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In Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he says that, “The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.” From Kay Arthur to Ricky Skaggs, the believing family live what I deem to be remarkable stories. Each have a different beginning, middle and ending, but nevertheless, these are lives authored by the Master of the Universe and are intended for a divine purpose. As a result of their obedience and thoughtful participation with the Lord, they have and continue to make a stunning mark on mankind. When He is your ambition, the story will always end with victory.
I share this because my ambitions were mine alone for many years, but now that I am journeying with the Savior, He is writing a much more intriguing and rewarding story. He is taking me to places that I never deemed possible, the latest being to the French-speaking region of Belgium.
Conversations between the Shadow Mountain Community Church Missions Department and its Belgian missionary, Eric Zander, generated an idea to send my band and I to Belgium for a series of outreach concerts. The goal was not a church tour, but a tour that would reach into Gembloux and its neighboring villages. Eric, known for his “out-of-the box” approach to evangelism, asked his congregation to host a series of house concerts. By volunteering to host a concert, the people would be required to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. For most, it was the first time they had ever disclosed that they were Christians. The local people were intrigued by the fact that an American Christian Country band was coming to their town and much to our surprise many of the concerts were standing room only.
It has been years since I traveled to Europe, so my travel savvy was a bit weak. Fortunately, a good friend of mine who used to fly for American Airlines walked me through the International flight do’s and don’ts. He did not warn me, however, about the leg room on a Boeing 777 and my knees hit the seat in front of me before it was ever reclined. This should dispel any thoughts of this being a glamorous travel experience.
We arrived in Belgium at around 7:30 a.m. and literally hit the ground running, with 15 concerts booked in our nine-day visit. As I mentioned, many were house concerts, but other events were also included in the tour; all intended to reach the un-churched community. Each concert setting was different and Eric advised me prior to each event of what I could and could not say as far as my testimony was concerned. Sometimes he would interpret and sometimes not, but his continual goal was that my words and massage were not rehearsed or forced in any way.
Throughout the tour, the band and I witnessed the spirit of God fall upon audience after audience transcending the language barrier. I shared how Jesus changed my life and the music was the exclamation point. Teary eyes and broken hearts were abundant. All I could think was, “These dear souls know of Jesus, but they do not know Him. Every village has a big beautiful, but EMPTY Catholic Church. They have statues, crucifixes and chapels nestled as memorials throughout their villages……they have Jesus on the outside, but they do not have Him on the inside.”
At one of the house concerts, a deep conversation ensued between the hosts and Eric regarding the difference between religion and faith. Eric explained that religion is external, but faith comes from within. Referring to me they said, “Yes, we can see that it comes from within her.” These experiences gave me a deeper understanding of the scripture in Matthew 5:16 that says, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” How often I have taken my freedom of speech and expression for granted, missing the opportunity to let others see Him?
Our concerts were often greeted by a bit of skepticism. The audiences knew we were a Christian Country band and it seemed that many had come more out of curiosity than anything. “Why would a band from America come here?“ they asked. Not to mention the fact that we had a brilliant team of players: Bob Sale (Drums), Jim Soldi (Lead Guitar / formerly with Johnny Cash and Ricky Skaggs), Dan Barker (Acoustic Guitar) and Mark Salsac (a God-send Bass player and one of our hosts from Belgium). We played the classics, some Johnny Cash, Come to the Well, Flowers Angels and Jesus, and as the concert worn on and trust was earned, I shared how I had come to place all my trust and hope in Jesus. I explained that it was through my brokenness that He has made my life right again.
We recently went to Kansas for various ministry opportunities, and at the end of one of the concerts an eight-year old girl told me that she wanted to give her heart to Jesus. I had shared a song called “Broken Things,” which I sang almost every day in Belgium, and in that experience God reminded me that to enter the kingdom of heaven you must be like a little child. It does not take anything other than a loving touch from the Father and a willing, pride-less heart to receive Him.
Realizing that I can make sharing the Gospel far more complicated than it is, I am coming to understand that, “the joy of the Lord is indeed my strength”. In other words, His love, joy and peace shining from within me is the strongest and most tangible tool I have to share Him with the world. God taught me this through the people in Belgium and through the little girl in Kansas.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention some of the other Belgian highlights that we so abundantly enjoyed. Because we stayed in host homes we were able to experience how the Belgian people lived. My host home had crowing roosters at 5:00 a.m. each day, who provided eggs daily and an occasional chicken dinner to the family. The Belgian people are gracious and kind and their French-speaking children will steal your heart. They love good food and are interestingly the originators of the French fry or Frittas. Of course there is the Belgian chocolate, waffles of every variety and their strawberries are seriously the sweetest I have ever eaten. Bakeries loaded with fresh breads and pastries are found in every village. The buildings are marked with the year they were built and in some cases roadways built by the Romans remain in-tact. The landscapes are lush and green, with cows, wheat fields and frequent splashes of their native deep orange poppies along the roadways. Castles are found on hillsides and around unassuming corners, but were off-limits to the public because most are still occupied. We visited an active Abbey with Monks who make Belgian beer, cheese and pottery and another that is in ruins called the Villers Abbey. My highlight, however, was the storybook Bruges. It is known as the Venice of Belgium and rightfully so, as we walked the cobblestone streets, saw women making lace and soaked in the absolute enchantment of the town. Swans, horse-drawn carriages, cafes, art galleries, canal boats, chocolate shops and flowers adorned the streets. Oh yes, the flowers! Belgians love their window boxes and gardens. Garden shops are abundant and the flower boxes set against the old brick buildings paint the classic European image that many of us have come to know and love.
When I reflect upon all these things, I realize that all the food, education and beauty in the world cannot fill the God-shaped hole inside of us, no matter where you live. The one thing that will totally satisfy us is consistent among every man, woman and child across this great earth. Many differences can be cited from country to country, the languages we speak, what we eat and the color of our skin, but at our core we are the same…totally empty without Christ.
What a privilege to be part of the Masters plan to lead his sheep homeward. Belgium was magical visually, but spiritually it transcended all expectations because I was essentially handicapped. After our last concert, Eric told me that he has arranged hundreds of outreach events, but had never reached so many people (who would never set foot in a church) with the Gospel. You have heard the saying before, “God does not want our ability, but our availability.” This could not be truer when called to minister to people who do not speak your language. Fortunately, God’s language is universal and though He has given us His word through scripture, He continues to write story after story of His ongoing effort to reach mankind.