Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Work Days

I've forged an inferiority complex from the fact that I cannot count myself among the original sacred slave-laborers who spent hundreds of thousands of man-hours in shaping the Leidsekade and Marnixstraat facilities from trash-heaps into treasured homes. And as a rule, I've tried not to talk too much about my own experiences in "working to renovate the Zolder" since such a suggestion has occasionally been thrown back in my face with the air of an old emancipated field negro laughing at the complaints of his Dust-bowl grandchildren who had "no idea what it was really like back then..." But as I've shouldered my own crosses and bourn my own burdens over the past few years, I've become emboldened to talk about the old days -- when the Zolder was just a crummy old attic, when times were hard, when we worked by the sweat of our brow to literally build the ministry in Amsterdam. And so now, dear friends, I tell my tale to you...

Of course, I cannot deny that some of the most arduous tasks were completed prior to my arrival in January of 2003. I wasn't there to clear out the diseased mattresses and used condoms that littered the apartments when we first took possession of the facilities. I never lifted a finger to carry the countless cords of oak flooring from street level, up 55 steps to the attic space. I didn't do much in the way of demolition and power-sanding to open up the shabby fourth-floor apartment into a post-modern cathedral. Nevertheless, when I came on-site -- not just to work, mind you, but to live -- the place was still far from polished.

The first night staying in apartment 51-2, we had no door to keep out the winter drafts (nor the potential thieves, for that matter). Our ten-month-old baby boy climbed up and down the wood-pile in our dining room for entertainment. Some of my earliest job assignments with the new ministry in Amsterdam were to oil the oak flooring of the Zolder and paint the walls of the hallways... And, even though I can't claim a full understanding of the trials of toiling on the building, I was not so late in my arrival as to miss out completely on the one phrase that elicited groans from all of the team members who had arrived before me: "work day."

Our first Saturday in Amsterdam, actually, was just such a work day. Everybody showed up in work clothes early in the morning, weary and haggard even before the day's physical labor... And I suppose I would have been, too, after a long succession of "work days" that actually would add up to "work weeks" or even "work months." But on that first Saturday in Amsterdam -- jet-lagged though I was -- it seems that I was the fiesty one that morning: a starry-eyed idealist, I guess, ready to take on the world, unafraid of anyone or anything... much less a painting project. I wanted to earn my stripes, to win my place of belonging on the team. So whether it was this sense of needing to muscle my way up the pecking order, or whether it was simply adrenaline and pent-up energy for the day ahead, I remember picking a "fight" with Todd that morning. He was one of the few team members with whom I had any real semblence of a relationship (we had met each other some five years previously, going through GCM's Staff Training program together), so I started playfully sparring with him... and then playful sparring led to more energetic swats at each other -- and before long, we were all-out wrestling and rolling around on the ground and laughing with each other. And although I must confess that I was a good bit heavier then (and even now that I've trimmed up a bit, I'm still probably a couple of weight classes higher than Todd) -- I am still proud of the fact that I became the first champion of the Zolder Wrestling Federation that day...

Later, as the work day went on, I also found myself locking horns with another young buck on the team named Sam. An articulate young Englishman, Sam was fun to talk with -- and we related to each other well, having both joined the primarily Colorado-based church planting team as outsiders who never took part in the initial team development in Fort Collins (and, in fact, we both arrived in Amsterdam the same week). However, while painting the navy blue hallway between the kitchen and the coat room, we found ourselves discussing the numerous merits of American civilization, and I ended up making the mistake of saying something to the effect of the Americans having needed to come over and bail England out, during the World Wars (by the way, I've since learned that this is a very calloused and shallow perspective that can be rather offensive to our colonial progenitors). Fortunately, the English are a very genteel people that do not resort immediately to fisticuffs -- and we were wise enough to eventually veer our conversation toward topics that were less tense -- thus, Sam and I are still friends to this day... But I shudder to think about the way that I burst onto the scene in Amsterdam that first work day.

Fortunately, I learned my place over time. And after a few more work days, spread throughout the following weeks (and months and years), I was equally weary and haggard -- and, I think I can say, invested in the project. As the "work days" became fewer and further between and as the building was transformed into a home for our ministry, I was able to see a different kind of work take shape: the work of transforming lives that has become the distinguishing characteristic of our community in the center of Amsterdam. And if the rest of our days as a church could be such spiritual "work days" we would be glad to let it be so -- with maybe just a few of the manual labor projects thrown in periodically to keep things interesting.


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