In the past week three cities in the Northern part of the Netherlands aroused some strong associations for me. The first one was Zwolle, where I went to preach last Saturday. Whenever I arrive in Zwolle and turn into the street that brings me to the church, and I see the street name Zamenhofsingel, there are memories of my youth. The Polish-Jewish scholar Leizer Zamenhof (1859-1917) developed an artificial language that was learned by millions of people worldwide. Esperanto, this simple language, without irregular verbs or strange plural forms, was supposed to make international communication so much easier. In the 1950’s and 1960’s of the last century Esperanto became quite popular. In the Netherlands courses were offered in many places and people travelled to large international Esperanto congresses. It almost became a kind of religion. In the village where I lived the headmaster of the public elementary school taught an evening class that I attended as a 12 or 13 year youth, together with my father. I successfully sat for an exam in the city of Purmerend, some fifteen kilometers from where we lived. Going there in the old, windowless truck of a local transport firm was an adventure in itself.
Later this past week my wife and I decided to use one the free tickets that come with our railroad pass for 60-plus citizens, for a trip to Assen. A few years ago the provincial museum in this town was totally revamped. Presently there is a special exhibition dedicated to the Dead Sea scrolls. The theme as well as the content of the exhibition, and the way in which everything is arranged, make a visit very worthwhile.
The manner in which the timeline of the history of the Jewish people, from the fourth century BC to the second century BC, is projected with living images, on one of the walls, is extremely well done. Looking at it, my thoughts went to the Bible book of Daniel. I saw on the wall the dates of 168 BC and 165 BC appear, the years in which respectively the Syrian king Antioch Epiphanes IV desecrated the Jerusalem temple and in which the sanctuary was rededicated. Many (if not most) Bible exegetes are convinced that Daniel’s ‘little horn’ points to this Syrian king. I have to admit that this explanation has always seemed more reasonable to me than the traditional Adventist (historicist) explanation. No wonder that many Adventist colleges have some difficulty in assigning the class on ‘the prophecies of Daniel’ to one of their teachers.
As we travelled by train, we passed Meppel. The train did not stop, but in a flash I saw the sign ‘Meppel’. It made me think of one of the projects that has kept me busy for the last few weeks. Some ten local churches in Meppel—among them the Adventist congregation in this small town in the province of Drenthe—has organized a series of events that center on the ten favorite Bible stories that have been selected by the Meppeler population. In a few months time the activities will end with a major event in the local park. At that time a booklet with some forty meditations will be made available to the public. These meditations will focus on these same ten stories. I have been asked to write this small book and when passing Meppel I was delighted by the the thought that the job is almost finished!
Zwolle, Assen, Meppel—three places that evoked particular associations. Tomorrow I will visit (and preach) in Deventer. I wonder what memories this beautiful Hanze city on the IJssel river will bring.