A Tale of Two Cities

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetby Stephanie Brethouwer

I spent my summer living in Amsterdam, and working with Shelter Youth Hostel Ministries. Going into my SOS trip this summer, I had heard a lot of different things from people who had been to Amsterdam working with this ministry. Everyone I talked with could only rave about the staff, the ministry opportunities, and the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit, but the first thing they would always mention was the amazing community and love that exists between the staff member and is shown to the guests. Going into the shelter, with the knowledge of the beauty of this community, still did not prepare me for what I was going to experience.

After hearing and experiencing the community at Northwestern, I couldn’t imagine a place that could be better at community living, but my first day in the community house I was floored. I entered a loving and committed community where no gossiping took place, there was no judgement, and everyone felt comfortable being completely open and vulnerable about their struggles. I was in absolute shock that such a community could exist, and let me tell you, I can’t think of any other time or place in my life that I have felt so loved, cared about, and respected. It was in this community that I experienced the Holy Spirit moving freely and convicting people’s hearts. I experienced what it was like to be justly called out in sin, and what it meant to lovingly call out brothers and sisters. The passage in Matthew 7:5 “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NKJV), begun to actually make sense and I got to watch this type of love and care happen right before my very eyes.

Toward the end of my trip, I began to think and pray about what I would experience coming back to Northwestern and honestly, I was terrified. In this community in Amsterdam, I was challenged to break old habits of gossiping and judging others. I began reflecting on my previous three years and was crushed to relive all the times that I had acted on these frivolous and unnecessary sins. The idea of returning to NW where these temptations seemed to be running rampant around me, made me truly worried that I would not be able to abstain from these old habits. I remembered that this type of community I had experienced in Amsterdam was not going to be what I was entering back into at NWC – and that left me heartbroken and not entirely wanting to return.

After returning to campus, I am still left trying to reconcile these thoughts and feelings. I know that God is here and is present, but what will it take for the Holy Spirit to truly move freely in the midst of this community? I wonder if it’s through the little things – like being vulnerable with someone, asking someone how they are truly doing, praying for people hurting in the moment, abstaining from gossip, keeping judgmental thoughts at bay, and sharing with others how I am seeing God work in my life and others around me. What if I was willing to stop speaking hurtful and slanderous talk, what if we were committed to uplift and encourage one another (even if it means calling each other out in love), what if we replace anger and wrath with grace and forgiveness, what if NWC became known for its genuine kindness and love towards each other? I know that craving the type of community I experienced in Amsterdam will be something that I

will always be searching for, but I am confident that God is working in mighty ways to bring this type of community to all places – even Northwestern. This type of transformation will take a personal and communal effort to really make a change. I have been challenging myself to be this change, to start making personal adjustments, in hopes that others would notice and start walking alongside me.

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