Author Archives: Pieter Stok

About Pieter Stok

I am passionate about faith, marriage and family. My interests include reading, video editing, travel and Lego. Also I find the older I get the more reflective I become. Whereas once I had answers for everything and everyone, now I have more questions.

Mothers

A post written by my wife. Most appropriate as Mothers Day approaches

Mothers

Everyone is talking about their mother this week. It could be because it is Mother’s Day on Sunday, but the actual cause is a comment by a politician, followed by a nasty retort from a newspaper journalist.
The gist of it all is that some women in the past were prevented from pursuing a career and had to settle for marriage and motherhood. (Do they realise that they’re saying their mother got second best when she became their mother?)
And so we have story after story published of women who missed the opportunity to be lawyers, doctors and all those other prestigious professions.
Instead they were “doomed”, “corralled”, or “pushed”, into “domestic slavery”.

I have always maintained that being a wife and mother is a career. If our society saw the role of mothers to be caregivers first, (as that is what we are designed, physically and emotionally, to be), and view the time they spend working outside the home as the ‘other’ job, I believe we would find a more harmonious balance. And every woman’s work would be equally valued.

Instead of saying “I took time off (my paid job) to have a baby” why don’t we turn it around and say “now that I have finished having children and they’re more independent, I will do that course or start that job”. Maybe we should be talking about taking time off my role as a mother to pursue paid work. This also implies that parenting is a forever role that you go back to every night. And the other job is the ‘other job’. We might begin by not asking people what they do. As if their job defines them. (I am reminded of some headstones in Switzerland. On them is written the deceased’s title and profession. No mention of the loving family she had.)

I think that the politician’s mother had it around the right way all along. She wanted to be a lawyer but her job as his Mum came first. Later, when she had raised two fine, competent sons, she took time off to study and begin a different career.

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Coming Home

The following are two pieces I wrote quite a few years ago but they fit in with my theme of the last few posts of “memory”.

The first opportunity I had to return to Holland came in 2003. The family had grown up and I had finally accrued enough points to take “Long Service Leave”. Up until this time I had a habit of quitting just short of the qualifying time. That says something about my stickability.

In February of 2003 the Lufthansa 737 banked over Schiphol and glued to the window I saw the flat water-crossed land for the first time in 49 years – and really – the first time in my life. As my nose was glued to the little oval window a wave of amazing emotion travelled through my whole body. I was coming home.

As my wife and I drove through Holland it seemed so familiar. It was a familiarity developed from family and parental stories. Most of this I had never seen and I certainly hadn’t remembered. But I had seen it through my parents’ stories. How real and vivid they were and how real they were now as I saw them.

Holland, more correctly, the Netherlands is like no other place. Not because it is spectacular or grand – it isn’t. Its very ordinariness; its everyday life, towns, cities, factories, offices, schools, homes, parks and gardens in which people live their everyday life is so different from my experience – and I imagine the experience of all people not Dutch.

The orange blinds on multi story housing blocks, the criss-crossing canals and sloots, the bikes, the flatness, the canal crossing the highway, the dijks holding back enormous rivers, while villages nestle in their shadow … and the bikes, the ubiquitous bikes with grannies and grandchildren all making their way resolutely, efficiently and without fuss.

Forty nine years is a long time and an enormous distance. I met members of my own family. We shared names and heritage but our experience of life separated us.

The one thing in which we had been well indoctrinated was not whether we supported Feyenoord or Ajax, but food. Dutch pancakes, appelstroop, speculaas, King Peppermints, Zoute drop, rookworst, stroopwafels, candy and chocolate hagel and …  The tastebuds have a heritage that outlasted time and place.

Christmas 2005

As we drove into a Dutch village late on Christmas Eve in 2005 we heard the church bell ring and we saw people walking from every direction to the church in the centre of town.

Coming in from the wintry weather the church was warm – in welcome and temperature. Even though the Christmas Eve service was traditional there was still a sense of anticipation and excitement. For our whole family the experience was new and different. My cousin Piet who had the Stok musical gene that I missed out on was the music and choir director. That family connection made the experience more personal and little did we know then that was one of the few Christmases Piet had left.

A week earlier the four younger girls had flown in from Australia. For a few days we were involved in a lightning trip around the UK: London, Bath, Coventry, The Lake District, Greta Green, Lords and, of course, the Lego shop in Milton Keynes. Now it was time to visit relatives and see Holland – the place of their father’s and grandparents’ birth.

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Ocean Grove … continued

It struck me that as I was writing about my memories of Ocean Grove that these recollections are inextricably tied to “growing up”. My years in Ocean Grove covered those influential childhood and teenage years. By the time my family left for a farm in the Western District, I had moved to a university in Melbourne.

In the 1960s the Scout movement was still popular so I joined the 1st Ocean Grove Scout troop. It was called the “first” but in fact it was the only one. There I learned a lot of practical skills and some less so. Tying knots, starting fires, putting up tents and rope bridges were some of skills we learned. There were others: smoking, making your own cigarettes with toilet paper and paper bark, practical joking (which now would be called bullying) and other life altering skills. I never smoked again after the paper bark episode. The camps we had at Eumerella just outside Anglesea were a highlight – out in the bush with very few amenities. Eumerella Jack with his dog wandering about at night looking for unsuspecting little boys to devour – or so the legend goes. We had leaders – great and not so great. Some were like kindly uncles or big brothers and others were there to feather their own nest. A saving scheme was introduced where we would bring 2 shillings a week to build up a bank account. It was only many years later that I realised that we never saw our money, or the originator of the scheme, again. I advanced through the ranks and became a ‘Patrol Leader’ which my mother with her Dutch accent pronounced as ‘Petrol Leader’.

The school bus also deserves a mention. When I started high school in Queenscliff we were transported in an old rattly Ford bus. It was cold in winter, hot in summer and always draughty. I am sure it wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of the safety gurus today.

My first paying job, in contrast to being an unpaid slave for my father, was as a paper boy. I was in Grade 5 at the time. We were paid 15 shillings a week for a paper round that took a little over an hour. We had to memorise the addresses as well as which newspaper each customer got on which day, by heart. I remember that Wednesdays and Saturdays were horrendous as The Age with its classified sections was at least 2 or 3 inches thick and I had a number of highbrow customers who wouldn’t be seen dead with the Geelong Advertiser or the Sun. Then there were the customers who also received the poorly named “Truth” and the pink Sporting Globe. I didn’t always get the orders right which lead to an unhappy boss and annoyed customers.

Another job, which a friend arranged for me, was to work at Henk’s Bakery. Henk Petersen was a Dutchman who supplied bread and other pastries to the local community. During the summer he was extra busy with the influx of visitors. I would start at 4 in the morning and prepare all the orders for the bread carters. One had to know one’s Vienna loaves from the Milk loaves and High tops and whole meal.

It was the newspaper thing all over again – there was so much to remember and I didn’t always get it right, especially at the start. Wholemeals were mixed with Viennas. Who could blame me in the poor light. On other occasions I helped with making the dough for the next day’s bread and filled pies and pasties.

Beach Ocean Grove 5

The Ocean Grove beach in the 1950s

However, the following summer I started with the Ocean Grove Foreshore Committee. After an interview with Ernie Storer, while he was having a shower, I was appointed as beach cleaner. Seven days a week my mate and I would scour the beach and sand dunes for rubbish. We also collected bottles which became the source of our bonus at the end of the season. Another lurk we cottoned onto was that if Mother Nature was kind and there was a strong westerly wind after a busy beach day the day before, change which had fallen out of people’s pockets could be found protruding out of little piles of sand. So we made it our first priority to “clean up” any money. We could make up to an extra $4 or $5 a day this way but the wind had to be just right. This was a good bonus when the wage was about $40 per week – the basic wage at the time. (We had changed to decimal currency in 1966).

In subsequent years I was promoted. First came toilet cleaner – we had to clean quite a few toilet blocks between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I estimated that we cleaned about 80 toilets and 80 shower cubicles per day. This job included being teased mercilessly by older women who could see my embarrassment at cleaning women’s toilets. Then came the peak promotion – garbage collecting.

I was consistent here as well because once again I made my share of mistakes. Probably the most infamous one was bringing down the Telephone lines between Ocean Grove and Barwon Heads. I was driving the front end loader with the bucket raised in an area where I shouldn’t have. There was a cacophony of pinging sounds and the writhing of wires as I sliced through the multiple overhead lines. I believe this episode led to the phone lines being placed underground in the camping area.

I worked for the Foreshore Committee well into my university years. The pay was good. One other job I had in my later high school years that went throughout the year was doing odd jobs on a hobby farm owned by a Melbourne stockbroker. This involved wood chopping, mowing, feeding cattle as well as hay bailing. During the drought in the late 1960s I hand watered a recently planted avenue of trees which I am pleased to note haven’t been cut down with Ocean Grove’s urban expansion.

Being profligate, all this work didn’t make me rich but it helped get me through university and played a role in shaping my character – or so I wish to believe.

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Some More Memories of Ocean Grove

Ocean Grove started life as a Methodist holiday resort in the 1880s. When my family arrived in the 1950s remnants of its origins were still clearly visible. Two large guest houses, the Chalet (previously Coffee Palace as one would expect in the temperance climate) and the Cathkin, still stood. There was also the Methodist camp in the centre of town and other camping places such as the camping huts on the corner of Eggleston Street  and Asbury Street. It was a “dry” town. Barwon Heads was the closest place to buy a beer. It was good for one’s health to stay off the Barwon Heads – Ocean Grove road after 6pm when the good husbands of OG returned along the winding road to their loving and patient wives. Six o’clock closing (with its last minute swill) was still law in those days.

 

By the time we arrived it had become a popular beachside resort. Large camping grounds and numerous holiday homes meant the population of Ocean Grove swelled from the hundreds to the many thousands over December and January. As a teenager this phenomenon was the basis for numerous holiday jobs – the bakery, beach cleaning, toilet cleaning, garbage collecting and other character building occupations.

 

Beach Ocean Grove

My mother and I looking out of the window of one of the many houses

For migrants a home was easy to find from February to November as the holidays houses were empty but come December alternatives had to be found. As a consequence we lived in a number of places around the town. If my adding is correct we lived in 7 houses in 15 years. My parents bought the last one in which we lived for half of that time. Many of these houses were cold and draughty fibro structures as they were built for summer – not winter occupation. We were evicted from one because I rolled a tyre down the driveway straight through the fibro back wall of the garage. I wasn’t popular with the owner or my parents.

 

 

My recollections of OG Primary School are mixed. I lacked confidence and as a result was picked on. Nowadays it is called bullying. In those days it was part of growing up. Some teachers were bullies but others fired my imagination. One, Marge Fisher, has a special place in my memories. She was imaginative and inspirational. Mrs. Fisher opened our imaginations through artifacts she would pull out of her ‘dilly bag’, the books she read to us and places in the world she described to us. She was different to the majority of teachers we had and she sowed in me a seed for a future vocation.

 

The classes were large with numbers unimaginable to today’s teachers. There are 43

Pieter001

Ocean Grover Primary School circa 1957

students in the Grade two class photo. Because I had learned English very quickly I often became the class translator when another Dutch kids arrived. I was none too pleased as my aim was to fit in without being noticed. I had observed what happened to one student in my class when he wore lederhosen to school. I didn’t want that ridicule to happen to me.

 

In my teen years I joined the tennis club in the summer and the newly formed football club in the winter. I wasn’t particularly good at sports but it was a great way to be involved in the activities of the town. In the first year of the Ocean Grove U15s my mate Ron and I were the equal top goal scorers. We had amassed two each. That year we didn’t judge our success by wins but by how few goals we lost by.

 

Also around this time I went to dancing lessons at the local hall. I thought this might help in overcoming my social awkwardness and make me less inept at the end of season events that the tennis and football clubs had. Sadly, I don’t think it did.

 

Only a few roads were paved and most were dust tunnels in the hot winds of summer and mud channels when the rains arrived. We had street lights but they were turned off at midnight. The sewerage system hadn’t come to the town. If you were well off you had a septic tank and if not the ‘dunny man’ also known in more polite circles as the ‘night soil carter’ would visit your outhouse on a weekly basis. If family visits to the toilet had been too frequent you had to deal with excess yourself.

 

Beach Ocean Grove 5

The beach looking towards Point Lonsdale from the Lookout

I remember a great sense of freedom. Riding our bikes to Barwon Heads or Point Lonsdale was a regular occurrence. A special terrifying thrill was riding one’s bike across the Barwon Heads bridge as it required skill to avoid the large gaps between the red gum planking that made up the bridge surface. If the front wheel went into the gap and jammed, it made for a fascinating aerial experience. Fossicking in the bush behind Ocean Grove (called ‘Cuthbertsons’ at the time) collecting tadpoles, or catching yabbies, wandering around the beach and the dunes were all activities that raised no parental fears as the population kept an eye on each other kids. My father found out about some of my nefarious activities because his network of parental spies had informed him about my behavior.

 

There was a reasonable collection of shops in The Terrace but supermarkets had not yet made their impression on Australia. Skinner’s general Store catered for most of our needs from groceries to toys and clothes. It was also an era in which a lot of services still came to your door. The butcher, ice man, baker, milkman and fruit and vege man (my dad’s trade) regularly visited the citizens of Ocean Grove. There was even a travelling draper and of course there was the Rawleigh’s man with his suitcase of ‘medicines’ going door to door. Car owner ship was normal but often the husbands used these to go to work in Geelong. The result was that many wives were stuck at home.

To be continued …

 

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One Generation from Extinction

The following is another post written by my wife:

When I married I lost my surname and took my husband’s. My sisters also married and then the name we had since birth was lost from our family. With no brothers to be able to carry the name into the future, it was gone.

My parents-in-law also saw the future of their name disappear. They had two sons, who married and gave them eight granddaughters. Whether by marriage or when they die, the surname will be lost in one generation.

photo 4Our faith heritage can suffer a similar fate. In just one generation the faith of our fathers and mothers can be lost. Who holds this fast? In whose hands can we entrust this faith to ensure that our grandchildren and the generations to come will carry on trusting God?

The obvious, and truthful, answer is there in the question. We trust God to hold us and keep us trusting Him. But that doesn’t allow us to be passive while God does all the work.

Our family will never be big. Probably our two grandchildren (aged one and three years) will stride toward the future holding hands, just the two of them, carrying the family history and folklore and faith with them. From our perspective it is a scary country that they are entering, full of dangerous terrain, uncertain and dark valleys, and threatening inhabitants. As grandparents we come from the relative calm of a Christian era, when even those who were not Christian lived by a Christian moral standard. Today we paused and asked ourselves, how do we prepare these little children for that foreign country called The Future?

Fortunately it is not up to us alone, and I believe this is the key. Of course they have believing parents and we must support them in their role to nurture faith in their children. But they also have five Aunties and an Uncle who will model a life of faith to them. We can and must give every effort to ensuring our faith heritage is not lost. We have a holy task as grandfather, grandmother, auntie, uncle, sister, brother, and parent. And as we do this we are obliged to hold each other accountable before God.

There is a future world in need of the Good News of Jesus. And I pray it will hear this Good News from the lips of my grandchildren.

 

 

Categories: Children, christian, Christianity, Faith, Hetty's Devotions, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

The Avalanche of Poor Behaviour

The vitriol against our bankers is reaching fever pitch. Even at the local gym my wife encountered patrons seething at the behaviour of the banks. This comes on top of the recent inquiry into child abuse. The churches, in particular, came out of that with their reputations badly damaged. There is another current inquiry into the behaviour of the managers of Aged Care Homes. The police are under scrutiny because of poor behaviour and our politicians have reached lows that has even left voters aghast that new lows are even possible.

The level of self righteous anger is seen on tv news shows, radio talk back, newspapers and blogs. Society is venting! The populace is restless and angry.

There is one segment of society left out – the rest of us – the ordinary punter. But are we really in a position to cast the first stone? Let me ask: Are our tax records spotless and our driving record immaculate? Have we always been honest and honourable with the boss, or spouse or colleagues? Have we used the cash economy to avoid tax? If there was a tv screen on our foreheads that broadcast our inner thoughts for everyone to see, would we have any friends? If we came across an easy way to make extra, illegal, money but wouldn’t be caught, how would we behave?

The problem is that each one of us, banker, politician, you and me – everyone – has a sinful nature. It is an unpopular concept in today’s society in which truth is considered relative. Today we are told that there are no longer clear wrongs and rights in the moral sphere and yet we are surprised when people “do wrong”. We ourselves do wrong but we justify it to ourselves – just, as I am sure, the bankers did, or the paedophile, or the manager of the home or …

Yes, we do need laws to protect children, bank depositors, old people and so on, but let us not pretend that we are innocent.

In the apostle Paul’s words, “We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Sinfulness is a problem we all need to deal with. The ultimate answer is not the laws that we have piled on year after year to try to control all sorts of behaviour but rather the real answer is an encounter with Jesus Christ and the the forgiveness and renewal that is freely available through him.

Yes the laws are important to order a civil society but even more important is a radical renewal of each person – politician, policeman, you and me.

Yet first, each of us has to acknowledge that we have a problem and we ourselves do not have the resources to deal with it but Jesus has. In Luke 19:10 Jesus says to the tax collector ( or banker, or business manager or you and me) “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Step one is to acknowledge that we are “lost.”

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Memories

Memories are enigmatic. Fact and memory are not necessarily identical. Are the memories real or constructed? Are they made from genuine moments or reconstructed by photos and family tales? Where, exactly, does the truth sit? Or when it comes to the past is truth only relative anyway?

My earliest memory centres on a wooden leg standing in corner of a darkened bedroom. Only many years later when I asked my mother about it did she tell me that it belonged to a great grandfather and I had seen it when we visited him. I must have been about two and a half at the time and the disembodied leg has been etched in my memory ever since. Other memories from that time include hiding under a desk which had drawers on either side and feeling secure while the adults talked. Taking a lolly from behind the counter at the barber’s is another. A warm recollection involves being held and cuddled by an Aunty and my bare foot exploring her coat pocket as she always had a treat for her one and only nephew. There are vague recollections too of the trip to Australia on the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.

On the Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

By the time I emigrated to Australia I was three and a half. This life changing event only holds vague and, on the whole, unreliable memories. There was a model of a ship floating in a barrel. My parents couldn’t substantiate that one. There was also an overall sense of sadness. Not, I think, from leaving Holland but rather from the separation on the boat from my parents for long periods of time. I am told that I was sent to a crèche and that I didn’t like being with crying younger children. One clear image is standing on a lower deck and seeing my parents on the deck above – that memory is always associated with a severe heartache.

My memories take on a firmness (whether true or not!) after our arrival in Australia. All the recollections of the Anderson family at “The Hill” in Mepunga West: Ola, Beth, Old Mrs Anderson and the rest of the multi personalitied clan, represent a tangled ball of wool in which times and events are, after 65 years, impossible to disentangle. The overwhelming emotions, however, are one of joy and security. Even if I wasn’t fully aware of having left a family behind I was now truly embraced by a new one. The main characters in this experience have all passed on but they are still solidly secure in my head and heart.

“Helping” with the milking, feeding hay to the herd and taking the full milk cans to the depot near Smith’s Post Office and telephone exchange (a room at the back of another farm house) and the glorious spread of the afternoon tea before the second milking are all memory-videos that I can replay in my mind without hesitation.

After a few months at the Anderson’s we moved to a house in Allansford opposite the Post Office.

The warning my father gave me about not entering the shed was crystal clear. Many years later I found out that there was a water storage under the shed but floor of the shed floor had become rotten over time and one could fall through the floor and drown.

I had two Uncles who had arrived two years earlier and had been welcomed by the Anderson family. One of these, Adrian, built me a cart.

A clear evocation is walking to the depot (a truck-tray height platform where farmers brought their milk cans every morning and evening) and hanging a billy can on one of a series of nails alongside the platform and then picking up a billycan of fresh milk later in the day. The depot was a little way along the highway out of town. I am sure that my mother would have come with me but all I can recall is walking with the billy can along the side of the road.

Christopher Ingles’ parents owned the local general store just a few metres from our house. Fortunately for me they were kindly people who communicated with my parents. I learned an important life lesson in this store which was that you needed to pay for things in a shop. You couldn’t just walk in and get stuff!

I hadn’t started school yet and my mother had visions of me riding a horse to school. Mum got these visions from some of the films the authorities had shown prospective migrants about Australia. The only problem was that the school was 150 metres away – or should I say “yards” as this was predecimal Australia. In any case it didn’t matter as we moved to Ocean Grove before I started school.

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Epiphany: a story

Melchior, Balthazar, and Caspar

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(Picture from The Life of Jesus, painted by Paul Forsey)

It was a black night. Nothing lit our Eastern sky, nothing. The tiny pinpricks of starry light were almost blotted out by the inky darkness.

Nevertheless, our team was out there on the dunes, peering into our telescopes, occasionally lighting a small candle to jot notes and diagrams onto our parchments.

It was a still night, which was a good thing. Sand grit can be a problem if it’s blown into our equipment and ink. Caspar was sitting in the middle of a huge groundsheet, gazing across to the horizon. It was so quiet that, even though I had my back to him, I heard it when he stopped breathing. He wasn’t dead, just dead surprised.

I turned and said, “Cas?” and then looked where I thought he was looking.

I answered his unspoken question. “I think it is.”

“I’m going to make a light” he said, “you get Melchior.”

I set out over the dunes. With no illumination I stumbled along. Once I turned to look behind me and saw Caspar’s small candle. But behind him was a rising glow from near the horizon. I finally found Mel; actually I stumbled onto him. He cursed as I landed on him, causing his ‘scope to drop to the ground.

“Look” I said, and standing close behind him with my arm alongside his head, I pointed to the west. He moved slightly to follow my direction. “Yes…” he murmured.

“Are you thinking what I’m thinking” I asked.

“I think I am, Balthazar!” he replied, and I heard the twinkle in his eyes.

We ran then, back to Caspar, who had been consulting the charts. He was fairly jumping out of his skin! And that’s not bad for an eighty year old astronomer.

This was the beginning of our journey westward. That little star, rising up into our world, had been predicted for centuries. But not as headline news in the Astronomers Of The East Gazette. No. It was hidden in the historical parchments of our discipline, to be discovered through intense cross referencing and study. A group of us were hoping and waiting for its appearance in our lifetime. And here it was!

The following days were a buzz of preparations and talking. Our colleagues agreed that Mel, Caspar and I should be the ones to meet the promised King. The King born somewhere to the west of us. The King whose star we had seen rising in the darkness.

And this King would be worshipped with gifts.

So a committee was formed to find appropriate gifts. The gift registrars. They consulted the astronomical charts too, for clues. Each gift would be fraught with meaning. Finally they came on the night before we were to set out. Three packages were presented to us.

“This one is the only gift we could give to a new King” they said. “It is the ultimate symbol of power and majesty.” Caspar stood beside me and whispered breathlessly “Gold!”

“This one” another registrar said, holding up a small box, “was a tricky one. Something in our research suggested this new King is also Godly. So in this box is the very precious frankincense.” He handed it to Melchior.

A third registrar stepped forward.

“Finally, our last gift.” A few of the other members of the committee shuffled uneasily and looked down, as if they weren’t too sure about this choice of a gift.

“Myrrh.” And it was offered to me.

An explanation was called for. The registrar continued. “It’s traditionally used as an embalming agent. The committee thought it appropriate as all kings eventually die, and this new King will deserve the very best of burials. Although” he added,

“this King is a God, so it should not be necessary. However, on the off chance…..” He was now clearly out of his depth so I stepped forward and took the package from him. He looked glad to be rid of it.

The journey continued. The next morning we were assisted onto our camels and the whole assembly of astronomers were there to see us off.

Our College president handed us the scrolls containing copies of the prophesies of the Hebrew Daniel, concerning the King we were seeking. And so we left our home in the East.

It was together boring and exhilarating to be travelling.

At night we pitched our tent, found our telescopes and studied the sky as we had always done. But we hardly needed the telescope to see that Star; it became larger and brighter every night. It was our signpost, our route map, our light for our path.

During the days I reread Daniel’s prophesy. He was an alien in our country, captured over 500 years ago and brought to Babylon as booty.

He wrote about his God and a plan to bring a saving Christ into the world. The ‘Son of Man coming from heaven’.

When we reached the region of Palestine we made our way straight to the city of Jerusalem. I was glad to stop there. Beyond this country was the Mare Nostrum sea and I didn’t like sailing much. I preferred the ships of the desert – camels, and the waves of bare sand.

At the palace the guards brought us before the ruler King Herod. He listened to the reason for our coming, and looked puzzled. “No new kings here!” he blustered.

“A new born King, a baby perhaps?” I suggested.

Now he looked positively scary. “No newborns around here!! “

Melchior offered another idea, “we believe him to be the king of the Jews.”

“What?!!” roared Herod. “I am the king of the Jews!”

And then “Send for my advisors, and those magicians I have!”

They came, and they confirmed what we had said. In the town of Bethlehem the Christ would be born.

Now Herod ordered us out of the room while he conferred with his advisors.

We sat in a tiny anteroom, cooling our heels. “I don’t like that man much,” said Caspar, “can’t we just go over to that town and check it out for ourselves?”

But then the door opened and we were called back in.

Herod’s plan went like this:

We were to go to Bethlehem, find the baby King, and then return to Herod and give him the precise location.

It was something about the way his moustache twitched when he spoke that made me wonder. His whole demeanour had changed since before, but that moustache was twitching! I didn’t trust him.

Well, we found Bethlehem, and we found the King. Our star continued to lead us until it stopped over an ordinary-looking house in a plain old street. No palace, no royal crib, no red carpet.

We felt a tiny bit overdressed for the occasion, and the gifts we brought seemed a tad too grand for such an ordinary child, but we knelt before him. His parents didn’t blink. It was as if they knew His importance, as if they understood Who he really was.

I bowed deeply.

I offered the jar of myrrh to the child’s mother.

In my heart I felt some flutter of recognition as I gazed upon the small boy sitting on his mother’s knee.

The star had brought me to Him. He was the end of my journey.

Hetty Stok,

Epiphany, 2019

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Coming Home

My body clock is slowly re-establishing itself.  Eight in the morning no longer resembles midnight. However there is that strange feeling that one has when one is back at work – back in the hurly burly one left a few weeks ago, when you ask yourself, “Did the last 6 weeks really happen?” There are photos and souvenirs of other countries and other places – exotic and unfamiliar but one is back in a world that hasn’t changed.  It is an unusual and unsettling feeling but not a disagreeable one. For me it is a reminder that I have had an opportunity to get insights into other worlds and places.

This time it was probably a bit more bizarre as our two-part holiday involved Spain and Norway, and walking and ship cruising. The contrasts could not have been more distinct. The only common theme was “cold”. Europe has been very cold this April. Northern Spain was not that much different to Norway except in Norway there was more sun!

Now here I am in a creative writing class encouraging students to use their life experiences as spring boards for writing. My life is continuing as before – except there was that 6 week hiatus that changed everything – I think.

 

 

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Madrid and Mission part 2m

As I have mentioned previously, Hetty and I are contemplating “mission” as I come to the close of my paid working life. What should/could it look like? Where? How? Why? Questions come pouring out every time we consider it.

We started thinking about Spain many years ago when a man offered me a tract in Guell Park in Barcelona. I dismissively said that I couldn’t read Spanish. He replied, “I have one in Eengleesh sir.” I had to take it then. Later when I looked at it I found that it came from an evangelical group in Barcelona. I returned to the man, told him that I was a Christian, thanked him and said I would pray for Christianity in Spain. We have prayed for Spain ever since and when we visit I make it a practice to visit churches and pray for the leaders and congregatIon.

Spain has been in our hearts ever since. We return when we can, we pray for it often and we find there is a draw that is greater than the food, climate and culture. We like the people. There are problems however; the biggest being that we don’t speak Spanish beyond “tapas”, “queso” and “paella.”

So we are at the point now of badgering God about the meaning of all this. We have discovered that there are many vibrant Christians seeking a renewal/revival in Spain. Our question: is there a role for us in this?

Plaza Espana on a Sunday afternoon

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