Serving in His Backyard

The Kingdom of Heaven often turns everything upside down, and Robbie Smitskamp’s life is no exception.

Robbie has run around the world hoping to escape a broken past that stuck to him in his hometown of Emmeloord, the Netherlands. But through an altering encounter with Jesus and a short-term service trip with OM, the road would lead him back home. He wouldn’t have it any other way than God’s.

Born to a Turkish Muslim mother and Dutch Jehovah’s Witness father, Robbie never quite felt he fit in to either side. His parents split when he was four years old, and he didn’t see much of his father. While raised with a more atheist mindset, Robbie’s mother still instilled a secular Islam into the family, with verses from the Qur’an sewn on pillows and other items around the house.

Amidst further family struggles, he eventually went to live with his father. The relationship was rocky as a young Robbie continued to struggle with his identity, unable to embrace his roots.

As a teenager, he started staying out late with friends, breaking into cars and drinking, and other kinds of trouble. His life quickly began to unravel.

“I started praying to Allah, but Allah never came to me,” Robbie said, noticing the actions of his Muslim friends showed no real-life change and disinterested him.

One day, his father noticed Robbie cooking and suggested he be a chef. Robbie saw this as a way out of the tailspin he was headed and dove into the culinary world.

Robbie worked his way up through the rankings of the hospitality industry, into fine dining, and eventually wound up at a top-end Michelin star education. He was on a reality chef’s competition television show and found work at a 2-Star Michelin restaurant. A good job in the capital city of the Netherlands, a girlfriend, and access to top parties–for the outside world, it looked like Robbie was living the dream. But inside churned an emptiness that wouldn’t go away. He had reached the peak but wasn’t happy.

He spent his mid-twenties living from rave to rave, and when an opportunity to move to Australia presented itself, Robbie went, hoping the environment would change him.

However, he soon found himself in the same lifestyle as before: an endless cycle of drugs, girls, work, and an inability to forgive his father for past relationship fissures. Robbie fell into a heavy depression full of anxiety and exhaustion, and tried a Buddhist meditation to calm himself.

On a day in January 2016, Robbie met a lady at an outdoor techno festival and sensed something soothing about her. After sharing about his struggles, the woman asked to pray for him and invited him to a house group of Jesus followers. While visiting this group a month later, Robbie closed his eyes and had a vision of a man in white robes with a face like the sun.

**Read the rest of the article I wrote about the great work going on in the Netherlands over at OM Stories!

Riding with Jesus

Daniel Iuras trained for months for Romania’s national cycling tour, Tour of Romania. He’s cycled in years past, and as a character coach in Romania, prayed this year would be no exception. Iuras trained for months, as this was prime time to share the Gospel with fellow riders.

But when the Romanian Cycling Federation decided to break the tour down into certain town clubs due to COVID-19 regulations, his town of Cluj didn’t make the cut. Iuras would not race. His hope deflated, but God soon brought him in on a bigger plan. He would find a way to ride, though not how he originally planned.

Iuras reached out to the federation and asked to be an assistance car during the race driving up and down the mountain and give water to the cyclists. The federation couldn’t believe he was asking to serve, but quickly accepted his offer.

On race day, Iuras filled his car with water bottles and other fuel for the cyclists and spent the next six hours handing out supplies and speaking words of encouragement to not just the cyclists in the lead, but those in the back. They were grateful for the water yet surprised by the support. Iuras was asked why he volunteered to serve when he couldn’t race, and this opened a pathway to share exactly the reason why.

“When they asked, I said, ‘My Father sent me,’” Iuras noted. “It’s a way to open their minds, a way to talk about God.”

The federation, coaches and riders couldn’t believe Iuras’ desire to serve without receiving anything in return. But the heart of Iuras is to serve, however that looks. It’s what brings him joy, and a way to live out the example of Jesus.

“Jesus loves to be famous with small things, like water,” he said. “All day long, God gave me this huge honor and privilege to see Him this way.”

Although most Romanians are Orthodox, many of them only acknowledge God and believe He stays in Heaven and the church but not in the everyday. “They think it’s just prayer in church, but I show them we can talk to God right here,” he shared.

 

**Read the rest of the article I wrote about the great work going on in Romania through cycling over at FCA!

 

New Year Wide Open

Snow shakes from the tuft of clouds like salt falling from its holder. There’s a freshness in the air that’s breathing quiet, steady. Cold is smooth, like satin on my exposed skin. And above in bare branches, birds speak with one another, their whistling coos calm across the trees.

This white-painted world washes this new year wide open.

We believe the burning hope within to start again.

But I, I wonder.

Where am I beginning?

Do I reset and start from scratch? Or simply continue in new cadence, found rhythm? I am still experimenting with the intricacies of this unexpected life.

To embrace the uncertainty and rest in what I cannot see. Stir with hope a resilience that balloons my chest for reasons unexplainable. Revel in wonder and unlatch “What if?”. Step into my destiny and approach it, not with fear, but anticipation. And truly let my belief bloom. Believe God to be bigger than my mess, bolder than what makes me afraid, and working beautifully on my behalf.

**

Read the rest of my essay over at Awake Our Hearts!

To Bleed and Break

Sometimes all I can see of my heart is red.

Red for the bleeding, the breaking, the pain. Red for the sorrow, the wonder at the way I’m wired. It takes a lot to hold out my heart. To bleed for others, their hopes, their suffering, a relentless concern for those who repeatedly break me open. How can I possibly continue to pour myself into the lives of those who keep brushing mine away?

I don’t know how to live any other way. Is there beauty in this broken? Is there purity in the pain? Is there a white shawl of grace for my upended heart?

I hold out my heart to a man who came to me unexpected, to patch apparently more than my kitchen ceiling, but my broken heart as well. My loyalty-induced DNA and mercy makeup keep me on my knees, grateful at the unexpected gift, feeling every aspect of both our healings as we receive God’s pure, patient, gentle, selfless love again and again. As we give, we receive tenfold, my heart expanding to sizes I never expected it to reach. I love without end.

Who will hold me when my heart lies burdened and expanded? Am I enough?

***

Honored to have an essay on Red Tent Living–want to read the rest of it? Visit the page here.

Blessed Silver Lining

Trail of rain pulls down the sky like tufts of seagrass before a storm. A shift in water’s hues—silver to steel to aqua. Drops fall through tree branches, splattering my porch roof, the yard. I tuck my arms into my sweatshirt, huddle my body warmth as close as possible. This is the underside of autumn, shadowed spaces sprawled across the sky. The pieces no one leans in to examine closely. But these details—the sodden trails, hiccups of gray along a color-stitched lawn, bite of wind snapping at my skin—are part of the shift of seasons, necessary for the earth to evolve as it is meant to in the swing of spring to summer, summer to fall, fall inevitably into winter.

Seasons shift in my own life as well. One full year has passed since I moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin and back to my hometown, where I fought tooth and nail to stay away. It’s hard to believe I’ve been back for a year, on top of four previous turns of the earth that tightened my chest and tested my will, molded my spirit and made me wonder how in the world the struggle could make me stronger.

I’ve been sad, afraid and discouraged more times than I’d like as I fought the calling to stay in Kansas City and work for an international sports ministry. It was a beautiful place, but I was barren inside. How many months I railed against God at my discomfort, my unhappiness, the unraveling of my well-tended dreams for life that gave way to guttural growing pains tending a path I never saw as part of my story. Each time I couldn’t stand the strain, he’d bring a little consolation and larger confirmation that, yes, I was indeed meant to be smack dab in the middle of right here, right now.

 

**Read the rest of my essay in the Redbud Post!