Erasmus Awakens

By Bill Sundstrom
agape-netherlands-465x280.jpg "I taught assurance of salvation to one student," says Egbert (above), "then asked him to teach it to two other people. He said that was impossible. But I just told him to ask his friends if they were sure of their salvation, and if they were not, to teach them. The next week he came back and had talked to 15 people. This really is transferable!" Photo by Bill Sundstrom

Agape Netherlands has long been known for its strong community ministry. University outreach, however, has been a struggle, with staff members often discouraged due to lack of response.

But God is at work. Two Dutch couples are working with students in Rotterdam, with a third coming this Autumn. And as they explain the gospel in the Erasmus University cafeteria, they find students willing to talk about the Lord.

Several threads have come together to form this fledgling ministry. The first thread, perhaps, would be a group of university students in Rotterdam who wanted to tell their friends about Christ, but didn't know how. Heiko van den Broek, an Agape staff member in Rotterdam, offered to help. Heiko began visiting the campus, where he met leaders of the Navigators. They wanted to see their 250 students do evangelism, but again, didn't have the skills.

Meanwhile, Henk and Tiny Veltman were returning from more than 20 years as missionaries in Surinam. God had used them to raise up a multiplying movement of university students, which in turn led to a Surinamese staff team. Upon returning to the Netherlands, Henk naturally thought about the university. "I wondered how we could reach students in the Netherlands," he says, "There was hardly any student ministry left." So they asked God to open doors.

Then came the letter from the Rotterdam students. Henk joined Heiko in meeting with them and doing evangelism on campus. Henk also met Egbert Ribberink, a graduate student doing research for Agape on how to connect with highly educated people. Egbert had a master's degree in development sociology, but in the course of his research had concluded that development was not working – people needed a change of heart, which only Christ could provide. In time Egbert and Sieneke, his wife, joined staff and went to Oxford University for a year of training.

Today these threads are converging in Rotterdam. Egbert and Sieneke, Heiko and Agnes work with students, while Henk mentors the two young couples and helps them do evangelism and discipleship. And woven throughout the whole picture is the hand of God, opening hearts to the gospel. "Ten years ago, talking to students about Christ was a 'no-no,'" says Maarten Gast (a leader of the Rotterdam student group currently working as an Agape intern in England). "But in 2001 all this changed. Now students think that success has something to do with spiritual life, and we can talk to anybody."

Egbert and Heiko began fulltime ministry in Rotterdam last September. Five well-established campus ministries already exist, so they haven't started their own group. "They don't need another Christian group on campus," points out Egbert. "They need evangelism, and that's what we offer." So Egbert and Heiko lead an Action Group to train Christians how to do evangelism.

"We hope the other groups will grow as people come to Christ," adds Egbert. "We, on the other hand, hope to grow in numbers of staff members, so we can cover all 12 university cities in the country. Then we can send teams out, and Holland will be a missionary sending nation once again!"