Thursday, September 07, 2006

Call to Prayer

Every month, I send out a letter to all of the people who provide financial and spiritual support for our ministry in Amsterdam. And although I typically refrain from publishing these "prayer letters" in this space, I feel that this month's issue deserves an exception. Not that it's such a well-written letter or anything like that -- but because the issues outlined in the prayer letter need as much prayer support as possible. If you feel so led after reading the letter below, please join us in asking for God to show up in a big way over the coming month. Thanks.
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By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going… (Hebrews 11:8)

Greetings from Amsterdam! It’s a season of new beginnings. It’s the beginning of new seasons for the weather, sports, and television programming. It’s the beginning of new routines in family life and ministry life, following the summer. It’s the beginning of Elliot’s school year (our little boy is now a full-time elementary school student!). And, well, it’s the beginning of a new chapter in the history of our church in Amsterdam as well…

After four years of ministry in “De Zolder” (“The Attic”), we are saying good-bye to our beloved home overlooking the waters of the Singelgracht and entering a period of transition in the relocation for our ministry facilities. In many ways, this departure is an answer to many prayers and much practical effort to ensure the long-term viability of our ministry in central Amsterdam. Still, there is a certain amount of grieving that goes along with relocation, and we must look to God in faith for the future of our church.

Our four years in the Zolder have proved to be a critical period of formation and development as a church community. The renovation of ten rental units on the Leidsekade and Marnixstraat became our first major project as a seedling ministry—with just a couple dozen people from America, England, and the Netherlands. And through transforming the dirty and decrepit building into something beautiful and functional, we found a powerful metaphor for what was to become our mission in the city: transforming broken people through and into the beauty of Christ. As the renovations concluded, the restored attic (which we referred to by its Dutch name, “the Zolder”) hosted our first worship gatherings by candlelight—and in just a few months we had more than a hundred people joining us for food, fellowship, prayer, singing, and Bible study each Sunday evening. In addition to hosting worship gatherings, the Zolder became a place for wedding receptions and baby dedications and birthday celebrations and farewell parties. Consequently, as with any place so full of laughter and tears and rich memories, the Zolder has taken a special place in our hearts (not to mention in the name of our church!).

However, as much as the Zolder has been a great blessing for our church, we’ve also been hindered by the financial and practical responsibilities associated with the facilities. Our original eight-year lease was for an entire set of properties which were intended to provide not just a location for ministry activities but also rental properties that could be sub-leased to (ideally) cross-subsidize ministry costs. Yet in spite of the investment of significant resources in time, money, and energy, our rental agreement has been a significant financial burden—and we’ve had to fight to keep the ministry afloat as it ended up cross-subsidizing an apartment business that never fully materialized! For almost three years, we tried to negotiate with the building owners to adjust the terms of our contract to reflect fair market values and/or to release us from parts of the rental agreement. Thus, when we were finally given an opportunity for early termination of the lease this fall, we felt that it was the time to respond—in faith and in common sense.

Thus, we now find ourselves in a place of dependence upon God—seeking His will for the future of our church. First and foremost, we need to seek God for a new home. Although we’ve been working on things for several months and there are definitely some distinct possibilities for the future, we are still without a new church location. Regardless, we need to be out of the Zolder by September 30th. Therefore, we desperately need God to provide us with a new home: a place that is inviting, well-situated in the city center, affordable, and big enough for our growing community. We’re praying for favor with the building owners, with fire marshals, and with the city council as they consider our applications for occupation of a new space. And more than just a new place to meet—we desire for God to use our church’s relocation to bring His Kingdom to a new section of the city center. We want to be a blessing to our new neighbors. And specifically, as we enter this new chapter of our history, we’re asking God to use us to help bring many people into a meaningful relationship with God through Jesus.

We also need much prayer this month for the basic logistics of our relocation. Efficiently executing our departure from the Zolder, the transition (to temporary facilities, if necessary), and the renovation and arrival in our new home (wherever that may be) is a major operation. Of course, it’s going to take a lot of muscle to relocate all of our furniture, equipment, and such; but even more than that, it’s going to take a lot of brainpower and good organization to coordinate the move. In addition, we still have a few sub-leasers that need to move out—and because of the way our termination agreement is structured, we cannot leave anyone or anything on the premises beyond the last day of this month. So to say the least, there are a lot of loose ends that have to be tied up during the next few weeks—while simultaneously keeping up the general flow of ministry within our church!

Actually though, as much as the details of the move can make our heads spin, we’re excited for the ways that our ministry will benefit through this month of relocation and re-establishment. We see a great opportunity these days for deeper growth and commitment of existing church members—moving them from self-centered “consumers” to mission-minded “producers.” We believe that God will use our church’s relocation to develop deeper courage, faith, love, devotion, loyalty, unity, and vision for reaching the city. We’ve always sought to keep Jesus as the center of our church, and it seems that God could use our current circumstances to do just that! The present situation highlights the fact that our church is not defined by our meeting location or by our weekly order of events. Thus, in a sense, it seems that God could teach us more through this experience than through any kind of teaching series or Bible study or seminar.

Particularly in the month of September, we are encouraging the people in our church to commit to prayer, fasting, and seeking God’s will for the future of our ministry. Specifically, we are challenging the people in our church to fast every Monday, ending with corporate prayer on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 in the Zolder. And of course, the reason that I write all of this is to encourage you to also join with us in prayer! If everything gets pulled off smoothly, it will be nothing short of miraculous… But fortunately, we follow the God of miracles. Thank you for your invaluable partnership with us…


At 4:42 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

I got a cool response by e-mail from one of our supporters in America, and it really struck a chord within me (providing some very perceptive insights). I thought it might be nice to post a couple of the paragraphs in this space here:

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As I read your letter, I was struck with how similar the situation is to a birth; Preparation - you and the rest of the staff moving to Amsterdam to prepare your living quarters and De Zolder; conception - your first worship service four years ago; gestation - development of your staff, congregation and ministry, including all your home groups; and now the birth!

From the eyes of the baby (now you and your congregation), it must be pretty scary not knowing what the world outside of the womb will be, where you will land, what you will do and even where you will live? Really lots of questions eh? Sounds a bit like your words...

Just as the miracle of birth has occurred for quite a few years now, the Amsterdam church will land on its own feet (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) exactly where our Gracious Lord Jesus wants it to. It really sounds exciting to be a part of this adventure.

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Jay said...

I plan on joining you in the Spirit this Tuesday.



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