Updates from Amsterdam
Please read below the observations and experiences of Truett-McConnell students who are sharing the gospel in Amsterdam. Come back to this page for more updates.
Posted Jan. 6, 2012
Balkon Cafe has become my favorite place to strike up conversations with people. Milly (Horsely) and I went there Wednesday afternoon and met two girls who were surrounded by backpacks. They were on a grand backpacking adventure. Being interested in such journeys, the two of us excitedly approached the table, and Amy and Kathleen welcomed us eagerly and shared with us stories of their adventures from Australia throughout Europe these past six weeks. We soon were able to talk about religion and conversed openly with Amy, who was brought up in a Christian Home. But she was struggling with whether she considered religion necessary or applicable to everyday life. She thought it was a nice for anyone who wished to follow and practice. Milly and I were able to clear up some misconceptions about the Bible and shared with her our testimonies as well as connect everything with things she knows and enjoys to make them more personal and more easily grasped. Though she didn't change her mind or have a conviction of the Spirit, we were able to detect some barriers begin to deteriorate as the truth of the Bible was separated from the popular church tradition, and God was shown to be personal, holy, and transcendent.
Sitting alone and waiting for a friend in Burger King was a Finnish girl in her mid-20s to whom Brian (Morrison) and I were able to talk. She lives in Finland working as a nurse and studying to become a cancer specialist. She shared with us about culture and religion from her perspective, telling us that she had been raised Protestant but now even questioned the existence of God, heaven, and any truth at all. When we asked why she felt this way, we found out that the problems of evil and suffering were a huge stumbling block as was the lack of compassion and compulsion on the part of the church to care for other people; heaven seemed to good to be true; and truth seemed so exclusive that, even if it were out there it would not be knowable. Brian and I shared the gospel with her and answered her questions with compassion and honesty. She seemed softened by our own transparency and love, and interested by our ability to answer in honesty that there are things we don't know. What once had been a look of defensiveness and pained hostility in her eyes became an imploring genuine look of searching. Though not convinced of our position, she agreed that it is important for a person to find for himself or herself what they believe. Hopefully, she will pick up a Bible and decide to find out for herself what treasure it holds because now at least she knows that is applicable, life changing, and addresses life's hardest questions.
Milly and I once again found ourselves in the Balkon Café, this time seated with Esther, a woman in her mid- to late-30s. This was a very challenging conversation to encounter. Esther was studying for her master's degree in business, and conversation began from there. She lives outside of Amsterdam as an elementary school principal. Though raised religiously, she had now forsaken all thoughts of a God and truth. Milly and I were able to ask her some questions that hopefully will provoke her to ponder their answers, possibilities, and consequences sometime. We spoke to her for about an hour. It was an engaging dialogue, but she was immovable in her stance and unwilling to follow the logical ends to her conclusions. Though she never backed down from her staunch positions, nor would admit that they were illogical, we pray that perhaps our questions will penetrate her soul and mind and cause her to consider them and hopefully draw upon the answers we were able to give for some of the questions she had. She was searching for meaning and purpose, and the human desire to have these things. She didn't understand the existence of evil and the consequences of sin. Fortunately, we were able to present the entire gospel to her and pray that the story will be brought to a recollection and reflection some day.
Faith and I came upon two Brazilian girls who had just arrived in Amsterdam to begin their 26-day tour of Europe. They told us that they were not religious and that they didn't know anything about church or Christianity. We asked if we could share and they politely agreed. We began with the entire gospel, from creation to the cross to the coming restoration. Afterwards we shared our testimonies, explaining how we believe this is true. What began as a polite listening turned to a fascination with the story we told. After we finished we asked what they thought. Their response was that they had never heard it like that before and they were intrigued. Still skeptical, finding issue with the idea of heaven seeming too good to be true, and struggling with the problem of suffering, they remained slightly distant. But one of the girls seemed to be weighing the contents. Pray that during their journey to France God will reveal Himself to them.
Will was a 72-year-old-man, an atheist who did not believe in anything. His only reason for any apparent morality was the fact that he was getting older, and it was not okay for him to go into the red light district any more. He said that he did not know humans got on this planet, and that he never really thought about such matters.
Monday I met with Serge who was from Ukraine. He said he was a Protestant Christian, and his girlfriend who came up soon after confirmed this, saying she was also a Christian. Then the conversation ended abruptly. I am not sure if it was a ploy to end the encounter, but they seemed genuine during the conversation.
God pointed me to Jamie, who was standing outside the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Jamie said he was from the Church of England and that he believed in God. Although when pressed further, he did not seem to truly believe in the Bible, but said he believed in a god and that he was spiritual. He said that, despite his upbringing he believed this, and that the majority of the people in the UK believed it, too. I walked him from Genesis through the Cross, and the he seemed to be shut off to this message. He said he knew it from his upbringing and that he respected anyone who did believe, but that it was not a belief of his own.
A girl working in a store told me she had been a Protestant, then a Buddhist, but most recently had left that religion. The conversation started civilly, but then she got extremely defensive, saying she did not appreciate me trying to tell her what to believe. I explained I was only trying to share my faith and give her the option because it did not do me any good to try to make her believe anything, and that I was commanded to tell others so that they may believe. She then tried to redefine truth for me and tell me what it actually meant. So we kindly said thank you for your time and left.
Tuesday there was a man named Max, about 30, who was alone at Burger King. He talked to me about how religion had affected the family, many youth of the nation, and the government in various ways. Eventually I got around to sharing the gospel with him, and he listened respectfully until his train was about to arrive. Max is an atheist who was taught that belief by his parents. He said that there should be a legal age for children before they can be exposed to religion. That way they can be exposed to a little bit of every religion and then given the opportunity to decide for themselves. He left to go to his train saying that he respected that I believed although he could not.
I saw a man who was alone, reading in the corner, and I knew that God wanted me to go talk to him although I wanted to find every excuse to do the opposite. This was a man from Turkey, who said that he wanted to research the Bible and did in fact accept a Bible and allowed me to show him how to use it and to walk him through some passages. This could have been an opportunity missed, but who knows where just giving this man a Bible can go?
This morning I talked to a man who witnessed to me. This was amazing. He also told me of a Bible study he had just left that was for some of the mentally challenged men of the city, and that he was on his way to another such man's house to study the Bible with him. He then told me of his church and a little of what God was in his own life. It was encouraging to see that there is a Christian among the darkness of Amsterdam.
I talked to a German man who chugged his coffee and ran almost immediately after he heard me bring up religion. Then one man who had grown up in Holland, not a believer, allowed me to share the gospel with him as well as my testimony. Upon leaving that conversation I saw this man with a Dutch Bible cracked open, reading it on the front coffee bar. I talked to a guy who was an atheist. But he allowed me to share the gospel, my testimony, and scientific facts that can be used as proof against evolution and the big bang theory. This guy was not willing to make a decision, but after I talked of the purpose that I could tell God put in my life, he seemed to have a look of longing in his eyes. I hope someone else can reach him locally since he is actually a local.
Posted Jan. 5, 2012
Before this trip began, I prayed for each student by name for health, strength, wisdom, boldness, and opportunities to share Christ to Amsterdam. This week I have watched these students write their personal testimonies. I have learned alongside them as they sat in classes each morning, hearing statistics and facts on traditionalism to post-modernism; Christ in Culture; paradigms of this current culture; and evangelism techniques. I have eaten meals with them every day: Indian, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and the most important, waffles. But my favorite times have been the one-on-one moments as we sat in a coffee shop, waiting for opportunities to witness, and listening to the students' stories.
These students need not only my prayers, but yours, too, as you will learn by reading about them.
The young man whose agnostic parents don't support his Christianity nor his pursuit of education in Christian missions. Yet he was living and working as a missionary in Latin America when he heard about Truett-McConnell College and the new World Missions degree. He left that work for his college education, and he is devoting his life to missions with no family support.
The young woman who shared her story of her amazing family, yet has a beloved sister who has turned her back on God. We cried together as she talked through her fears and frustrations.
The young woman who has several doors of opportunity open to her when she graduates and needs clarity on which one to enter.
The young man who struggles with his inadequacies to share Christ in this setting but simply needs encouragement.
The young woman who was called to missions while in this very city two years ago and is praying about where to go to serve full time.
These are only a few stories I have heard from the 10 Truett-McConnell students witnessing, ministering and learning in Amsterdam. These students all become like our own children as Dr. Pruitt and I pray for them daily, count them as we go out and come in, listen to them, teach them, encourage them and lead them. As the trip ends [Jan. 8], I will continue to pray for them and I will always be blessed to know them.
Debi Pruitt is married to Dr. Ed Pruitt, director of TMC's World Missions Center, associate professor of Christian Studies, and World Missions/Christian Studies Chair.
Posted Jan. 4, 2012
Brett (Fortenberry) and I went to a shoe store where we met a young, Turkish Muslim girl. She was very willing to talk to us. She wanted peace between all people and didn't understand why people with differing beliefs refused so often to get along. She had many friends of varying beliefs and practices and was very much okay with that. She believed that those who believed differently could put aside their differences. Somehow in the process of the conversation, she brought up that she had seen the movie "The Passion of the Christ." She was clearly disturbed by the movie and she said she hated the Jewish people in the movie. She knew about Jesus, but believed he was just a good prophet. She did not understand why the Jews hated Jesus. I was able to explain to her who Jesus was and who he said he was and why that was so detestable to the Jewish people. She ended up getting busy with a costumer after that so we left her a note, asking a few questions to provoke her to think about some other aspects of Jesus. I also had the opportunity to speak with a young girl named Christina. Her family emigrated from Serbia. She did not know much about any type of religion but what she was acquainted with she did not like. She observed that many Catholics and Christians would say that they believed, but would not go to church. She then said that she was annoyed with the ones she did know who went to church because she didn't see a real impact in their lives. She didn't know why there should be a difference in them, but she knew that there should be a difference. I got to share the gospel with her, and she had never heard it before. She was amazed that God could make himself a human. She took a very keen interest; and though she didn't make a salvation decision, it was a wonderful opportunity.
I met with a group of three guys came from Frankfurt. All three were college students traveling for the holidays. All three grew up in Catholic schools and claimed that they knew whom Jesus was. None of them were currently in church or claimed to have a personal relationship with Christ. All three attributed the negative reputation of the Catholic Church to the sex related crimes and charges against the priests. When telling them about having a personal relationship with Christ, all three said that it was enough to know whom Jesus was in order to get into heaven. They all thought that church was irrelevant if you knew who Jesus was and if you were too busy to attend.
Ashlyn Williams and I struck up a conversation with a Hindu woman and her 13-year-old son. We talked with them for an hour or so about Hinduism and Christianity and the differences between the two. The day before, the son had been searching the Internet about the Bible and had some questions we were able to answer. He asked if the Bible ever spoke about hell, and Ashlyn showed him a passage that did speak on hell. Ashlyn was able to share with the mother how we knew that our God was alive, and that led us into sharing the gospel with them. We were able to give the boy a Bible, which he was very excited about because he wanted to search more about this "God" we were talking about. Ashlyn told him to read the Gospel of John. We are going to meet with him again on Thursday, and hopefully share with him more. We're praying that God will work on their hearts and bring them to the knowledge of the one true God.
Posted on Jan. 3, 2012
Last night a group of six returned to the Central Station to find more people to talk to. Milly, Faith, and I were able to talk with a group of three girls in Burger King. Two of the girls were waiting on a late night train to go home to Rotterdam and were just waiting there for the next hour and a half. The three girls: Sharika, Priscilla and Priscilla were very open to speaking with us and telling us more about the culture of Holland. They all said that they were Christians, Catholics, having been raised in the church and owning a Bible. They all agreed that religion was very important and that it helps people feel better about themselves and be stronger to handle life but they didn't have any further understanding. They were all very interested in what we had to say and would ask us questions and excitedly answer ours. One of the girls, Priscilla, seemed throughout the conversation, to have been the most disengaged. However, midway through, she spoke up to ask, "Are you afraid to die?" We were able explain the hope of the Gospel here for the second time that night and she hung on every word as I was able to share my testimony with her about how I used to be very afraid until I really understood who Christ was and what it is that He has done for us. We were able to explain about true peace, hope, and comfort, and she remained very interested and we could tell that she was thinking about what we told her. It seems that their biggest stumbling block in decision making is about submitting to a new authority of Christ in their lives and no longer having the "freedom" to party and participate in the atmosphere that that generally entails. They listened well and we hope and pray that they will continue to reflect on what they heard. Also, we hope that they will realize that if they claim Christ it would transform their lives, their behaviors and perspectives. Priscilla, Priscilla, and Sharika really need the hope that we treasure and I think last night they began to realize that there is hope in the Lord.
Dr. Ed Pruitt:
Several of the TMC missions team went to the Amsterdam train station, where there was a man, a vagrant, sitting alone in a Burger King. The man continued staring at me. I brought this to Hayden Fleming's attention, and we approached the man, who obviously had been affected by years of drug abuse. After a couple minutes of introductions, the man, who refused to tell us his name began to stare into the distance and mutter. The man claimed to be a messenger sent from God. Needless to say, I wanted to know why he thought he had been sent from God, and, moreover, was there a message this messenger might have. During our 20-minute conversation, the man continued to gaze away from us and speak to "imaginary" people. This behavior seemed to occur when Hayden and I tried to discuss spiritual matters. The man finally became so uncomfortable with us that he politely excused himself and departed. It is heartbreaking to see what years of drug abuse will do. Here was a man who claimed to be a messenger of God, but was so far from the truth that he did not even recognize it when Hayden and I attempt to share it with him.
Because I made a commitment to God years ago regarding missions, my practice for the past 15 years has been to take students on mission trips around the globe to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Many times my travels have led me through Amsterdam, a city clearly in dire need of the gospel as exemplified by the man encountered in Burger King. Even though there was a deep knowledge of God here in times past, it has long since left Amsterdam. However, if God can use Truett-McConnell students to infuse a little light into this dark place, then perhaps we might someday see the Lord Jesus Christ once again exalted in Amsterdam.
Dr. Pruitt is director of TMC's World Missions Center, associate professor of Christian Studies, and World Missions/Christian Studies Chair.
Posted on Jan. 1, 2012
Ashlyn (Williams), Brandon (Smart), and I saw a security guard named Bjorn, who was on duty at the time. We almost passed him by, but Ashlyn realized our opportunity with him since he was just getting paid to stand around. We engaged Bjorn in conversation and learned he is living with his girlfriend and their two-month-old son, Boaz. Bjorn also attended a Christ school and knew about stories within the Bible. Brandon asked him about his thoughts on religions, and Bjorn said religion was fine as long as it didn't affect anyone else. Then Bjorn made the comment that all people were good. The conversation was coming to a stale place until Ashlyn asked Bjorn if he believed there was a heaven or a hell. Bjorn said he did believe there were a heaven and a hell. Ashlyn reminded Bjorn that he'd said early that he believed good people would go to heaven. He reaffirmed that statement. She then asked where he thought Hitler would go, and Bjorn replied with hell. Brandon explained that being good is not what gets someone into heaven. After a few more exchanged questions, Brandon asked Bjorn if he would want his son Boaz to love and obey because he loved his father and wanted to, or to love and obey because he had to. That's when it clicked for Bjorn, but then he became uncomfortable and changed the subject. Pray for Bjorn that he may one day accept Christ as his Lord and Savior.
It was my first witnessing opportunity of 2012, around 2:30 am, when a young man named Alex was headed up the stairs to go to his room for the night. By surprise, Alex stepped back from going up the stairs and started talking to me. The conversation began with the Holocaust and ended with me sharing the gospel. Alex remained in his belief of being an atheist, but a seed was planted.
I met Mariah, 19, who claimed to be an atheist. She was raised as an atheist and didn't believe there was a heaven or hell. After sharing back and forth about what we both believed in, I asked her if I could draw out a picture. I drew a circle and told her that everything within this circle stood for the knowledge she had about anything and everything. I then shaded the remaining part, outside the circle, and said that the shaded part represents what she doesn't know. I asked her if she knew about everything in the world. She told me no. Then I asked if it was possible that the knowledge and things of God could be in the shaded part outside of her circle. She then came to the point of understanding that she doesn't believe in God and heaven and hell because she doesn't know anything about them. Since Mariah was at work, I had to see if I could come by again at her work place, and whether she would be interested in talking more. She told me when she would be at work again, and that she would love to talk, and to find out more about God. Mariah has moved from a huge point -- from believing there is no such thing as God, and then coming to say that there could be, and wanting to know more. Pray for the next meeting with Mariah.
Posted on Dec. 31, 2011
Today I approached a man named Shoch. I wanted to share the gospel with him. Before letting me sit down, Shoch wanted to be sure I was not trying to start a religious conversation. This stemmed from a past issue with a Jehovah's Witness man. Shoch comes from a Roman Catholic background and very much wished to avoid any conversation that addressed religion. After about half an hour, Shoch was willing to share why he hated the idea of religion in his life. Shoch perfectly exemplifies those in a culture who are willing to tolerate anything as long as they are not asked to deal with it personally.
I had the opportunity to speak with a woman from London. She had beliefs similar to Buddhism and New Age philosophy. I had never met anyone who actually believed that everything had a god in it and was a part of God. I now realize how difficult it is to talk to someone with these particular beliefs about who Jesus is. It was extremely difficult to explain God putting on a human body to someone who believes we are all God.
I sat down next to a man and asked him if he would mind if I inquired about certain aspects of his culture. I told him I was conducting a culture survey for my college. He agreed, and I asked, "Do you go to church?"
"Ask my parents. They didn't raise me in a religious home."
"What do you believe?"
"I believe in everything."
"What does that mean?"
The man rolled up his sleeve, looked at his watch and said, "It means I have a train to catch!" The man then left the cafe.
I see now that the soil in Amsterdam is hard and in need of spiritual water. My team and I must remain devoted and determined to sharing the gospel in this arid spiritual climate.