Raising the bar in Belgium

Believers use tavern as forum for gospel

Photo courtesy of Scott Galbraith

Photo courtesy of Scott Galbraith

Beer. Bible. Bar.

If those three words don’t seem to fit together, a visit with Scott Galbraith and his friends at one of their favorite pubs might help connect the dots.

Scott works as a church planter with ReachGlobal in a city in the Flanders region of northern Belgium that lies about 10 km from downtown Brussels. Once a week, he and two or three other men meet in what author Neil Cole calls a “Life Transformation Group.”

The men talk about Bible passages they’ve read, pray for people they know who don’t know Jesus and ask each other moral accountability questions about their habits, marriages and respective relationships with God. In the pub culture of Belgium – the country has 124 breweries in an area about the size of Maryland – the dark wood and low light ambience of their meeting spot provides a natural place for the men to connect spiritually, intellectually and socially.

And arouse curiosity.

The first time the LTG met, in August 2011, the guys unwittingly sat next to the path to the restroom. After a few trips back and forth, one man couldn’t help but ask about the open Bibles. The group had just decided to leave, but they changed their minds and asked the man to have a seat.

More people joined them, seven in all. All kinds of questions came up, including one from the first man about what God thought of the sexual relationship the man had just begun with his girlfriend. Before anyone knew it, it was 4:30 a.m.

“It was just a great conversation,” Scott says.

Invitations to come back abounded. One man even invited them over to his house for soup (they had to decline — it was late).

“It was wonderful,” Scott says. “So we went back the next week, and it was the same thing.”

‘I don’t need more guilt’

Then in September, Pim showed up.

Pim, a Flemish man from a Catholic background, heard people speaking English and walked over to where Scott and a Christian friend, P.L., were talking.

The conversation began with politics, but quickly turned to Scott’s vocation. Pim was quick to point out his problems with the church.

“He said, ‘I’ve come to the conclusions that the church is just about guilt for not being involved and not doing what the priest is telling me to do. I’ve got enough issues in my life. I don’t need more guilt.’” Scott recalls. “I said, ‘If you look at what Jesus said, he said the most important things were to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, spirit and strength; love other people as yourself; and go teach other people to do the same thing.

“And he said, ‘That I can live with.’ I said, ‘That’s what it is!’”

Scott then offered to give him a Dutch Bible. Pim hesitated, saying he probably wouldn’t read it. When Scott pressed him on it, Pim offered to pay for it. To be polite, Scott said he’d take a token Euro penny Pim had on the table. Only then did Pim take it.

That kind of personal guardedness runs strong through Belgian culture. So it was no surprise that Pim insisted on taking things slowly when Scott tried to explain the subtleties of what it means to love God. No matter — the relationships Scott is building take priority over any timetables.

“He was the first one to take a Bible,” Scott says. “We’ll see what happens. We can only trust that as we beg Jesus for these people, they will come to know him. Our part of the process is to sow the Word every chance we get.”

‘Life changer’

Pim’s story mirrors that of many people who’ve been raised in traditional Catholic homes, according to Scott. They’ve received communion and catechism but have missed Christ. P.L. can testify.

“The traditional way of living as a Catholic kept me from the fullness of life, the fullness of his love,” says P.L., a Flemish man who’s been in the LTG from the start. “I couldn’t see before what I see now. Witnessing this to others hasn’t been easy. The wall of tradition stands in the way.”

Reaching people who don’t know Christ or the Bible is just one half of the LTG’s story, though. The other half is what it’s doing to the Christians in it.

“LTG has been for me a real life changer,” P.L. says. “Praying and sharing life with my brothers, reading the Bible in context with an open mind, guided by the Holy Spirit, gave me a whole new revelation. I began to see Jesus and his church in a different way.”

That different way stands in stark contrast to normal life in Flanders, where many social indicators are dire:

  • An average of three people per day commit suicide in Flanders.
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death in Flanders for men ages 35 to 49.
  • In Belgium as a whole, 71 percent of marriages end in divorce.

“Those are all symptoms,” Scott says. “But what is it that we can do? Who does Jesus want us to be to reach these people? The conclusion I’ve come to is we have an opportunity in groups of twos and threes to be Jesus.

“We don’t have to tell them, ‘You’re messed up.’ They already know it. But they don’t know how to get un-messed up, because they don’t know Jesus. And what they do know as far as facts about him most likely are not going to be true.”

Scott’s goal with all of his activities – meeting at the pub, leading a house church in his home, participating in a local karate club, meeting with people at other restaurants – is to put personal relationships before building a big church.

“I’m trying to invest in evangelism any way I can,” Scott says. “The big thing is trying to get away from the traditional idea of church and bringing the church to them – being the church instead of going somewhere and passively sitting there. I don’t see that in scripture. ‘Go and make disciples’ is not passive.”

What you can do

Go

Send or join a prayer team in Flanders. Contact Scott Galbraith to organize a trip!

Pray for Flanders and Belgium:

  1. That God would introduce men and women of peace to Scott and his house church.
  2. That Scott and his team would be able to build deep, lasting friendships with the people in their town.
  3. That people in Flanders and across Belgium would awaken to the truth of Christ’s love for them!

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