chair and continued texting. But after answering some of her friends’ questions and sharing the Gospel in its entirety, as well as part of my testimony, Patricia began to look up from her phone and watch critically. Perhaps, though, I read her wrong, and it wasn’t really criticism toward my words as much as a criticism of a hope that was beginning to grow in her heart because she suddenly began to lean forward and rest on the table, staring at me as I finished speaking. There was hardly a pause between my last word and her quick response: “So you aren’t afraid to die?” I admit the question caught me quite off guard because, though I probably shouldn’t be, I have always been somewhat of a critic when it came to using the “if you were to die right now” approach to witnessing. But it was right then that I heard God’s stern rebuke, reminding me that it had been a long time since I had had to worry about what would happen when I die; and though it was not a fear that plagued my life, it was indeed a fear that shadowed the lives of others, and rightly so.
I also was caught by surprise because Patricia’s concern was culturally unusual. The majority of people I had spoken with cared nothing of the thought of death or an afterlife, and many said that they never even paid the topic any mind. Patricia, however, was different. God gave me the words to explain to her from the Word why we didn’t need to be afraid of death as long as we had the assurance of the Gospel. Her response was that she was saved, but that she still worried about death. We were able to speak a little more on how we can have confidence in our salvation, but also determining what salvation really is and what it is not. A look of deep pondering on her brow, Patricia leaned back in her chair once more. Her friends took over the conversation, wanting to talk about other things; but I couldn’t help occasionally glancing at Patricia. This was the first in-depth conversation on the trip, and it became a standard for the way I’d think when speaking with people. Patricia was the last of all the girls I expected to respond in any way. I never expected such an honest and obviously contemplative response. The illusions I was holding to subconsciously God shattered that night. Who am I to put anyone in a box, especially God, and limit what I think He can do and whom He can reach?
I am so thankful that He taught me those invaluable lessons that night because, as the week progressed and He graciously provided many other wonderful conversations, I was able to experience everything at a much higher level because I learned not to hold any expectations except for my own obedience to follow through on what He called me to do. I believe this is another reason that I have so fallen in love with the atmosphere of Amsterdam. Everyone is so very different, and yet so much alike. They are different in that it is impossible to put everyone in a box, and they are all so fascinating that it isn’t difficult to start honest conversations because I was genuinely interested in hearing their stories. But also, we are all so alike in that it also wasn’t difficult to find common ground with everyone. From an Australian girl named Amy who was backpacking through Europe to an Italian guy who loved to read to a Finnish girl who was a nurse, Amsterdam was a beautiful collage of personalities and cultures; but they are all bound by a few culturally similar dissatisfactions and fears. This is where it was so easy to share the story of the Cross, and the Bible is the only book that has sufficient answers to the difficult questions that haunt the people.
So, the most significant thing I learned on this trip was to be open and genuinely curious, never assuming, and never holding an expectation or map for the way things should go. It’s the ultimate adventure; you just have to go with it, which is something I learned lesson when dealing with the physical side of a mission trip using ultimate flexibility when I lived out of a hammock in the rural mountains of Nicaragua. But in Amsterdam, it was a new experience to learn social flexibility as a fascinating and beneficial lesson. This is one of the major things that I would stress to people going to Amsterdam: be flexible, but also be curious. Curiosity starts natural conversations, and there is no fear or awkwardness then. But it is also very important to be alert to the subtleties of the conversation because that is where the opportunity to share the Gospel comes; and if you aren’t alert, you can and will so easily miss your opportunity. Though I’d stress that it’s important to genuinely enjoy your time with the people and the conversations that you have and the things that you learn for them, I would have to stress much more that though these things are great, don’t forget why you are there and always keep in perspective the destiny of the person before you so you can remain determined and persistent to share the Gospel with them.
I believe this trip had a huge bearing on my understanding of what God’s call on my life might entail, but I also believe that the great majority of this impact is still beyond my comprehension. It has definitely encouraged me in evangelism more than anything else I have ever done, and it came at a point when I definitely needed it. It has also re-energized me with an urgency and desire to share with everyone I pass, remembering always that when God calls you to ministry, He doesn’t call to you a specific group (though He may call you to live in a specific place), He calls you to everyone. My heart should be burdened for every soul that I pass and that passes me. There is still so much that I have left to learn and understand and put into practice, and the Amsterdam trip is the biggest and most effective stepping stone toward the kind of ministry that I hope to faithfully uphold throughout my life, beginning now, not when I graduate.