Posted January 01, 2005 in MH Resteigne, Belgium:
First Impressions

by Bill Ryan.

Bill, who has been a staff worker for 44 years, spent 24 of those years working in every facet of Restoration—in editorial, layout, and circulation. Most recently he was circulation manager (for the second time), for four years. He is now beginning life in his first mission house.

My training here in Belgium started the moment I arrived. Diane Lefebvre taught me the dining-room routine; Cristina Coutinho, the kitchen routine; Joanne Dionne, the computer routine; and Jeanne Guillemette the skit-acting routine. Martine Debatty, our applicant who has lived in Belgium all her life, gave me tips on local customs.


Teresa Reilander shepherded me through the bureaucracy of getting a residency card, and Malcolm Delaney, the only other man in the house, has taken me under his wing in many ways.

I’ve begun a course in French conversation seven minutes away by train, in Namur, the nearby city. My classmates are from Uzbekistan, Armenia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and so forth.

The young adults in the class are searching for meaning in life, and for love and respect from their elders. I was quizzed at length, for example, by a Moslem man from Chechnya about Madonna House and its work. My French is good but halting. I am hoping to get proficient soon, for the youth are hungry for God.

The house welcomes all sorts of individuals and groups for retreats—from 1 to 80 people at a time—for a few hours, a few days, a few weeks.

I wasn’t here for the 21 adults who were here for 30 days, but I was for the 80 kids who came for 21/2 days. That was 40 boys and 40 girls from Namur, ages 12 to 14, who brought their own sleeping bags. It was the biggest group the house has ever had, and it looks like it’s the biggest the abbey can house.

We put on a skit for them, “Christ at the Door,” a story from Catherine Doherty’s life, and I was the butler who announced that “Christ is at the door.” The skit is a springboard for discussing how and where Christ is hidden in our lives.

And we don’t just have teen-agers. Last week we hosted a workshop in liturgical music for adults.

As I write this, 25 teenagers, 17 and 18 years old, have just arrived from Brussels by train. I can hear them outside the window.

 I must go meet them, since I’ll be eating with them for the next two days and working with them, peeling vegetables and so forth. We will be putting on that same skit for them, too.
Besides groups, we also take in volunteers to live and work with us, as we do in Combermere. In the few weeks I’ve been here, I’ve worked with Elizabeth from Paris (France), Bernadette from Kansas (U.S.A), and Tatiana, a Belgian of Polish descent. Andrew from Wales will be here next week, as will Thomas from Brussels.

Some of you may remember us telling you about the major flood that rushed through our building two years ago. Well, the wires in the main electrical panel, as a result of their being under-water back them, have rusted.

A month ago, this caused a big power surge. Three light bulbs and an alarm clock burned out, and a computer was damaged beyond repair. The light in my room is intermittent, perhaps for the same reason. And last week, due to other rusted wires from the same flood, the electric kitchen stove stopped working. (But a little squirt of rust remover solved that problem.)

This article is getting long, but I am teeming with first impressions. Here are a few random ones: (1) It is such a pleasure to unscrew bottle-tops; they only need a half turn or less. (2) Train tracks are continuous, so there’s no “clickity-clickity”—just a smooth ride.

Wind and Water

 (3) A cold wind blows constantly, drying out one’s skin, the soap dish, etc. (4) Medieval monasteries, such as the one we live in, were built by running streams and the monks and nuns used the water power to grind grain, press seeds for oil, polish granite and marble slabs, create fish ponds for food, saw logs, and forge iron—not just to wash hands and clothing.

(5) Such monasteries were built in isolated places, away from castles and villages, to guard their silence and peace.

Doors Wide Open

But Catherine Doherty said that MH was to be “a monastery without walls”—with doors wide open to welcome others into an atmosphere of interior (not necessarily exterior) silence, so that people could experience peace, love, friendship, and a sense of belonging to the family of God.

I think the Belgium house is doing just this, and in a marvelous way.


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One Man's Scrap, Another Man's Gold (January 2005)



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