International Staff Songsters visit to The Netherlands
Members' Diaries 9th - 11th April 2010
Friday 9th April 2010 - Waterweg Centraal, Vlaardingen
It was with a sense of eager anticipation and excitement that the ISS gathered at the start of their trip to The Netherlands. The coach left the pickup point on time setting off for Folkestone; crossing via the Euro Tunnel and then commencing the long road journey from Calais to Vlaardingen, situated on the outskirts of Rotterdam.
It was great to have the complete group together on the coach (this happens so rarely these days due to the geographical spread of members). There was plenty of chatter, fun and laughter as well as cakes (prepared by members) and sweets to keep us going!
We arrived at Waterweg Central Corps having experienced no delays and exactly on time. It was lovely to see the flag flying and to be welcomed by the corps Officer, Lt. Colonel Jo Hulsman and Bandmaster Alan Gibson (some of the ISS have know Alan for many years). It was also good to meet up with Major Jeanne van Hall who was to travel with us throughout our stay. Again Jeanne was known to many as the private secretary to the Chief of the Staff before her return to Holland some years ago. The immediate sense of unity and camaraderie was wonderful and so unique to the Army - we must never take this for granted.
The group were quickly in action preparing the stage and getting everything ready for the evening concert. This was followed by a sound check and a rehearsal giving the ISS a chance to get used to the hall and acoustics.
Following the rehearsal we enjoyed a lovely dinner prepared by corps members and this was very welcome after the long journey. There were not many empty plates - the ISS certainly enjoy their food. Thank you so much!
We then took time out to stop and meet for prayer, with Richard Macintosh focussing on God's promises to us. There was encouragement and reminders for everyone as promises were spontaneously read out by the group. This was a significant time as we got ourselves ‘right with God', recognising again the responsibility that is ours and we willingly offered everything to Him.
In no time at all people were arriving for the concert and very quickly there was great aire of excitement about the building. Extra chairs were also needed and by the start of the concert the hall was packed to capacity. We were made aware that there were many first time attendees as well as ex Salvationists in the congregation, others had travelled long distances. Local leadership need to be commended for their work in publicising the event and contacting the people.
The ISS in traditional style entered from the back, greeting the congregation and then bursting into song with ‘Praise His holy name' - this was enthusiastically received and were given a rousing reception. The ISS responded to the warmth of welcome and the variety of repertoire catered for everyone's tastes - we wanted our message to be exuberant, challenging and encouraging. There was also a spirit of joy and attentiveness amongst the listeners. The interval was a chance for some to catch up with old friends, and it was an amazing place to be with chatter and infectious laughter all around.
The concert moved all too quickly to its conclusion with the ISS again surrounding the congregation and singing Rutter's "The Lord bless you and keep you" There were many who were visibly moved by the singing and expressed their personal thanks to the members.
It had been a very special evening - the ISS had sung well with many people feeling the presence of God. We pray for the ongoing working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who attended and that the sense of joy and encouragement will not diminish.
There is never much time to stop at these events and so it was quickly time to pack up and then off to billets. In reflecting there were so many good things that had happened in the day; a safe journey, excellent food and company, and culminating in the concert, where we believe the ISS had been used as a vehicle by God to clearly communicate the gospel message.
Staff Songster Kevin Sandford - Bedford Congress Hall Corps
Saturday 10th April 2010 - Regenboogkerk, Hilversum
This being my first overseas trip with the ISS, everything was very new and exciting.
After a busy Friday, travelling through France and Belgium to Holland, and then a wonderful programme at Waterweg Centraal Corps, the ISS were despatched to their billets.
Friday had been sunny all day, so it was a shock to wake up to a dull morning, and the fog that had crept in during the night! However, we all met up, bright and early, at the hall, for more wonderful Dutch coffee, and the start of the next leg of our journey. Right at the commencement of the day, prayers on the coach were led by Staff Songster Rosemary Steadman-Allen, who had been doing some research about Amsterdam and it's infamous ‘tourist area', which contrasts with the beauty of it's architecture. She reminded us of the contrasts in our own lives, and how the beauty of Jesus can shine through our 'messy' lives.
Arriving in Amsterdam, at the Goodwillburgh centre, we learnt about the work of Lt Col Alida Bosshardt, who pioneered the work of the Salvation Army in the red-light district of Amsterdam. That work is being continued by Envoys Koos and Henny Tinga, who later gave us a walking tour of their ‘patch', and arranged for lunch in the Army hall, right in the centre of all the activity. Many thanks to them, and my greatest admiration for the work they do.
Later in the afternoon, we set off again, this time for Hilversun, where we would be meeting up with the Amsterdam Staff Songsters for an eagerly anticipated joint festival. The venue was De Regenboogkerk, a large church in the suburbs of Hilversum, disguised as an aluminium warehouse! However, inside was a spacious and comfortable place of worship. We rehearsed our joint items with the Amsterdam Staff Songsters for the evening, and were then able to share a meal and a chat with them.
The evening concert was a very special occasion. It was, we were reminded, 12 years since the ISS had been to Holland, and 10 years since they had united at the choral spectacular in 2000 in Croydon, and you could sense the anticipation. As we waited outside the hall, we were told there was to be a surprise for us. It was really touching as we heard the opening bars of ‘Land of Hope and Glory', and in we marched, to a great welcome from a capacity congregation.
For myself, it was a novelty being in a festival where the introductions needed translating, and it made the whole experience somehow very personal, as if we were the congregation, rather than the guests.
The programme itself was a real thrill, with all items complementing each other, classical(Magic Flute)/ contemporary (Love, grace and Power), reflective (Know My Heart)/ rousing (Let All Things Praise), culminating in both Staff Songster brigades raising their voices in Len Ballantine's ‘More than Wonderful'. A standing ovation followed, not to praise the singers, but to worship The One we sing of, who gave us our talents, and the opportunity to use them.
Staff Songster Juliet Parker - Ipswich Citadel Corps
Sunday 11th April 2010 - Almere
Almere is a new town development built on reclaimed land in the centre of the country and is where THQ for The Netherlands Territory is now located. The corps' suite of buildings has a fantastically prominent and practical location in the town and the fellowship is experiencing encouraging growth. It was lovely, after the exciting concerts of the previous two evenings, to be able to share in morning worship with this vibrant congregation in a style and format that felt so familiar to us. We did our best to sing along with the congregational songs in Dutch and to look attentive throughout the sermon despite not being able to understand anything other than the occasional mentions of the names of Jesus and Simon Peter!
Both the testimony of birthday boy, Lt Col George Pilkington, and the message, brought by Major Jeanne van Hal who had accompanied us throughout our weekend, spoke of the evidence that Jesus lives and many of our songs in the ‘mini concert' that followed echoed this thought. It was a fitting conclusion to stand around the circular hall and sing our ‘Total Praise' to a God who had truly been with us as we had shared with each other and with our new Dutch friends.
All that then remained was for us to have lunch (another wonderful Chinese!), to share in George's birthday cake and to say our final ‘thank-you's and goodbyes. The long journey back via Belgium, France and the cross channel ferry gave further opportunity for us to spend time together so we arrived home probably closer to one another and, hopefully, closer to God too
Staff Songster Lesley Nicholson - Birmingham Citadel Corps