Day 13-15 Ghent, Belgium

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In the space of 3 days I drive through many towns and cities after leaving Brugge, notably Maasiek and Ghent in Belgium, Selfkant and Cologne in Germany. The weather alternates between overcast/drizzling to sleet/snow. Not good for taking pics (there’s a limit to the number of moody cloud pics you can take), but when the weather clears my camera goes into overdrive. I have 3 days to fill before heading for the next engagement in Herscheid Germany. I take the time to reflect on the issues of life on the road.

Coffee  The biggest daily challenge for this kiwi is to find good coffee. I don’t know what it is about the Europeans, but they simply have no concept of real coffee. Most offer filter coffee which has many of the required attributes (brown & wet), but lacks one basic ingredient: caffeine. Coffee without caffeine is like, well..  there is no adequate comparison. Maybe a horse without legs?

Driving on the wrong side of the road  When I came to Europe in 2013 it took 3wks for my subconscious driver to accept going around a corner on the wrong side of the road, totally nerve-wracking and draining. In 2016 for the Eastern European Tour it lessened to 3 days to acclimatise. In 2017 for the Scandinavian Tour just one day. This year from the get-go I slotted back into it, like a hand fits a German glove.

Driving habits in Europe  Europeans (and in particular Germans) are better drivers than kiwis. They have a lower road toll than us, and yet they can trust their drivers to drive at 200kph on some autobahns. How is this possible, and what can New Zealand learn from Germany? Driver training. A subject NEVER mentioned in NZ. We don’t train our young drivers, Germany does, requiring 40-100hrs of defensive driving prior to the licence. German drivers are polite, defensive, patient. Kiwi drivers are rude. aggressive, impatient. But we love our freedoms and until we mature enough to train our drivers we will continue to accept as normal the hundreds who die each year on the roads.

Accommodation  When travelling between centres, I use Booking.com to scan the options. I look for the cheapest place (in a smaller town) and pay about 50€ for b&b (NZ$85), which night after night makes a dent in the wallet. The downside of the cheaper places is you never quite know what you are getting. Monday night turns out to be  a Buddhist meditation centre. There are crystals everywhere and assorted paraphenalia. I hear the distant chant of om.. A song comes to mind: Should I Stay or Should I Go?  I decide to stay, pray the covering of the blood of Jesus, and sleep well.

Alone  My whole life has been characterised by time alone. In the early days, I would feel obligated to feel lonely. Now, as I age I see it simply as time alone with God. As I look back over my life I see the alone times as when I build my personal faith most, and where the bulk of my emotional healing is achieved. So alone, yes, but not lonely.

Day 11-12 Brugge, Belgium

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When I see this statue I am reminded of the iconic ‘Servant Song’ by Richard Gillard, one of the few Christian songs by a kiwi composer that is known globally, with millions of views on YouTube and a legacy which transcends denominations. I will weep when you are weeping is the challenging key line from this song, and an empathetic insight into how we help hurting people. This topic interests me as I speak about brokenness and emotional healing. So often the church is left without ways of helping those who are depressed, reverting to the mandatory mantra ‘Go on anti-depressants’, which is new-speak for ‘I don’t know what to do /I don’t have the time to help you’. Many of the pastors of the churches where I share tell me my message is relevant because it provides practical and biblical help for those who are struggling.

In Brugge I present a Saturday night ‘house concert’ (well attended) then share in a Sunday morning service at Grace International Church, a mix of American, European and African nationalities. Receive some wonderful feedback afterwards (all glory to God) and talk with a young man who reminds me of myself at a similar age: honest, searching, open. The courage to ask honest questions is a wonderful thing, because in time, I believe Jesus can and will show up, and answer the questions with a revelation of himself.

Sunday afternoon we look around the old city of Brugge in 2deg and a bitterly cold wind. And yes, there are paddle-boarders in the canal. In the evening I share with the worship team. I don’t know everything there is to know about praise & worship, but I have learned a multitude of lessons over many years of itinerant music ministry. And I’m still learning, this side of heaven.

 

Day 8-10 Enkhuizen, Netherlands

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I am standing on the canal in Enkhuizen (enk-hoy-zen). Well, not on the canal but beside the canal. I’m not Jesus, I’m a follower of Jesus. It is freezing cold, I mean really biting cold for this kiwi. I have been watching the negative temperatures of 2wks ago, but even 2deg is a shock to the system, after coming off the end of a long warm kiwi summer of 25-29deg Celsius. We suffer these hardships on the mission field.  I am staying at a B&B in central Enkwhatever. It is within walking distance of anywhere, if you want to walk anywhere when the wind takes to your bones with an icy hacksaw. Better to stay safe n warm, consuming Dutch coffee (similar to NZ coffee in that it’s a brown liquid but with the added bonus of several coffee beans waved over the top of it before being served in a thimble….hmm…)

I have two events here. The first a house concert at the lovely house of my host Els. This is a small intimate group of mainly Dutch speakers. The song lyrics are translated into Dutch for the PowerPoint presentation many weeks before, and what I speak is translated sentence by sentence by the husband of my host. When I share in certain situations there is an ‘anointing’ of the Holy Spirit. This is difficult to explain to anyone who has never experienced this, like trying to describe the color blue to a blind man. As I speak & sing, my words gather power and I am aware that the Spirit begins to speak, to challenge the softer hearts present, to encourage and to woo. Those who are critical or hard-hearted are much harder to reach, like chiseling granite with rubber. I share the hope of emotional restoration at the foot of the Cross. Many have ears to hear, mainly those who have an awareness of their need, and are courageous or desperate enough to humble themselves.

The second event is staged in a football stadium, with approximately 30,000 people present. Well, actually there is no second event, and the football stadium is filled with fans of football who lift up their voices to their athletic heroes, not to the God of the Bible. Not people who want to hear about the path to eternal life or emotional healing. Westerner secular-humanistic culture is over that. We live in a post-modern era of arrogant self-sufficient left-wing anti-bible anti-Christian skepticism exemplified daily in the media. But Jesus teaches there is a Judgement Day  (Matthew 10.15) and on that day the most brilliant minds, the most entertaining & witty chat show hosts, the morally defunct politicians, the bullies, the lazy and the indifferent will be found wanting.

Day 5/6 Berlin, Germany

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I am standing in the rain at the stadium, where in 1936 Jesse Owens, a black American Olympian  defeats a blonde German Olympian. This is not the dream, this is not how it’s supposed to be. This confronts the madman, enrages him, makes him determined more than ever to prove his point, to wreck the dreams of others to fulfil his own mad dream. How the mighty have fallen. I later stand over the spot where below me is the bunker he blows his brains out. The madman defeated.

I am standing in the rain
at the Berlin Wall, forever a symbol of tyranny, oppression, division, gracelessness. The artists and poets have spoken into this space and transformed that pain into something of beauty, creativity, colour. The tourists (like me) come with their cameras and wonder.. and come they should. What better place to observe how art can see, art can speak, art can interpret, can process, art can transform pain into stories, books, songs, poems, and yes, into positive emotions and pictures.

I am standing in the rain at the Memorial To The Murdered Jews Of Europe where over several acres of land a labyrinth of tomb-like structures impacts the senses like a spike through a hand. These monoliths are confronting in an austere granite-like life-changing way. No photograph can do justice to the experience of walking these sombre halls. No plaques with names, just a profound silent witness. The horror of that time is brought slowly into the subconscious like a sinister virus, with the eternal unanswerable question tugging in your mind: Why Lord?

I am standing in the rain of the Holy Spirit in front of a church audience of many, in a large tomb-like church. The ringing acoustics are wonderful, my voice soars, the atmosphere electric. In such circumstances the Lord gives me the scriptures to quote, word for word, and the exact words to say. There is an economy of delivery and I sense The Anointing where I know hearts and lives are impacted, by silent and spoken witness. Why do I leave my home for long periods of time? For moments such as these, to see the revelation of the healing power of the Cross. Go you into the world. (Mark 16.15)IMG_5159

Day 4 Herrnhut, Germany

IMG_5052From Wikitravel.org  Herrnhut is a small town in the Upper Lusatia (Oberlausitz) region of Saxony (Sachsen), in Germany. In the 18th century, Herrnhut gave birth to the Moravian spiritual renewal and prayer/missions movement under Count Nicolaus Ludwig Von Zinzendorf (1700-1760). It remains a haven for Christian pilgrims as well as being the world headquarters of the Moravian Church (Evangelische Brüdergemeine).

There is still some snow and the air considerably colder today. This small-ish town is quiet when I arrive early afternoon. Not sure if the locals stay inside, or whether they journey to the local city malls at such a time as this, a universal phenomena. The first concert of the tour begins at 4pm (1600h), a sensible time in a severe climate. We begin with cake and coffee (also very sensible) and I attempt to prise the rust off my guitar playing at sound check time. The crowd is warm and the feedback afterwards positive. Three of us pray for a woman my age (classified information) who is deeply touched by the concert. She sheds tears of pain, but these turn eventually to joy. That’s how God does it:  You turn my mourning into joyful dancing. Psalm 30.11

The Christian Community here has a long and varied history of ministry to many from different walks of life. It is a humbling privilege to be part of such a long tradition, but all is insignificant were it not for the Cross of Jesus.

Day 3 Tharandt, Germany

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Overcoming jetlag
  (is that one word or two) is an issue for international flying. Here are my Handy Hints, for what they are worth:
1. Set your watch to the time zone you are flying to as soon as you board the plane. A part of jetlag is getting your mind to embrace the new zone.
2. Drink wine with the main meal. This has a soporific effect.
3. Invest in a good facemask that cuts out 100% of the light, and experiment to find the best earplugs for the shape of your ears.
4. Every time you are offered water by the steward, accept. Hydration is v important.
5. Some people can sleep anywhere, even in a sitting upright position. If you can’t, discipline yourself to ‘rest with your eyes closed’, for lengthy periods of time. It is scientifically proven that napping is the next best thing to sleeping.
6. Whenever possible fly in the A380 Dreamliner, the quietest and most comfortable plane on the planet (well, off the planet & in the air for long periods of time..)
7. Pray, trust God. It is the answer to everything.

I am taking these 2 days  Thurs/Fri Bamberg/Tharandt to allow my body clock to adjust to  any negative effects of jetlag. The weather is cold but not bitterly so. Winter is wiedersehen goneberger. Some trees are in bud, there is a residue of snow on the ground. The minus temperatures of last week have succumbed to the positive this week. The expectation of Spring is concealed behind a number of smug looking trees about to burst forth into song. Winter lies pinned to the ground, legs and arms flailing in the death throes of defeat. I wave goodbye. And embrace a new warmer day.

Day 2 Bamberg, Germany

IMG_4942A longish (21hr) travel day: 5am shuttle to Dubai Airport, the driver an apprentice for Monte Carlo or else high on speed. 3hrs of the usual airport kerfuffle (love that word). 8hr flight to Frankfurt on the amazing Dreamliner (2 free seats on the flight, yes you guessed it, next to me). More kerfuffle (more like the stern German kerfaufel) then 3hr drive to Bamberg, some on the autobahn where I’m cruising at 140kph but passed by cars at 200kph. Now at the Arkaden Hotel Bamberg, an old Carmelite Monastery. My body clock is in meltdown.  The ‘plan’ is to nap for 10mins then go to bed at a ‘normal’ time. Hmm.. simply fall asleep and now wide awake in the middle of the night (Germany) or middle of the day (NZ).. grrr. You would think this seasoned traveller would be wiser.

Highlight of the day. At Dubai Airport amazingly there is my fav Costa Coffee. Am served by an African man with a gentle nature and a pleasant smile. As I sit down to drink, the Lord gives me ‘a Word’ for him. I think ‘That can’t be you Lord, surely?’ ie. the usual response of the flesh/carnal nature. But after much self-debate, decide Jonah-like to deliver the message. His face lights up in wonder. I feel unburdened/relieved/rewarded, and again reminded that the Lord can use us/direct us when we are travelling, which is one of the joys of being on the road (again). Willie Nelson would be proud.

Day 1 Dubai

IMG_4908The days leading up to departure are often hectic, so its with some solace I breathe deeply and sit in the Departure Lounge (sounds final) at Auckland Airport. Only, within minutes I am surrounded by a French high school girls group, all giggling and hype. French is such a wonderful language so this was no trial at all, in fact quite delightful, refreshing even. Moments/observations such as these are like being ‘surprised by joy’ to quote the CS Lewis book.

The flight to Dubai is 17hrs but I am flying on the largest, quietest and most advanced airliner in the world, the Airbus A380 with a seating capacity of 853. It takes several days to walk from the front to the back where I am seated, but I have all the time in the world, and no squalling kids in tow. (I remember those days, actually they weren’t that bad..) The plane is full except for one seat.. next to me (there is a God in heaven..) Last overseas flight I sat next to a gangly young man who insisted on fidgeting and bumping me every few minutes to give me opportunity to practice the 4th fruit of the Holy Spirit. Keeping a godly attitude was a challenge. This time I can spread out and sleep well. (The word ‘sleep’ is an approximation.)

Early morning Dubai is smoggy. I am deposited at a cheapish hotel on the cheaper side of town and discover my suitcase has been soaked, left out in the rain (sounds like a song). I festoon the hotel room with damp clothes and try and resist the temptation of a second free breakfast in the hotel restaurant (the first was on the plane). The smell of fried bacon and fresh coffee is too great for me and I quickly find myself eating more than I should from the buffet, before I can summon the willpower to resist. Isnt that how temptation works? Give in now, pay with flab later.

I signed up for the ‘Spectacular Architecture of Dubai’ Tour in NZ, but got landed with the ‘Old Dubai’ tour. Pics on Facebook. An interesting afternoon but the drone of the Latvian tour guide with ‘101 historical facts about Dubai you really wanted to know’ soon got to me and I found myself wandering off into other worlds, other spaces with my camera. Story of my life. Fly to Frankfurt early in the morning, provided I don’t sleep in.