Today I’m thrilled to share Charissa Steyn and part of her story of living in the Netherlands. One thing I’ve been praying about in my own life is how I can love the people around me who might not seem like “my people.” Charissa provides some examples where she was on the receiving end.
I’m embarrassed to say this, but after two years of living in the Netherlands I never learned Dutch. At least not anything beyond “hoi, hoi” which is a typical greeting for hello or goodbye in the southern province.
Anytime someone would ask about how my Dutch was coming along I would mumble something about my lack of progress. I often wonder how our time here would have looked if I taught myself to carry on simple conversation in Dutch, put my kids in a Dutch preschool, or took language classes once a week. Would we have stayed longer or had stronger community? Perhaps.
But that didn’t stop my neighbors, Reen and Hannelie, from embracing us.
An older couple in their sixties with three daughters and five granddaughters, they lived directly across the street from us in a house they’ve been in for thirty years. Our front windows faced each other, so we often waved from inside. They could peek in on our living room dance parties and we could see their dinner guests.
Although I feel like I failed at speaking their language, they attempted to speak mine, and in more ways besides English. They stepped over visible and invisible barriers and taught me what it looks like to love our neighbor even when we have little in common.
WILLINGNESS TO WALK
One of the first things I remember is when Reen knocked at the door with a fresh baked apple tart in a deep dish. Who knew that a criss-crossed crust with a center of gooey cinnamon apples was the perfect recipe for winning over our hearts?
A simple apple tart on a dinner plate was the welcome mat for friendship. All they did was walk, knock, and smile. I am so thankful for their willingness to risk coming over to visit us unannounced because instantly a sense of belonging filled my heart even in a foreign country.
They reminded me that creatively loving our neighbors is as basic as taking the physical step of walking to their door with warm dessert in hand.
My kids and I spent countless hours staring out the front window where Reen and Hannelie’s house was in full view. They always had a bountiful display of flowers in bloom and a bench up against the house. Their front door should have been revolving because their granddaughters were constantly going in and out. In comparison to our house, there was always something happening at their place.
Even in the evenings the soft glow of their lamps or garden lights out back brought warmth into my often lonely, homesick heart. I noticed when they were gone too. The street felt strangely unfamiliar, and a frigid breeze seemed to whip down the sidewalk. I don’t know how to explain it other than they were a beacon of light, the epitome of a vibrant family.
Another reminder to me that creatively loving our neighbors looks like planting flowers in the front yard, radiating our own sunshine from within, and leaving our front door ajar.
Speaking of their door, they invited us into their house all the time. If I was walking home from the grocery store and they were outside, we stopped and chatted and inevitably they would ask if I wanted to come in. I regret not saying yes more often. We even got to sit in their award-winning backyard garden and drink tea. The twinkly lights, table and chairs, over-hanging trees, and tall flowers made for a secret, cozy refuge. I don’t remember what we talked about that night in our broken English exchanges, but I do know they genuinely wanted to know us, love on our kids, and make us laugh.
Although we were in drastically different seasons of life, they reminded me that creatively loving our neighbors looks like extending the invitation to come in, laugh together, and share stories of our seasons.
Whether it was hand-written notes in our mail box, loaning us their electric hedge trimmer or huge ladder, delivering surprises for the kids, or letting us sit on their couches for three hours one late evening when we got locked out of our house, they were my personal tutors in the art of loving my neighbor. I may not be leaving the Netherlands with fluent Dutch on my lips, but my heart is full.
It doesn’t need to take months or years. It doesn’t take Olympic size feats of faith. It doesn’t take an outgoing personality or brave soul. Reen and Hannelie taught me that love for my neighbor takes willingness, warmth, and welcoming invitations. Ultimately they showed me Jesus. A God who stepped over every barrier and learned to speak our language, even when we failed to speak His.
Charissa Steyn is a God-adventurer, wife to her South African sweetheart, and mama to three little explorers (ages 4,2, and 7 months). She’s also writer, hill runner, and creator of the Art of Adventure shop & blog where she encourages us as women to take tiny risks, wildly trust God, and leave our comfort zones to awaken to our own beautiful adventure with Him! You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.