[by Annette Hartman]
Integration!?! Have I become Belgian by now?
This is a live issue for me as someone from Holland who’s been trying to integrate into the Belgian culture for the past 18 years. I only have to open my mouth and someone says, “You’re not from here, are you?” just when I’m doing my best to fit in. But I can’t hide my nationality, my accent is different. Of course I use Flemish words, or they wouldn’t understand me. As far as Dutch people are concerned, I’m speaking like a Flemish person. But people here have a good laugh when I tell them that!
I’ve recently joined the Board of the Kooikerhondjes Breeders’ Club (it’s a breed of small spaniel-type dogs, originally from Holland). And so I’m discovering how things are done in the world! I’ve begun attending patchwork classes with a group of Flemish ladies and I’m really enjoying it. These ladies all look out for each other: yes, it’s a kind of community.
For them, patchwork is a real passion; it’s their life, whereas for me there’s much more to life than that. My priority is to live with and for the Lord. In the village where we live, I volunteer in the office of the local ‘Child and Family’ medical centre. That’s where I’m reminded of my limitations as far as using French is concerned. More and more non-Flemish speakers are coming to live in this little Flemish village on the edge of Brussels. But here too, I feel like a ‘foreigner’, because I will never be Flemish either. I am not of this world, but I am in this world. With all these different cultures, I often feel as if I’ve landed up somewhere on the other side of the world. But this brings its own opportunities, doesn’t it? If you have a flair for languages you probably feel this too….
But in following Jesus, real integration happens just when I’m not consciously trying to integrate, when God takes me where He can use me. For example, in 2005, when I was in hospital with ovarian cancer, I was able to share the gospel with others in the ward. With the weak, I had become weak. 1 Corinthians 9 v.22. Or, in the park, where I walk my dogs every day, God brings across my path people with whom I can share the gospel. And even people with whom I can pray. After that I’m literally ‘walking on air’.
God uses me with all my limitations to further His great plan. The Lord is good, in every situation. The art is learning how to recognise it. So, what does integration mean to me? ‘God, please use me, however You want, because You brought me here to share Your Gospel!’