Guest post: Memories of the hurricane

Beltway, Houston, Texas, after Hurricane Harvey hit (August 2017)

Another guest post, this time from Brian Turnbow, one-time student on placement in Rotterdam (2007) and later returning as locum during Rev. Robert Calvert’s study leave in 2012.

Brian lives and works in Houston, Texas. After Hurricane Harvey hit the city at the end of August, I thought he might have something meaningful to contribute on the theme of refuge (September’s theme of the month). Here, instead, a post in our remember series, as Brian reflects back on his experiences before and after the hurricane.

Brian writes,

Like most residents in the city of Houston, Texas, I watched the televised news reports of the approaching hurricane at the end of August with a mix of fascination and concern. Should I join the throngs of residents at the local supermarket – with increasingly empty shelves – to stock up on food and water? Or should I drive two hours north to a safer location, get a hotel room, and wait for the hurricane to pass? Would I be able to get back to the city if I left?

Like the hurricane, my memory and impressions of the aftermath are a swirl of images and encounters: two women with no place to stay, knocking on the door of a small neighborhood church; helicopters flying overhead seeking people stranded on rooftops, escaping the rising waters; Good Samaritans in motorboats and canoes patrolling the neighborhoods, in search of stranded residents; my own car under a meter and a half of water.

My apartment, attached to a larger house where my landlords live, became a small peninsula as the water effectively isolated it on three sides from the rest of the neighborhood (the one side that remained accessible by foot led to nowhere). Sealed inside the relative safety of the house for three days, my ears became attuned to an unusual sound for such a large city: shear silence. No cars. No people. No movement. Only an occasional wind.

On the third day, signs of life slowly emerged in the city and the true extent of the devastation became clearer: houses with debris in front of them; abandoned cars, many having floated to their final destination; and entire sections of roadway still covered in meters of water. As my landlords and I ventured out of the neighborhood, we discovered – could it be?! – a small restaurant, open! Within an hour it was filled to capacity, customers and staff grateful for the time and space to gather, eat, and feel human again.

And then the process of rebuilding. Ordinary residents helping each other with food, water, clothing, and shelter. Volunteers moving from house to house helping with salvage efforts. Relief agencies pouring into the city.

When it was safe to return to my office at Fuller Seminary’s branch campus in Houston, we discovered that one of our students had lost everything in the floodwaters and had given birth at the same time. Another was on his way to visit family in Puerto Rico (and would be stranded there for a while after the next hurricane). One colleague lost his car, while another lost everything except his car.

But there’s one memory that stands above all others: the “Arkansas Baptist Men” with an armada of barbeque grills near the First Baptist Church, downtown, serving up pork sandwich plates to passersby. The memory of people taking and eating captures for me the one act that defines the city after the hurricane: hospitality.

Litany and a Prayer

We remember before God all who cry out for peace in the storm.

For those recovering from disasters of earth, wind, fire, and water:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those rebuilding from nothing,
and for those who rebuild the lives of others:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For orphans and the elderly, refugees and the homeless,
for trafficked women, and for all who depend on acts of compassion and mercy for their survival:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For those in positions of power and authority,
who direct the flow of relief and aid:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

For the ark of your Church, a shelter in the storm:
Grant your peace, O Lord.

Eternal God,
in the beginning your Spirit hovered over the waters of creation, and now calls us out of the chaos of despair and into the hope of new life.

Give us, we pray, such a vision of restoration and the world to come, that even in the midst of disasters and strife, we would know more fully your peace which surpasses understanding and the depth of your love for us in Jesus Christ, our Lord.


Before and After Hurricane Harvey, New York Times

Remember: National Day of Prayer

As mentioned in an earlier post, 25 November 2017 has been earmarked as a National Day of Prayer for the Church of Scotland, as part of a year-long call for prayer under the banner of Together We Pray. You too are invited to stand with us and remember the Church of Scotland in your prayers at this time.

Pray for the decision makers
Pray for the dreamers and the visionaries
Pray for the prophets and the peace makers
Pray for the listeners and the talkers
Pray for the thinkers and the doers
Pray for the shouters and the whisperers
Pray for young and the old
Pray for the rural and the urban communities

A prayer for the church

God of our past, present and future, we seek direction for the life of our Church and for ourselves, and remember that all concerns and anxieties should be placed within Your hand.

Where we have heard Your voice may we step into the future that appears with all the uncertainties and unknowns to be explored.

Keep our eyes open to places of need, and our ears open to the call to new ways of being Your people.


Source: Church of Scotland website

Forgiven and forgotten

Downtown Lausanne (Photo: Irene Bom)

“How happy is the one whose wrongs are forgiven,
whose sin is hidden from sight.”

(Psalm 32:1, The Voice)

If we freely admit our sins when his light uncovers them, he will be faithful to forgive us every time. God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ, and he will continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

(1 John 1:9, The Passion Translation)

“All of our sins were paid for on the cross and we can do nothing to remove them, but confession acknowledges God’s faithfulness to restore our intimacy with him.” (source: The Passion Translation footnotes)

8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
       slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse,
       nor will he harbour his anger for ever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
       or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
       so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
       so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

(Psalm 103:8-12 NIV UK)

14 This is what the LORD says –
       your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:

25 I, even I, am he who blots out
       your transgressions, for my own sake,
       and remembers your sins no more.’”

(Isaiah 43:14, 25, NIV UK)


How remarkable that God has selective memory.

Prayer of confession

O Lord God, our Father most loving, we would not, even if we could, conceal anything from you, but rejoice rather that you know us as we are and see every desire and every motive of our hearts. Help us, Lord, to strip off every mask and every veil when we come into your presence, and to spread before you every thought and every secret of our being, that they may be forgiven, purified, amended, and blessed by you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Charles Vaughan (1816-97)

from The Book of a Thousand Prayers by Angela Ashwin, #350

We will remember them

Somehow, via via, I’d found my way to Bar3, next to Rotown, a pop podium/bar/restaurant in Rotterdam that I like to visit. Rotown had a concert on that evening, so Bar3 would have to do.

I took out my laptop to work on Joost Pot’s guest post (War and Peace).

“What’s the wifi code?” I asked the bar man.

He rummaged around for some paper and wrote it down for me: JelleVogel (capital J, capital V).

“Who is Jelle Vogel?”, I asked.

“Someone who used to come here often, but doesn’t come anymore. This is our way of remembering him.”

Who are the Jelle Vogels in your life? How do you remember them?

Guest post: War and peace

Loods memorial Rotterdam 32Jewish Children’s Monument, Rotterdam (Source: wikipedia)

Each year, since the mid-1920’s, the Scots International Church Rotterdam hosts an annual Peace Service on Remembrance Sunday.

Joost Pot – retired auxiliary minister of the Church of Scotland and long-standing member of this congregation – reflects on his war-time experiences and our abiding need to pray and work for peace.

Joost writes,

I remember, I remember,
the house where I was born

Thomas Hood (1798-1845)

I remember. I was ten years old when the war started in the Netherlands on the 10th of May 1940. On that day, without warning, in the middle of the night, the Germans invaded our country. The fighting only lasted 5 days; the German army and air force were too powerful and overwhelmed us. Many Dutch soldiers were killed, and, after the bombing, the centre of Rotterdam was on fire for days. When the government and royal family left the country, the war went on from London with the Royal Navy (also around the former Dutch East Indies).

Please, not that tune

It was not easy in the war to live under an unloved regime. Most Germans knew very well that they were hated. To show their power and impress the population, the solders marched through the streets, singing. They had a complete repertoire of songs full of fighting spirit, sung to their own German tunes. One of these tunes was a Croatian composition by Franz Joseph Haydn. This same tune has found its way into English hymn books as the tune for John Newton’s wonderful hymn, ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’. Now you understand why older Dutch church members have difficulty singing that hymn (tune).

No more war

The German occupation lasted 5 years. When they capitulated, they left the Netherlands in chaos, with hunger and starvation, people being executed in reprisal or punishment, the Jewish population almost completely murdered, and so on.

I remember May 1945 when the Germans capitulated; we were free but I knew of many who had been killed, never to come back. That was the start of local Remembrance ceremonies and speeches. We vowed we would all tell the younger generation, ‘Never again war’. But younger generations in some countries are not listening; they glorify war, it seems.

I remember the stories I heard from people who survived the concentration camps and other awful things. What war does to people is terrible, humiliating and cruel. The Bible tells us that a time will come when war will be studied no more and swords will be transformed into ploughshares and the spears into pruning hooks. (Isaiah 2:4) Jesus taught us to love our enemies and he did not condemn those who crucified him. He taught us to forgive . . .

Abiding legacy

I married Marion in Edinburgh in 1961, and we moved to Ridderkerk (15 minutes’ drive south east of Rotterdam centre) and found our way to the Scots Church in Rotterdam. Like many churches in Britain, we have a Remembrance service on the Sunday closest to 11 November, with a bugler and piper. That same evening we hold our annual Peace Service.

In reference to this long-standing tradition, Mrs Jean Morrison, a minister’s wife, writes in her book, Scots on the Dijk (1981):

“Dr Brown’s abiding legacy to the church is the annual United Service for Peace, an idea, stemming originally from a conference in Stockholm in 1924”.

In this service clergy from different nationalities and churches in the city of Rotterdam are invited to take part in their own language, so underlining the international prayer for peace. The service has a special atmosphere and is very inspiring.

A Prayer

Almighty and Everlasting God,

As the annual day of Remembrance approaches, we pray for the survivors of war. This is the time that they think of all that has happened – the destruction, their fears, the tragedy, the cruelty, asking why? It all comes back: the pain, the loss. It looks as if their scars get deeper and deeper. Is there no healing for those who once were the brave ones? But You are the Everlasting, the God of Peace, goodness and healing of all the wounds. When will our friends get rest?

Yet, we must confess the shortcomings of the world; its pride, its selfishness, its greed, its evil divisions and hatred. Yes, we must confess our share in what is wrong, and our failure to change things for the better.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. Lord, we pray for all who are united in their passion for peace, justice and righteousness.

Lord grant us Your Peace.
Through Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.

Also see From generation to generation

Do this remembering

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. (Luke 22:19)

Do this. Take bread and wine, and share it with the gathered people of God. Do this. As a memorial. Words and actions from long ago, re-enacted and made real in the present, so we too may be fed. Not just once a year, like Passover, but as often as we do this. What a privilege.

Here is a prayer by Katherine Hawker that captures some of the drama as we do this remembering and discover Christ in our midst and in each other.

Prayer at the Table

And so we gather at the table.
We come from many places,
differing in age, differing in race,
differing in orientation, politics and even religion.
As we come together around the table
we discover that our differences are not something we tolerate
but that our differences are indeed a blessing,
the more difference we bring, the more fully we experience
the presence of the sacred in our midst.
So come, children of God, just as you are.
Wherever you are on this journey of life, you are welcome here,
here in this place, here in this community, here at this table.
Come, children of God, come and remember with us.

We remember the stories that Jesus’ friends tell,
stories of bread broken and shared, feeding a multitude,
stories of being gathered together, enemy and friend, around tables,
stories of unlikely guests revealing the face of the sacred.
They say that
it was on a night of both celebration and betrayal
that he took the bread leftover on the table,
blessed it and broke it;
reminding them that it is
in the breaking that we become whole,
in losing our lives that we find them,
in serving that we are served.
As the grain scattered becomes one in the loaf,
when we eat this bread, we become one with one another.
They say that he took the cup also leftover on the table,
poured out and sharing,
remembering with them, the life-giving breath
even now pounding a rhythm through our veins,
the breath of life from whence we come
the breath that precedes and follows all that we can see.
As the grapes find life in the vine,
when we drink this cup,
we become at one with the source of life itself.

And so we pray:
Come, holy Spirit, come.
Bless this bread and
bless this fruit of the vine.
Bless all of us in our eating and drinking that our eyes might be open,
that we might recognize the risen Christ in our midst,
indeed in one another.
Come, holy Spirit, come.

— written by Katherine Hawker, and posted on Liturgy Outside.

Also see Gift #3: Re-minder.
And check out Jan Richardson’s post on The Cup of the New Covenant.

Forget not

Shop front in Gibraltar (Photo: Irene Bom)

A few selected verses from Psalm 103 as introduction to our November theme of the month: Remember

1 Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, my soul,
and FORGET NOT all his benefits –
3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he REMEMBERS that we are dust.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children –
18 with those who keep his covenant
and REMEMBER to obey his precepts.

Digging deeper

Why not make time in the next few days to read the whole psalm and commit a few of the verses to memory, so the psalm can minister to you now and in the future?

Also, check out the Expanded Bible version. Not only does it amplify the words, it also includes cross references.