Dutch Regional Day: To Love and to Serve in Secular Netherlands

Today, Tuesday 14 November, the bulk of the membership of the Dutch Region of the Mill Hill Missionaries were gathered at St Jozefhuis. The occasion?  Our periodic regional day.

Our Regional Superior, Ben Engelbertink, had prepared an interesting programme for the day comprising a synodal listening and sharing session in the morning and two interesting personal testimonies based on current and past missionary experience in the afternoon with some regional news thrown in for good measure.

The morning session kicked off with a synodal ‘Conversation in the Spirit’ introduced by Ben and ably facilitated by Mill Hill Associate, Toos Beentjes.

The subject: Mission to a highly secularised environment and possible ways of involving young Mill Hill missionaries in such a missionary undertaking in The Netherlands. Ben presented a brief PowerPoint overview of an extensive and well researched paper on the subject which he had circulated earlier.  To concentrate our minds he floated the concrete proposal of involvement in youthwork in a pastoral area overseen by John van der Laar, a priest closely associated with Mill Hill and former Mill Hill Missionary student.

Toos Beentjes then led the process of respectful listening and sharing that followed, ‘giving room to the Spirit’. As was to be expected participants surfaced a wealth of ideas on mission, raised doubts about the proposed undertaking, underscored the importance of encounter, openness of spirit and hospitality, and highlighted our own role as veteran missionary community to provide a welcoming community.

The cordial and stimulating exchange edged towards an open-ended conclusion: we still need time for further exchange and reflection. We have gained some clarity but lots of questions remain.

After a period of silence Toos concluded with a memorable quote: ‘We do not always achieve what we set out to do, what is important is that we have tried’.

The next step in our process of discernment will be to invite John van der Laar and some youth from the area to come and share their expectations, hopes and aspirations with us.

A welcome pre-prandial followed by a delicious Chinese buffet lunch re-energised our somewhat drooping spirits.

In the afternoon Thaddy de Deckere gave a fascinating account of his pioneering missionary involvement in a secular environment namely a pastoral area covering some two thirds of the province of Zeeland. He spoke with quiet conviction of his first gingerly steps in this relatively new environment, the interruption of corona, and how he now feels quite at home and gently stimulated by new insights and unexpected opportunities. Hospitality and encounter figure highly on his missionary agenda. Helping people to connect across generational and other boundaries is central to his mission. And undergirding it all an awareness of the need for a profound spiritual foundation: ‘The Christian of the future will be a mystic….. of he/she will not be (K. Rahner).

During the intermezzo Ben filled us in on a variety of items of information pertaining to the region.

And Ben Beemster concluded the day’s proceedings in his own inimitable way with a fascinating book presentation giving an overview of the process of acceptance of the Gospel in the Grassfields of French speaking Cameroon. The book’s title: ‘Godspell in the Cameroon’s Grassfields’. Quite appropriately he illustrated his lively presentation with a series of archival photos in PowerPoint format.

My conclusion: this was a stimulating gathering, a pleasant experience of bonding, a day well spent.

Fons Eppink MHM

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