Those Who Stayed and We Who Left

I stepped outside Amsterdam Centraal to find my seatmate on the train had told the truth.

“Look out for the bikes,” she had said. “In Amsterdam, they rule. And they’ll run you down.”

The streets were full of bikes. And in triple-level racks, rows of bikes waited for more riders.

After escaping a few near hits as we dodged trams and cars and motorcycles, but mostly bikes, we were glad to check into our hotel.

Until we looked out the window.

Just a few yards away was a train, on the other side of the tracks boats carried cargo, and just beyond the river, people swung over the edge of a skyscraper on the highest swing in Europe, Amsterdam with all its nightlife at their feet.

But the next morning, we found a quiet place.

On a crowded canal street, we found the nondescript door of Doopsgezind Amsterdam, a Mennonite church that has been meeting in the same building for 400 years. For many of these years, they were a “hidden” church, tolerated as long as no steeples or signs marked their presence.

I can’t understand Dutch. But during the service, I understood plenty—why heads bowed and faces lifted, why we stood to hear scripture, and why they baptized two—one young and one old. I listened to tunes I knew with words I didn’t, except that the English for some songs kept coming to me.

One song I had never heard. But I used Google translate to read its lyrics in the order of service:

What can harm us?

Whatever we suffer,

You hold us by the hand.

As the pipe organ played, I thought of the Anabaptists who had been flayed and drowned in Switzerland and beheaded and burned in Germany. I thought of those who had fled, some to Holland and some even further to America.

And it struck me.

In this hidden spot, just off the Amsterdam streets, we were together again—those who stayed and we who left.

After the service, a man came to me. He had heard of our pilgrimage. And he had something to say.

“A family history,” he said, “can weigh heavily.”

And he is right.

But one hour in that sacred spot lightened the weight.

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