It is March and I am surrounded by beauty. The sky is an azure blue; the air is light and crisp; the tulips are a stunning variety of shapes and colors; the white swans float down the canal in regal majesty. We are spending the day at Keukenhof, home of Holland’s most beautiful floral display. We walk through beds of carefully planted bulbs; through greenhouses overflowing with various shades of glory!
I am in love with this tiny country called Holland!
After a very difficult transition from the states to the Netherlands, we moved into our Dutch house on December 23rd of 1988. (See the story, “Moving, Military Style.) Our new home was a large, by Dutch standards, free standing two story brick house with a huge picture window overlooking a lovely formal garden. Behind the house was a furniture shop owned by our landlord who turned out the most beautiful pieces. Behind his shop was a canal where varieties of ducks played all day long. The canal and a bike path went into a village about two miles away and kept us connected to some great coffee and pastries on Saturday mornings. To the left of our home was a business and to the right stood more free standing houses. Across the street was a row of very small townhouses, typical of Dutch housing. We were a two minute bike ride from the town center where I could buy freshly baked bread everyday; get flowers for the table each week; shop for groceries and get my hair cut. My first hair cut was an adventure! I was greeted by a very young woman who took my coat, showed me to a chair, brought me a fresh cup of coffee with a cookie--on china. The hairdresser came over with the sink in tow, for it was connected to the wall and was portable. She washed my hair and then indicated by sign language as to how I wanted my hair cut. I held up my thumb and forefinger indicating I wanted a little trim. Imagine my surprise when the first snip was almost at my scalp. I ended up with the shortest hair cut EVER!
A few weeks after our move I was playing ball with our dog while standing on the stairs in my slippers. Not a good idea. The stairs in Holland are narrow and steep; have a concrete base, and are covered with a thin piece of fabric, so when my foot slid forward I went down hard, bruising my “sitter-downer” and breaking a rib. I was in bed for several days and it was during this time I found out why I was being shunned. The Air Force made a decision to bring Glen over rather than promote an officer in the clinic and his wife was mad. Secondly, the wives of the Commanders on base heard that I was going to home school my children and they were unhappy because I was needed to help make the DOD school a better place for their children. I felt so alone in a foreign country, forgotten by my state-side friends--and probably God also, or so I thought.
A few weeks later, God’s representative arrived at Schipol Airport for a three hour layover between flights. Mary Lance was a prayer warrior who invited me to join her during this time. I eagerly made my way by train that early Sunday morning because I had a chance to meet an American, who happened to be a friend. It was before security tightened and before cell phones. My Papa God directed both of us to the same back stairway at the same time! Mary Lance was coming down the stairs as I was preparing to go up. I poured out my heart to willing ears and before we parted she promised me that a group of women who met weekly in her home would pray for me and for the Air Force Base. I went home light as a feather. God knew where I was, AND, He had a plan!
The plan began to unfold the very next week when I found myself in Germany for a general meeting of the Medical Commander Wives. The first morning we shared experiences which included living overseas and what was expected of us. After the meeting a lovely woman came up to me and introduced herself and then she asked if I was a Christian. After telling yes I asked how she knew that. Blair told me that when I was talking I used the words, “gird up your loins.” I was shocked, horrified and told her I would never say anything like that in public! Well, I had and she heard it. Blair’s husband was stationed in Germany not far from the Dutch border and we spent many happy hours visiting this family during the three years we were there. Blair’s friendship that first year was simply priceless. Thinking back on the day we met, I remember asking God that morning to give me a Christian friend. How He did it still unhinges me.
It is a custom in Holland to go out and meet neighbors after you get settled. No one will bother you until you’re ready. So, one day I baked a big batch of chocolate chip cookies, carefully laid them on four paper plates, stacked them, and headed out to greet my neighbors. I went next door and rang the doorbell which was answered by an elderly gentleman, who invited me in and made a quick phone call to his wife. “The American is here,” he said in English. Within three minutes she arrived, set up the coffee pot and cut some pastries. Two hours later I walked home with three plates of chocolate chip cookies. It took me weeks to meet all of my neighbors because each visit turned into a celebration. The Dutch love the Americans for what we did for them in the Second World War when the country was occupied by the Nazis. The evidence of their time in Holland was all around this area. The beautiful old mansion built by Huguenots, where we met for Church, had been the German Headquarters. Soesterberg Air Base was built during the war including a beautiful Officers Club which the Americans shared with the Dutch. But I digress.
One rainy gloomy winter day--which matched my feelings perfectly-- I walked over to the grocery store to make copies of a document, but I could not figure out how to work the machine. A Dutch woman, Anne, helped me and then invited me over to her house for coffee the next day. Somehow she indicated to me that she would pick me up at my home and drive me to her house. This was the beginning of a long friendship where I visited each week and over coffee we would use the English/Dutch dictionary to communicate. I was taking Dutch lessons and she helped me, though my daughter picked up the language quicker and better than I ever did. At some point Anne invited me to ride my bike with her into the city of Amersfoort. We rode side by side right next to the traffic with Anne on the outside. Still it was scary for me. At the end of our trip she told me that I was now “a proper Dutch wife!”
I was very disappointed when I heard that we had to leave our little village and move to new base housing in Soesterberg. I had about five months to get used to this gut wrenching decision. When we moved to Holland I had brought two large buckets of unground wheat so that I could continue to bake our bread. However, since the bread in this country is baked fresh every night, I not only did not need the wheat but it was taking up valuable space in the closet. One of the movers who packed and moved us was a young man from Romania who had escaped before the country opened up. Adrian was a refugee with a grueling tale of how he escaped and why. The mover told me that the Romanians were now free but had little food available to them. It took only a second to decide to give Adrian the wheat. He knew how to get it into the country. Adrian ended up attending our little church, and became a Believer before leaving for Chicago where his uncle lived. What an awesome God we serve!
When we moved into base housing, Glen and I decided to pray for the families living in the housing area when we walked each evening. Funny how easy it was to get into an argument before we even set out! The proximity to Amsterdam--drugs and the red light district-- was a temptation for the troops and relationships were suffering, plus we wanted to see God bring Christian leadership to the base. I was still not well accepted by the women and most of my social life and acceptance came from the little church we attended in Leusden. It was a church plant pastored by missionaries whose desire was to reach into the base with the Gospel. Half of the congregation was made up of Dutch Christians who spoke English. We loved that! They loved the worship! So, we prayed, the church prayed, the women in the states prayed and God moved! By the next summer we saw major changes in the leadership. The new Base Commander was a Christian as was his wife. The new Flight Commander had a praying wife, and the wife of the new head NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) was a dynamic Christian. These two women volunteered at the high school and prayed for and often with every student who came to their office. Things really began to move. The Protestant Women of the Chapel came to experience new life through the Bible Studies they attended. The Youth Group saw a huge increase with many of the teens accepting Jesus as Savior. In just 18 months the momentum had shifted.
We were all sad when Glen’s tour ended. After all, what teenagers in America can go to a two week summer camp in Switzerland? Michael had a friend come over and they used teen cards to travel by public transportation all over Holland for eight days. Each evening they would plan their trip for the next day. Sarah went with her half Greek friend to Greece for three weeks where they stayed with Annie’s Greek speaking grandmother just outside of Athens. Then Sarah flew back to the states by herself at age 15. Both of them had volunteered on the base. Michael worked in the legal department helping with the research for the trials, while Sarah got the training to be a chair side assistant in the dental clinic. We had wonderful field trips into different nations. Home Schooling was such fun overseas!
We returned to visit Soesterberg the year after we moved. It was such an encouragement to find five groups of women who met weekly to pray for the base. The Base Chapel continued to thrive and many were finding new life in Jesus. What is amazing to me, as I think back over the three years we lived in Europe, is that life happens in the moment. These moments become hours, then weeks, then years and finally a life time. A moment does not seem very significant, but when looking back one can see a turning point here, a victory there, and the hand of God in everything!
Jane Corwin Reeves