One day last December, I was busy taking a French test at about 4 in the afternoon. Suddenly, the school secretary came in and starting rolling down the window shutters. She anounced, "There are demonstrations going on again tonight. The police have told us to evacuate the neighborhood. So please take your time, but hurry up." Our school is located in a part of Brussels with a large Congolese population, and several hundred Congolese ex-patriots had been protesting the recent elections in Congo. Certain thugs had taken advantage of the unrest to break shop windows and set cars on fire. So, we were asked to be careful on our way home. Needless to say, I didn't do that well on my test. This section is also the closest shopping area to our house, so we did our Christmas shopping there. It made for a bizarre shopping experience to pass by riot police and SWAT vans on our way to the toy store.
You may have heard of this on the news, but also in December, Belgium experienced a horrific shooting. In the central square of the city, not far from where I once lived, a gunman opened fire with an AK-47 and threw grenades at the noon crowd. 5 people died and 15 were injured. The shooter was an ex-convict who was scheduled to go back to prison. Belgium is such a peaceful place, and very few people have guns, so this incident sent shock waves across the country.
January had its own share of noise, as the new government was greeted by a series of strikes by the different trade unions. We use the metro and tram a lot, so we have to keep an eye on the news to know whether the transport workers are going to show up or not.
...and in that day people will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel.
These turbulent events were put in perspective a bit by a visit we took at the end of January to Dublin, Ireland. We were in Ireland for a prayer weekend with other SFC campus missionaries from around Europe, and we had a chance to visit the Book of Kells museum at Trinity College. The Book of Kells is an illuminated Gospel from the 5th century monastery at Kells, and it's quite beautiful, but I was more struck by a display of worn, leather-bound Gospels with shoulder straps. Here's the story: from this monastery, monks traveled all over Ireland carrying these little books. They would arrive in a village, proclaim the Gospel, and God would change the hearts of the people. They would then copy these precious Gospel words down and leave them with the village, and go on to the next village. This was done during a period of constant warfare and invasion. About once every 20 years or so for 2 centuries, the church of Kells was attacked, looted, and burned by Vikings, British, and Celtic bands. Each time, the monks re-built and continued to take the Gospel across Ireland, until almost the entire land was converted. What courage they showed! What resilience! Isn't it wonderful how the Gospel shines the brightest in the most difficult times? Could it be that God is allowing a shaking here in Belgium, so that hard hearts will become soft toward his Word? God help us to carry his Word, like those monks did, from one open heart to the next.