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Criminal Charges Closed!

3 and a half years ago, we bought a large house in Antwerp to use as a small church building in the heart of an Arabic neighborhood.  As the city required, I asked for the fire inspector to come.  The inspector brought along the building inspector who told us that we could not meet as a church in the building because of a permit issue that would be almost impossible to change.  But they promised to continue to let us meet for a short amount of time while I worked regulate the permit.

I worked for the next 3 years and the church continued to meet in the building for 2 of those years before they official removed us.  With this process came 2 sets of criminal charges against me personally and the city made it impossible to meet their unrealistic requirements.  It brought a little comfort to know we were not alone in our battle as the mayor was rumored to have said that “God will be dead in Antwerp” and the city offices worked hard to close down many houses of worship.

After meeting with a building lawyer, we realized that the only way to remove the charges against me was to return the house back to a one family home.  And feeling a bit cornered, we made the decision to move our family in the home, knowing that we could use the large living room for Bible studies and prayer meetings during the week, while living upstairs.  And we have started to us our small home as a ministry house where those in need of a temporary place to stay are welcome. We have hosted 6 different groups already.

Hoping and praying this would all work out, a team from the States and some of the men in our church helped us to ready the building for our family.  After our official move, we invited the city to do a final inspection.  On June 24th, a different building inspector (which was actually a huge blessing in disguise) came and gave us his approval and has finally closed the city’s file against me.  Having the criminal charges dropped and the police charges dropped has been a huge relief to me.

This is not the way we originally envisioned using the house for God, but we are sure that He still has great plans to use what is already His for His glory. We will keep following in obedience.

During this time of 3 and half years, many people around us in our community of ministry have contributed words of discouragement and criticism, not understanding the full weight of what was happening or even the spiritual warfare of it all. And yet God reminded me of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Surely those around her gossiped and whispered at her condition. I know there had to be talk…I work with Middle Easterners! And God led her to the position that put her in the center of this gossip. So we have been in good company…amid the gossip, following the Lord in obedience in the whole process.

Thank you for adding your prayers and support to bring about the closure our family needed! And now a new chapter begins…

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Hellen and Secondary School

Kids grow up way too fast! Even as I am writing this, Phoebe just said, “I can’t believe that I will be in the 6th grade!” Right!? She’s still my baby. And as with most moms, I want the very best future for her that opens the most possibilities.

So I am going to be honest with you and tell you that growing up multilingual is not always easy. My girls both think in English and go to school in Dutch. Then at home they hear French and Arabic. So school work doesn’t always come easy because they are constantly translating everything they hear or read. They are trying their very best and yet I still worry about them.

They both love to sing, do drama and anything artistic. And all of these things are rarely included in the normal Belgian school. And by the time they enter secondary school, they can easily get lost in the system if they didn’t catch on as quickly as the other Belgian kids.

So, for years we have been praying for something different to happen.

Phoebe’s life long best friend is Mikayla. This picture is of her mom, Hellen. Hellen is a secondary school teacher who has lots of non-profit knowledge. She is the best woman I know to begin a new kind of secondary school. She has everything on paper and is now working to put a board together. The goal is to have bi-lingual education in English and Dutch (a new thing…but so great for Phoebe!). And as religion is a required subject in Belgium, with the usual choices of Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism and Morals, this school would only teach Protestantism. Already in the 5th grade, Phoebe has been learning church history that I didn’t learn until seminary!

And this vision is happening at the best time in Antwerp. There are literally not enough places in secondary schools to hold all the students. They are now being shipped out to outlying cities just to go to school.

But beginning something new is always hard. So the next steps are creating a board, finding funding (around 300,000 is needed to begin), seeking approval from the city and finding teachers. It’s a lot to be done in 1 year but everything is possible with God. Won’t you consider praying with us or even meeting financial needs if possible? What a joy it would be if Phoebe and Mikayla could be the first to graduate from this new secondary school!!

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School Life

Another school year has finished! Maria-Grace has finished the 2nd grade. Phoebe finished the 5th grade. And I finished my 5th year of teaching English and 6th year of leading moms in prayer for this place. We have seen God work in so many amazing ways through this public Christian school. We have seen the city ready to close the school due to the various improvements needed to this year’s 5-star inspection. God is truly rebuilding this place and has used this solid staff and director to do it. And I am firmly convinced that it has all been built on the foundation of prayer from caring moms who faithfully prayed and cried out to God with me for the last 6 years.

Next year we will see the highest numbers of children that the school has seen. This will also include several new Ukrainian children. That means we can check that prayer request off our list for the first time. Our staff is all returning…which is also a wonderful improvement in stability!

This year I also went into the school each Tuesday and started a volunteer choir during the playtime. They worked hard and learned a great set of songs to sing for the parents at the school party. Even the neighboring school was amazed at how musical our kids are! It’s not normal to have music in the school, but how can we be a Christian school without including music. It’s such a part of our nature. And we a lot of fun for me too!

Now we take a break for July and August. As parents, we try our best to get our kids to finish those homework bundles and read their library books. And we hope to enjoy for special moments together before time flies too quickly and the new school year begins.

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Celebration

This year was a little different for our family. I had a ministry meeting in Spain that fell on Resurrection Sunday. They girls needed to still be in Belgium for school before I could return and Hary had to travel “home” for ministry at the same time. Thankfully my mom is also with us now in Belgium and so she was able to stay with the girls.

Things remain ever flexible in our home, so we celebrated Resurrection Day a week early. Because don’t we really celebrate every day? And we also took a 2 day “staycation” in Antwerp. We ate good food, went to an indoor amusement park, watched a movie in the cinema (for the first time in YEARS…thank you Covid), and played games. It was a great time.

We colored eggs…and ate them all. We hid eggs for the girls and had a gift of new clothes waiting when the woke up. I preached that Sunday and let my mom teach children and Phoebe served as her translator.

I am always grateful that God is good all the time and that we are able to rejoice when we are together or apart. I hope your Resurrection celebration was one to remember!

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Sharing a Need

A friend in Canada (who helped me to get paperwork for my sister-in-law and her 3 adult children to get out of Syria/Egypt and into Canada) received a desperate appeal from a 19-year-old Afghan girl who is taking refuge in Pakistan with her mother (51), sister (15), and brother (11).  Here is his request. Their father went back to Afghanistan to sell their house for money to help the family survive in Pakistan but has never been heard from again.  They’re suspicious that he’s been killed or imprisoned.  The father and the 19-year-old daughter were very vocal with the Taliban about their treatment of girls and women and got themselves into the Taliban’s bad books.

This family has no money and no-one in Canada to serve as their cosponsor so I’ve set up a GoFundMe page for them.  Here’s the link: https://gofund.me/fba5f57e

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Little Children

These children all gathered together for our Bible study and craft time on the Sunday before Palm Sunday. Hary and I were both scheduled to be out of the country on Resurrection Sunday so we began to study the passion week a week early. I loved their attentiveness to the life of Jesus. One of the little Egyptian girls raised her hand as we were talking and asked, “Janée, why did the crucify Jesus? He was perfect!”

I loved that they were thinking about these things so I threw the question back to the group. Why do you think they crucified Jesus?

Some of the children said because He was perfect. Others said, because He healed people. Even one little girl said it was because He got angry and turned the tables over in the Temple. Then Maria-Grace raised her 7 year old hand and said, “I think they killed Jesus because He said that He was God.”

Yes! We talked about the different titles that Jesus had. How He said that He was the good Shepherd and clearly all the Jews were remembering Psalm 23 “The LORD is my Shepherd.” Jesus was saying that He was the Lord.

I often see that critical thinking skills are disappearing with every generation. So I love it when I see children beginning to ask questions and consider the answers about Jesus.

Jesus did say to let the little children come to Him because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

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Belonging

So “belonging” means the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. At least that is according to google. I am sure there are more in depth definitions available. And really isn’t that just an overall human desire. We all want to be wanted? Where are we loved as we are? Where are accepted?

After living just short of 2 decades outside of America, I have found that when I get the chance to go back, it really no longer feels like home. I wonder if I even belong? My experiences changed me from the one I used to be. And the problem is that while I feel removed from one group, I don’t feel accepted by another. I am with Arabs most of the time. But I don’t speak the language and many things about the culture are still a mystery. And while they can appreciate some things about me and my differences, there is always a point when reverting back to Arabic language conversation and the way “we do things” is natural.

Where do I belong? It’s a question that comes up in different seasons of my life. It’s a deep question. Because it’s related to my identity. Who are my people? Who loves me just as I am…and not as I could be…an Arabic speaker, a Syrian cook, a woman who knows her place? Who are the people who don’t require me to question if I will ever be enough or ever arrive?

So this is my season of dealing with these questions…again. Last week, I was getting ready to teach my Wednesday English class at school when a Venezuelan mom, who is also a pastor’s wife, came and gave me small bouquet of flowers. It had Gerber’s…some of my favorites. When she handed them to me and we communicated in our broken Dutch, she said “these are not from me. They are from Jesus. He wants you to know that He sees you. He sees all that you do for our children. And He sees what you do as a pastor’s wife.” We both cried. We both understand the sacrifices made in ministry. We both understand the longing to be loved and accepted as we are. We both understand the expectations of other that are too great for us to carry.

She was a blessing in that moment. She might never understand how much she touched my heart. While I may search for people around me to accept me as I am…and that circle is really small…but she reminded me that there will always be one place where I belong. There will always be one place where I am loved, just as I am. There will always be one place that I will always be enough. And He sees me. He sent my Venezuelan friend to tell me so. With Jesus is where I belong.

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Vacation Park

This week is Carnival Week. Today, in particular, is Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) which comes before Ash Wednesday. As so many European countries are based in Catholicism, the children get this week off from school. So many families and singles from the Arabic church here have gathered for the week in a vacation park. It’s really just “glamping.” We are gloriously camping in the middle of nowhere together in little 4 person bungalows.

But when Arabs gather, its mostly about food. I don’t do that as well as they do. I don’t make stuffed grape leaves or warm yogurt with meat floating around. I didn’t even have room in the car to pack the food I needed and Hary keeps inviting more and more to join us for food. We are going to be in mandatory fasting mode by the end of the week.

But the children are running and playing outdoors. That doesn’t happen often for city kids. We can all see the stars at night. Who knew there were actual stars? Believe me, we saw the big dipper last night and the kids were so amazed. Fresh air is good. Being outside is healthy. We enjoy the gifts we have in the moments we have them.

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Kelby

Kelby is our 10 month old American imported Goldendoodle. She is a character. I tell her all the time that if she was a person that she would need a psychiatrist. She might be on the crazy, unpredictable side. She’s 85% loving, kind and patient and she’s 15% rotten and moody. And she’s changed our lives in the last 6 months.

We live in a majority Muslim neighborhood. To Muslims, dogs are considered ritually impure. So most people around us would rather cross the street than share the sidewalk with our dog. Toddlers begin screaming from a block away at the sight of our fur ball. Because Muslims consider dogs impure, they just teach their kids to have a deep fear of them. And that crosses over into the Arabic Christian culture too. Because Islam dictates society in general, society norms are adopted by the Christians too.

So here we are at a vacation park in Belgium with many families from the Arabic church. We are here to get away and be together in one place. That’s great, except half of the people here are deathly afraid of our dog. So the children run away from Kelby and she thinks that they are playing with her. She runs after them and the children run and scream (along with half the moms) and I sit her now typing away inside my bungalow.

Belgians, on the other hand, love dogs. We have met so many Belgian neighbors that we had no idea were actually in our neighborhood. Kelby gives us the chance to stop and talk with others we wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to. But I will say that it’s a strange feeling to experience such outward rejection and distain from the community you live among. We (the girls and I) try to reconcile that feeling.

Kelby was brought into our lives to comfort our children in their ever changing world. They have lost so many friends who move away. Family is far away. Missionaries are constantly learning how to say good-bye. And then throw in a world wide pandemic for the last two years and a new war in Europe (our home turf) that is discussed daily in school as we are currently listening to military planes fly overhead in preparation for whatever tomorrow brings, and children begin to feel very uncertain about anything.

Enter…a dog. Life is short. And life is hard. So we cherish the blessings we can hold on to along the way. Even when that blessing comes in the form of a Goldendoodle.

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Kingdom Kids 2

One of my new adventures is to minister to the needs of the children around me. I have realized that so many of our protestant churches are small, since the population of evangelical Christians is somewhere around 0.1%. That makes it hard for each church to have a children’s program where they feel they are priority. So we have started a monthly children’s club called Kingdom Kids. Our first monthly (January 2022) brought 29 children from about 8 different churches.

February we entertained 40 children as the word of mouth spread about a place just for kids. We felt a bit more organized than our first month. We had a craft, play time, snacks, music and our second Bible lesson around the armor of God. I loved to see the joy and excitement of children being together and learning about Jesus.

Several of the children also attend the public Christian school where our children go. In the second grade class they have a prayer box. The week of Kingdom Kids, Maria-Grace shared a prayer request for me and my pain (I have fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, so I sometimes have bad days). As she told me about sharing my name for prayer, a little boy in her class began to panic with the news because he was afraid that the kids’ club would be canceled. Although I don’t enjoy having painful weeks, it did bless my heart so much that he worried that he would not have a day made for him if I was sick. And it was only our second month.

Children need to belong. They need to experience the love of Jesus. They need community. I am happy to be a part of providing that for all who will come.