Friday, April 13, 2018

Families . . . Basic for Education

A colleague recently shared this information about
an initiative for basic education of Roma. It is aimed at Roma adults and families (for inter-generational learning) in Europe. It consists of manuals in the different national languages of a number of countries, that will assist those who want to help Roma people learn to read and write. The program encourages the use of whatever local language the Roma people speak.

There will be a presentation of the handbook/manual for Romania on May 10 in Targu Mures.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Another Pile of Stones

Today on Stille Zaterdag (Silent Saturday), I am remembering a Tuesday morning about 10 years ago. I know it was a Tuesday because that's the day of the weekly market in Duiven, the next village. I planned to go after I'd taken the girls to school. Maybe that's why I drove that morning. Usually they biked to school. I had dropped them off and was waiting at the traffic light on the edge of town with my right blinker on, all set to go to Duiven, when I got the distinct feeling I should turn around and go home instead.
At home there was a telephone message waiting for me--the one we had been expecting ever since my father went into hospice. He had left his worn-out 86-year-old body and gone on to the next life.
Have you ever had anything like that happen to you? Remember it on those silent Saturdays, when Hope seems dead and buried.
And if you haven't, if every day seems silent, remember this:  if death truly were the end, who or what told me to turn around and go back home?

*Photo of my dad, Ralph Van Rheenen, taken for his graduation from Western Theological Seminary, 1951.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Voting . . . Dutch Style

Keith and I did our civic duty today. Because we have been legal residents of the town of Westervoort for at least five years, we are eligible to vote in local elections, such as for members of the city council. A couple of weeks ago, the city mailed us each our stempas or voting pass. (Interestingly, stem also means "voice.")

The town thoughtfully included a list of candidates. Americans might look at this and think, "Wow! What a lot of candidates for city council! This must be a big town!!" Westervoort has a population of around 15,000. Seventeen people sit on the town council. 
The six columns are the six political parties involved in this election. The lists under the party names are the candidates each party is offering. We could choose one candidate (marked our choice with a red pencil, then folded our ballot up and dropped it into something that looked like a padlocked trash can with a big slit on top). 
Now here comes the difference between a parliamentarian democracy and whatever it is we do at home. Those 17 seats on the city council will be divided proportionally among the 5 parties according to the proportion of votes each party receives.  Last time the party on the right (Groen Links) won one seat. Suppose they win 2 seats this time. The two top-ranking Groen Links candidates will become part of the new town council. 
What effect does this have? Candidates rarely campaign. Parties campaign, largely based on their platforms. Personalities, especially in a local election, play very little part in the proceedings.
Smaller parties have a voice in the government. In order to increase their voice, parties sometimes form coalitions so that they will have a majority in the government. This is necessary on the national level and can lead to some really strange bedfellows. In Westervoort, three parties formed a coalition on the last town council (6 seats, 4 seats, 2 seats). 
We'll see what happens this time.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Stacking Stones

Little piles of rocks—have you seen these around, maybe on a hike or on a trip? I’ve seen them in the States, in the mountains of Switzerland, and now in the desert in Egypt. (We needed some sunshine, and the price for the package get-away to Egypt was very right.) Who, I wondered, would stop to make a decorative stack of rocks in the middle of absolutely nowhere?

If God is for us
who can be against us.
Banner in Sinti Church
 The Israelites used to pile up big stacks of rocks after God had done something like part the Jordan River so they could cross on dry land.  when their children asked about that stack, they would remember to retell the story. Our Sinti Romany friends do something similar. They don’t pile up stones here and there—but they do regularly share their own sacred stories. Here is one of them.

A Sinti woman whom we'll call "Anna" already had a number of children. She and her husband were expecting yet another one. The doctors told her that this baby endangered her health; the birth would be problematic. She and her husband prayed. As they prayed, God revealed to her that the baby would not die but be born healthy. The baby would be a boy and grow up to be an evangelist.

Keith and I know that "baby." He did grow up and is a preacher who does freely share the Good News with other Sinti, both in the Netherlands and in neighboring countries.

What sacred stories do you have to share?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Be Warmed . . . Or At Least Filled . . . .

We visited Silvia (not her real name) on a chilly day just before the onset of winter. Her small, one-story home was wedged in between large mansions-in-progress. Romany who work abroad save their money for their children by building as much house as their money can buy. Silvia could not afford to go abroad in search of work. She and her family could not afford to move somewhere warmer for the winter. And they could not afford to buy wood to heat their home for the nine months that Moldovans need to heat their homes. 

So while we were visiting with a food packet*, another family member came back from picking up fallen limbs in the woods. The forest ranger allows poor people to pick up whatever has fallen. Perhaps the food and our prayers will also help keep this family warm in the months ahead.

Writing those words, though, immediately brings James 2:16 to mind. Do you know someone who can take those prayers one step further? 

*(Food packets funded by Texas Hunger Offering.)
** (Y)ou shouldn’t just say, “I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.” What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? James 2:16 CEV

Friday, January 26, 2018

In With A Bang!

I tend to think of Dutch people as relatively calm. Perhaps that's why they let off so much steam on New Year's Eve. Retailers are only allowed to sell 25 kilos per customer. That's over 50 pounds! What would you do with 50 pounds of fireworks? In a neighborhood of row houses like this one? A Dutch news source estimated that people had spent even more this year than last year on fireworks when retailers reported firework sales of €68 million ($84 million US). That's a hefty chunk of change! 

Sign says: "Temporarily out of service"
It is legal to set off fireworks from 6 PM on December 30 til 2 AM on January 1. But at least a day before that time all of the neighborhood mail drop-off boxes  have been temporarily "boarded up." No letters can go in the slot; no fireworks can, either. The mayor of our town was very pleased with the results. This year there was only €492 worth of firework damage ($611). The mailbox and the bus stops in our neighborhood came through unscathed. And on New Year's Eve our household enjoyed an excellent fireworks display that lasted for nearly an hour. Only cost to us:  an over-the-counter medicine to calm down the cats.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Where the Workers are not Few

The man on the far right, like many others in the Republic of Moldova, is looking for work. He wants to support his new wife and help his extended family. The last paying job he had was at a KFC in Krakow, Poland. But you can't always trust the people who arrange jobs over the border for you. Sometimes the jobs don't last. Sometimes you don't get paid in a timely way. Sometimes you don't get paid at all.

There used to be work at home. These two women worked in a sewing factory. They would be glad to get work like that again. But after the fall of communism, jobs like that somehow disappeared.

This woman's son,* like many others in the Republic of Moldova, has often gone abroad to work: Spain, Russia, east Africa, southeast Asia. Unlike the first man, he was able to get a good education and can earn a good salary. (Growing up in the capital city with well-educated parents--rather than in a Romany village with village-educated parents--does tend to increase one's life chances.) He thinks almost any manufacturing concern has a chance at profit in Moldova since almost everything is currently imported. He is giving the business of increasing employment at home a good think. Let us know if you're interested and able to think with him. Maybe, just maybe, there will be work at home . . . sometime soon . . . .

*The lady in the suit jacket.