Monthly Archives: January 2014



In the late 1960s I spent many hours each day in a small room above the recreation area in the boys dormitory. The room had a small window that allowed me to see the traffic in the corridor to and from the rooms where the boys lived, who were entrusted in my care. In those days the campus, where today the office of the Dutch Adventist Church is located, served as an educational institution with a small theological seminary and also a small secondary school. I taught in the seminary, but my main task was to serve as preceptor (boys’ dean) and coach for the (mainly very young) pupils and a few older students.

This week I spent a major part of my time in the building where I once served as the boys’ dean. This particular building, adjacent to the union office building, now houses a center for training and seminars. Some eight years ago—in the period when I served as president of the Dutch Adventist Church—I took the initiative to have this building completely renovated and made suitable for training purposes, after it had gradually fallen into a serious state of disrepair. The former recreational area is now in use as a ‘state of the art’ room for lectures, training sessions and seminars, while the rooms that once housed the students now serve as reasonably comfortable hotel rooms. During this past week I taught a four-day seminar to over twenty Adventist pastors and I stayed in the room next to the little office that once served as the basis for my preceptorial duties. It was a kind of déja-vu.

The coordinator for the department of the central church office for training and coaching, pastor Jurriën den Hollander, had organized the seminar that focused on the theme of ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). He has asked me to teach some 20 hours. A few years ago, I wrote a book on that topic (The Body of Christ, published by the Review and Herald Publishing Association in de US), that was used as the text book for the seminar. It was a most agreeable week, that probably gave me even more pleasure and satisfaction than the participant,

After all, it is far from self-evident that your colleagues are willing to come and listen to you for four full days, even after you have left active service over six years ago. They know more of many aspects of church service, as it is today, than I do, even though I may have been able to delve a bit more into some theoretical aspects. However, I did not pick up any signals that they felt that possibly it would have been better to invite someone who continues to have an active role in the Dutch church of 2014. I must admit that towards the end I felt a little exhausted, but it was a great pleasure to be part of this experience.

The group of Dutch Adventist pastors has seen some major changes in the past few years. The openness towards each other and the appreciation for the diversity among them, seems to have steadily increased. The corps is quite a bit rejuvenated through recent additions of young pastors. And while the women are still in a minority, they now are an integral and substantial part of the group. It is good to see how the pastors appear to feel ‘safe’ when they are together and are able to discuss things freely, even when it concerns delicate subjects concerning our way of ‘doing’ church and facing particular challenges.

I spent a considerable amount of time preparing for this intense week, but I look back at the experience with much satisfaction. Now I can turn a page and start preparing, during the next few weeks, for a three months stay in the United States. Towards the end of March I hope to leave, together with my wife, for California where I have been invited to teach as a visiting professor in the theological faculty of Loma Linda University. I see it as a sign of considerable trust and regard it as a great honor to have been invited for this. However, it will be a big challenge to get all the preparations done. And, before we can set off towards Schiphol Airport, I have a number of sermons to preach, some meetings to attend and to finish a few writing projects. It is beginning to look as if 2014 will once again be quite a full year. It is, however, cause for joy and gratefulness, to still have sufficient energy and, even as a retired person, to be able to contribute and to see that there are still people who are willing to come and listen to what I have to say.


Mobility scooters


I am a native from Amsterdam. I am not a fanatic when it concerns my place of birth and do not regularly track the results of the Ajax soccer club. But . . . Amsterdam will always remain a very special place for me. However, in all honesty I must admit that Rotterdam also has a lot to commend itself.

I do not know Rotterdam as well as I know Amsterdam. So, last Tuesday I decided it was time to pay Rotterdam a visit. As a retiree with a reduction card for public travel, I still had a free rail ticket that I was supposed to use before January 31.

I greatly enjoyed walking around in the center of Rotterdam. The Laurens Church is certainly not one of the oldest large church buildings in the Netherlands, but it is a very beautiful one. So far I had only once been inside that church. This was at some time in the 1990s when the Dutch Adventist Church had rented this facility to organize a one-day spiritual congress. I remember it as one least successful national events that the denomination organized in the last few decades. However, admittedly, it was a sheer impossibility to give some 1500 Adventists an experience of serene rest I such an historic edifice. Let alone that such a large group of people could be served by just two toilets!

But last Tuesday I could enjoy the quiet atmosphere of the church as well as the permanent exhibition. I left the building with some new bits of information. I now know that St. Laurentius was a martyr who served as deacon in the church of Rome in the third century AD. He had been entrusted with the care of the sacred books. Being a book-man he must have been a nice person! It seems right that this church in Rotterdam bears his name. He has, by the way, also become the patron saint of the librarians!

I also visited with great interest the small exposition building adjacent to a major, very spectacular building site. The new Covered Market has not yet been completed, but is already dominating the area around the Blaak. And there were a few other places that filled my day most agreeably.

However, I also had a less pleasant experience. I was almost run over by a mobility scooter that crossed my path with a somewhat reckless speed. For the rest of the day I paid attention to mobility scooters and was amazed to see so many of them, and also the large number of people with a ‘rollator’ (walker). It is great to notice the increasing array of technical support that enables people to remain mobile inside and outside their home. One could also mention quite a few other technical means that are available for people with deep pockets to make life in old age easier. We hear from time to time about government intentions to economize on subsides for these things that help people stay mobile. I hope they will do this in a sensible way, so that low income people will not have to do without their mobility scooters or ‘rollators’.

As I took the train again in the afternoon, I gave this some further thought. The Dutch government is currently promoting a kind of society in which people are willing to help one another and do not always rely on government assistance. This seems quite reasonable, for we are social beings and have a certain responsibility for one another. This is part of what it means to be a human being, and certainly an aspect of being a Christian. Yet, this has its limitations in the kind of world in which we live. Not all our relatives live within walking distance in the same village, and our lives are often so hectic that we cannot give our relatives the care we would like to give. It is, however, good that we are reminded that we must try to care for one another.

Quite a few years ago I saw a documentary about hospitals in Burkina Faso (a state in sub-Sahel Africa) and Switzerland. A Swiss citizen, who was accustomed to high-tech medical care expressed the hope that he would never end up in a primitive hospital in Burkina Faso. But the man from Burkina Faso, who visited a hospital in Switzerland, was also appalled by what he saw. No, he would not want to be cared for in such a hospital. ‘For,’ he said, ‘is is a place where people die alone!’

Let us hope that we can continue to use the technical means that have proved to be such a blessing for so many people. But let us also contribute to a society where people care for each other. Call it what you like. Maybe we should just call it ‘love for our neighbor.’

At the same time we must beware of the many (mostly) elderly fellow-citizens who threaten to kill us with their mobility scooters.




Yesterday afternoon I attended the graduation ceremony of dr. Simon Ririhena at the Free University in Amsterdam. Simon received his Ph.D. after having produced a dissertation about a traditional concept (‘Pela’) that is important in the culture of a region of the South Moluccans (presently part of Indonesia). In his study he demonstrates how this concept may provide a bridge to the person and the work of Christ. (I could not help but think of the Peace Child approach that was developed by Don Richardson, when he worked as missionary among the people of the Sawi tribe in Irian Jaya.)

Since a number of years Simon has found his spiritual home in the Protestant Moluccan Church in the Netherlands. Presently he is the rector of the Seminary of this denomination that is located in Houten (near Utrecht). Being a Moluccan himself, Simon feels a close tie with, and a responsibility for, the spiritual heritage of his people. However, Simon has always had a connection with the Adventist church. In the past he served for a number of years as an Adventist pastor. When I congratulated him yesterday, he reminded me of the fact that I was the person who (many years ago) recruited him for the study of theology. Perhaps I should feel sad that Simon, at a certain point in his life, exchanged the Adventist Church for the Moluccan Church. However, I must confess that the atmosphere around the hall where the graduation took place and the massive presence of Moluccan people, strengthened my feeling that Simon made the right choice: This is the place where he can be of most significance for lots of people and for the Lord of the church.

In the evening I had to attend a meeting of a small church committee in Huis ter Heide. We were to discuss some changes in the constitution and by-laws of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands. It is not such a fascinating subject that it would keep one awake. Before the meeting was to begin I had ample time to have a meal in a restaurant that I used to visit quite regularly when I worked in the denominational office in Huis ter Heide: the Chinese-Indonesian Restaurant Tong-Ah. I had not darkened its door for some time, but I was satisfied to conclude that the people there still deliver ‘good value for the money’.

The restaurant was not very full, but nonetheless two ladies decided to take the table next to mine. They soon engaged in a rather loud conversation, apparently unaware that I could easily follow what they were talking about. At first I tried to be polite and not to listen, and to read a few papers while I was waiting for my food. But soon I gave up, since something interesting caught my ear.

After a few moments the conversation was about a question that one of the women asked her friend, who did most of the talking: Did she still regularly attend church? I picked up that she had for some time attended the services of the Salvation Army. But she and her husband had stopped going there, because they got nothing out of it. The past few years they had faced numerous personal problems, but she did not feel that going to a church would help her very much. Of course, she still believed in God. But, she stated, you can have faith without going to a church.

She continued. Some time ago she was diagnosed with Diabetes 2—rather young, for she is now only 51. She gets a regular check by a specialist nurse who is part of the doctor’s office where she gets her medical care. And, you know, this is such a nice woman! In fact, she is the only person she has met for a long time, with whom she feels she can freely talk about matters of faith. This woman knows how to listen and does not push you. Really, she is a remarkable person. This woman had suggested to her that she might perhaps accompany her to her church, if she felt no longer at home in the Salvation Army or some other church.

“And,’ asked the one woman who was patiently listening, ‘did you ever go with her to her church?’  ‘No, not yet, but I might at some point in time . . .’, came the reply. ‘But it is a bit complicated, you know. For that church meets on Saturday morning and that does not really fit my schedule . . . But perhaps I should go. For, if all the people in that church in Huis ter Heide are like .. . . (and here she mentioned the name of her diabetes consultant) then perhaps it would be a good place for me . . .’

I did not recognize the name of this diabetes consultant, but Chapeau! to her. When I heard this, I thought: I just hope that once in a while there are people who talk like this about me . . .

Heavenly Hoevelaken

Before I located in Zeewolde, I lived for a number of years in Hoevelaken—a name best known to most Dutch people because of the daily traffic jams, nearby, where the A28 crosses the A1. For shopping beyond the everyday necessities, people in the village of Hoevelaken go to Amersfoort, or Nijkerk—a small cozy town which—according to a sign at the entrance of the town, is home to the most beautiful church tower of the Netherlands. This explains why we sometimes still visit Nijkerk

The trip from Zeewolde to Nijkerk does not take very long. It is a twenty minute drive—and to stay within that time frame one can stick to the speed limits. A few days ago my wife wanted to go to Nijkerk for some shopping. She wanted to profit from the annual sales and expected to find a few good buys in a shop for lady’s fashion. I decided to accompany her. That is to say:  while she was shopping, I settled with my laptop in a café on the main square.

However, before I found a nice spot in Café Old Niekerk, I could not resist paying a quick visit to the nearby local bookshop. This bookshop ‘Roodbeen’ can not be compared with some of the major book stores in larger cities, but Roodbeen is part of the Libris-chain and makes a good effort to be an attractive store. The book that got my attention (and that I decided to purchase) is certainly not part of the national top-ten but is mainly of local and regional interest. Is has two different titles and the reader may start at two different points. I was attracted to the side of the cover with the title ‘Heavenly Hoevaken’, but when I turned the book around, I saw that the book is also about ‘Holy Nijkerk’.  The book is written by two different authors—one deals with the religious history of Hoevelaken and the other with the religious past of Nijkerk.

The area of the country where Hoevelaken and Nijkerk are located (the Veluwe) has a rich religious history that has been the subject of many interesting books. One of the well known episodes are the mid-eigthteenth century revivals that took place in and around Nijkerk.

A study of the religious life and of religious movements and denominations—and of the people that played a significant role in these—is of great value. It helps us discover what men and women in different eras expected from their faith and from their church. In most cases, over time, this was subject to considerable change. It has a relativizing influence when one is able to place one’s faith and one’s current situation in a broader historical context. It is useful to find out more about people who, with the passing of time, acquired an ever brighter aura of sanctity (or the opposite). Knowing more about these people usually makes us realize that they were very much ‘like us’—normal people with their virtues and their faults, who do not always deserve the high pedestal on which posterity has placed them.

Yesterday I tried to find out a historical person in the denomination to which I belong. I wanted to know more about the way in which Uriah Smith collected the information on which he based some of his prophetic interpretations. (I have started working on a presentation during an academic symposium in Germany, later this year.)

Uriah Smith was a ‘pioneer’ of Adventism, whose commentary on Daniel and the Revelation dominated Adventist views on those two Bible books for quite some time. Even today some church members treat his books with awe, as if they were more or less inspired. In a biography of Smith (Eugene F. Durand, Yours in the Blessed Hope, 1980) I read a description of a two-month journey of Smith to Europe. He traveled by steamer to England and took, a few days after his arrival in England, the night ferry from England to the Netherlands. As the ferry was not very full, Smith decided to take his chances and stealthily occupied a first class cabin, even though his ticket was for the second class  (so he writes in a letter to his wife). From Hook of Holland he boarded a train to Scandinavia. There his vegetarian convictions soon proved not strong enough to resist a nice salmon and he discovered how others who were, in Scandinavia, traveling with him and who were officially classified as vegetarians, did not object to some good fish in Denmark, and, in particular, Norway.

I was not looking for that kind of information. I wanted to know how Smith arrived at his conclusions about the meaning of the fifth and sixth trumpet in John’s Revelation. But, en passant, I got a better view of the real Smith!

In recent years several Dutch Adventist churches celebrated their 100 years’ existence and several will do so this year and in the next few years. These churches do well not just to look nostalgically at pictures of their past, but also to reflect on their future. Yet, a thorough study of their past may be good for their spiritual health.  Some things may have been much better in the past, but many things probably are much better today. It is good (and relativizing) to place the present in a broader historical perspective!

Joe Slater


During the festive season that is now behind us, for some reason my thoughts went to the various special Christmases and New Year’s Eves that I have experienced in the past. A Christmas breakfast, together with some friends, on the beach near Abidjan (Ivory Coast) was something rather unique. But there are remembrances of this period of the year that will stay with me. The Christmas season of 1965 was one of these.

My wife and I spent the academic year 1965-1966 at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, MI. It was the year in which I got my Masters. I look back at that period with great satisfaction. However, there was also a down side. We were as poor as church mice. We were not sponsored by the Dutch Adventist Church. The leaders had told me that those who would go to the US for further study would be lost for ‘the work’ in the Netherlands! My wife worked long days in the bookbindery of the university. Along with my intensive study program I work Fridays and Sundays in the maintenance department of the university as a painter. During these painting activities I befriended Joe Slater. He must have somewhere been between 35 and 40. He was a veteran and during his time of service he had met an English girl whom he had married.

Joe not only taught me the ins and outs of the painting trade, but proved to be very keen on working on old cars. That suited me fine. We had bought an old Pontiac Tempest for about 250 US dollars. It gave us numerous headaches. But Joe was always ready to help us to get our car going again.

Some years earlier one of my sisters had emigrated from the Netherlands to Canada. She lived with her Dutch husband in a small town in Ontario, some 400 miles from Andrews. This was a chance to see her and her husband again after a number of years that we had not seen each other. And so we agreed that we would spend the Christmas of 1965 with them. However, at the critical moment our Pontiac gave up the ghost and even Joe was not able to revive it. It seemed that our vacation in Canada would have to be cancelled.

Joe and his wife Grace were far from wealthy. They did not have an expensive Cadillac or some other luxury car, but only a few years old, simple Rambler. It was their only means of transport. For us, however, even a Rambler represented great luxury. Joe and Grace did not hesitate and told us that we could use their car for our trip to Canada.

It would be an adventurous trip, for as soon as we had left we ran into heavy snow. Once we had passed the border with Canada, the weather had turned even more nasty and we had to deal with a dense snowstorm that made it almost impossible to see the road. It was icy, dark and bitterly cold and we were forced to move at very low speed. Then, as if things were not difficult enough, the car suddenly blew one of its tires. There we were, stuck along the 401, in danger to be snowed in, and not really knowing how to solve our predicament. I located the jack, but when I had the car free from the ground, it slid from the jack. To say that it did not look very good would be quite an understatement.

But after just a few minutes one of the few cars that passed us stopped and two young men got out of that car. They asked whether they could help. No, these were not angels; they were Mormon missionaries. In no time they lifted our car with their jack, and exchanged the wheel with the flat tire for our spare wheel. Soon we could resume our adventurous journey towards our destination.

Joe has passed away. Before I started writing this blog, I tried to find his current address. I discovered that he did no longer live at the pace where he eventually managed to repair our Pontiac after we returned from our eventful Christmas trip. In the archives of the South Bend Tribune—the paper of choice for the region around Andrews and probably the dullest newspaper on earth—I found a death notice informing the readers that Joe Slater had, on August 6, 2008, ‘gone to meet Jesus’. So, it would no longer be possible to get in touch with him even if I would be near Andrews again. But I have not forgotten how he helped in an extraordinary way. And this also applies to the two Mormon missionaries. They certainly have helped me to see the Mormon Church in a more positive light than might otherwise have been the case.

Maybe in 2014 I will succeed in being more like Joe Slater and the two Mormon young men than I often managed to be in 2013. I will try.