Homeward Bound

Derek and Jenny Gibbs have recently returned to the UK, having been part of the team at Redeemer International Church in The Hague for over two years.


It was the day before we left to return to the UK and Sophie, the 9-year-old daughter of our neighbours (friends from church), was refusing to come and say goodbye.  Her refusal was born out of a sense of disappointment that yet another of her friends was leaving the country.  She had made us cards and Easter gifts during lockdown, we had grown tomatoes and been on walks together; we even did some art lessons with her and had become sort of surrogate grandparents.  She was frustrated and angry.  


Such is life in an international church, in an international city like Den Haag.  You have the joy and stimulation of meeting people from every nation (we even know where Suriname is now).  It also means there is a constant flow of people in and out.  This brings challenges of leadership development, community life, long term vision, cultural differences and planning.


Two and a bit years goes past so quickly but what will we remember of our time there?  


Church Planting – Coming alongside the families planting churches in key cities across Europe and walking with some of them through tough times, personal challenges and breakthrough moments.  Like the Brussels church plant, where the team were having to balance busy jobs, hectic family life and church.  When the pandemic hit God started to break in, with many taking on new responsibilities, and we saw three baptisms during the Summer. 


City Centre Church Life – Being part of a city centre church while living on the edge, getting to understand and experience different languages and cultures, meeting in a historic and iconic venue, continuing a Christian presence in a 17th Century building.  Almost every week we would meet someone new from a different nation.  It makes for a busy Welcome Team.


Dutch Culture – It’s different from English culture, life is slower, more outdoorsy, there are bikes everywhere and they tell you what they think.  Like the time we got told off for riding our bikes in the road!  We had temporarily lost the cycle path and took to the road when a car stopped and told us where the cycle path was.  And then there is New Year’s Eve when the normally reserved Dutch go absolutely crazy.  Fireworks everywhere; it feels like a war zone, in car parks, balconies, the middle of the road – for an hour!


People – Getting to know a lot of new names and faces but developing some deep, long lasting friendships.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans he lists over 28 people to whom he wanted to send personal greetings.  Paul was greatly impacted by one couple in particular, Priscilla and Aquila.  Their relationship went way beyond being pals; Priscilla and Aquila were faithful friends.  We know this from something Paul let slip at the close of his letter, he adds “They risked their lives for me” (Rom. 16v4).  An intriguing comment; what could this be all about?  It turns out that friendship can be painful but important, especially when planting a church.



So, greetings to the Redeemer staff team in all its forms and thanks for including us in all of your activities, and especially to Joshua who has such a servant heart and was always willing to help with practical and technical issues when we first arrived.  To the ‘Disciple’ team who gave themselves to 10 weeks of discussion, teaching and discipleship.  To Hans and Nancy who inspired us with stories from their time in Indonesia, to Marinus and Eveline who gave themselves to the church in Brussels and with whom we had such amazing meals, to Trevor and Betty for entertaining us and leading the 55+ group, to Kees and Dineke who welcomed us right from the start, to Andrew and Gerdy who tried to teach us some Dutch, to our 3 different Life Group leaders who gathered us with others, to Pieter Jan who invented new words for the English language, all the Elders who encouraged us and especially to Chris and Karin, two of the world’s greatest encouragers and inspirational leaders.  And finally, Paul and Ria, two single people of our age with whom we spent many Sundays, doing online church, walking in nature, eating lunch and going deeper into each other’s lives, in fact far deeper than would have been the case without lockdown.  And many others who impacted our lives in various ways.


And last to Sophie who, in case you wondered, did eventually come and say goodbye.