When I am home on Sunday morning at half past eight I often watch a television program that is presented by Annemiek Schrijver. In her home, hidden in de woods near the village of Lage Vuursche, she meets with guests who tell about the things that concerns them ‘deep down.’ The program usually has a religious undertone—christian or otherwise. A times I find the message of the guests about their view on life not very interesting, but there are also times when I am fascinated by what the people have to say. Annemiek Schrijver is an author of fiction and non-fiction but also a radio and television presenter with a huge experience, who has truly mastered the art of interviewing.
I missed last Sunday’s program, as I already sat in my car, en route to Sweden, where I intend to spend a few weeks with my son and grandchildren, while also dedicating a lot of that time to the renovation of his house. My wife will follow by air in two weeks, but Skype enables us to be in daily contact. She mentioned to me that last week’s program had been very worth while. So, I looked for it on the internet, found it and watched it on my laptop.
This Sunday morning a Joseph Oubelkas, a thirty-five year old Maroccan Dutchmen, had come to Schrijver’s home in the woods. He related his experiences as a prisoner in a Maroccan prison cell. During a business trip to the homeland of his father, he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong moment. As a result he became one of the suspects in a major drugs deal. Though one hundred percent innocent, he was arrested and spent five year under the most miserable circumstances in a high security prison. At last his innocence was recoggnized and he was set free.
This terrible experience did not make Joseph a bitter person. He explained how he had decided to stay sane, The letters he received from his Dutch mother gave him great support. What impressed me most as I listened to his story was how he viewed his fellow-prisoners. Most of these men were hardened criminals. However, somehow Joseph was able not just to see the ‘outside’ of these persons, but also how different they were behind their tough façade. Among these criminals, he said, he met some very ‘beautiful’ people. To see this was very helpful for him in his struggle to remain positive.
The conversation about this ability to always discover something good in people around us reminded me of my own experience, in my own little world. It is probably about ten years ago when I was talking to a colleague. At the time I still served as the president of the Dutch Adventist Church. On a regular basis I met people who did not share my vision for the church. Some made this very clear to me, often in a far from pleasant manner. My colleague had noticed how this tended to irritate me. It was not difficult to detect this. He said something like: ‘Do not get so upset when people push ideas you totally disagree with, even if they are nasty about it. Always remember that these people, in their own way, also love their church!’
I have never forgotten this remark and try to think about it when people I meet ventilate their criticisms about the church, and even question the integrity of other believers—and especially of church leaders. Even when I strongly feel that their idea are wrong and that they damage the church rather than build it up, I try to remember that they also, in their own way, love their church. This realization makes it a lot easier for me to deal with ‘difficult’ people.