Mixed feelings


Saturday evening, March 23, 2013] Today a phase of my life ended. It sounds more dramatic than it, in fact, is. When in September 2011 I accepted the job of president of the Adventist Church in Belgium and Luxembourg, I knew it would be for a limited period. I agreed to do it for about a year. Well, it became a period of a year and a half and I had to be firm to ensure that it would not be longer. I began with a lot of doubt. Was it wise to step into this adventure? No one could be found who was either able or willing to be the president. Would it be possible for me, as a retired foreigner, to function in this assignment and, in fact, get something accomplished?

I have been more than someone who for a short time was simply  minding the shop. I have tried to get a number of things on the rails and have done my best to improve relationships, for instance between the conference board and the pastors. I have a feeling that a few things have succeeded. But I am also aware that there are still many challenges and that, of course, I have also made my share of mistakes. It was with mixed feelings that today I said ‘good bye’ to the church in the Belgian-Luxemburg Federation. During a special festive Sabbath for all church members in the conference, I handed the responsibilities to Jeroen Tuinstra. And thus the church in this part of Europe finally has a regular new president, rather than someone who serves ad interim. And once again it is a Dutchman.

Yes, it was with mixed feelings. I must admit that it was not always easy and straightforward. My experience in church work helped me a great deal, but there were moments when the challenges were quite unique. I knew, of course, that there are differences in mentality and culture between the Netherlands and Belgium. I have, through the years, noted that dealing with other cultures can often be more difficult when those cultures are outwardly more or less the same, but are quite different beneath the surface. That is why, for instance, it can be confusing for an American to have to work together with an Australian. They look the same, but they do not always react in the same way in a particular situation. Similartly, is was surprising (and fascinating) to experience how much Belgians and Dutch people are alike, and yet differ from each other.

I noticed in the past eighteen months that I do no longer have unlimited energy, and that, as a result, the task was somewhat heavier than I had expected. However, because of the kind of person that I happen to be, I had the tendency to focus on numerous things that another ‘temporary’ president would have put on the ‘to-do’ pile of his successor.

But I also noted how surprisingly welcome I was, and how (to me somewhat unexpectedly) positive my colleagues in the office and the churches cooperated with me and were prepared to initiate new things. Of course, I do not pretend that I have become loved and appreciated by everyone. I am sure that some members of the Belgian church have not always understood my humor, and I know that there are some who think that I am a liberal rascal. Often that judgment is not made on the basis of any real attempt to understand what I have said and written. But, I am not going to lose much sleep over this. Today I could once again experience in the reactions of many people that I had been accepted and became a real part of the church in Belgium and Luxemburg.

My successor, Jeroen, ‘steps into a warm bath’. Of course, he is not a younger copy of me and he is going to have a different approach to things. He has other (and, possibly, more) talents than I have, and he is bound to make other mistakes than I have made. It will take some getting used to for him and for his colleagues, and for the church in general. He will discover how complicated the church in Belgium and Luxemburg can sometimes be, but also how much potential there is.

I have been asked to still be involved with a few issues in the coming months. And I will also have the privilege to attend the Franco-Belgian Union session as a special delegate, at the end of April. And if Jeroen wants to send me a mail from time to time, and wants to know why in the world I wrote a particular letter, or how I could possibly have made such a stupid proposal, he knows that I am rather prompt in responding to mail messages! But he does not need to be afraid that I did not really say ‘good bye’.

Now that he retire for the second time, I hope to have a bit more time ‘for myself’, for my wife and for our relatives and friends. And I sense there are some books that need to be written . . . On Monday I will be home all day (apart from a dental appointment). But on Tuesday morning I leave for Beirut (Lebanon) for about a week. I will report on this in my next blog.

Finally, Jeroen, I wish you all the best. I wish you God’s abundant blessings and a lot of inspiration. Enjoy the ‘frites’, and also the way in which the people in Belgium and Luxembourg  will (both figuratively and literally) embrace you. For a reserved Dutchman that takes a bit of getting used to!