By Norris Burkes
Posted Aug 6, 2017

“Stop! Stop!” my passenger yells. I stomp my brake pedal and narrowly avoid a T-bone accident on my passenger’s side. The other driver seemed confident I would know the Belgium law of priority to the right where I must give way to vehicles approaching from the right at intersections.

Things are different here.

Later, Becky and I walk through a Brussels park where a huge dog startles us as he runs past to catch his owner. Leash laws seem either nonexistent or unenforced, so we watch where we step.

That evening, a waiter patiently explains that Brussels restaurants charge patrons for water. For an extra 7 euros I am happily hydrated. Later, a restroom attendant asks me for 50-cents to use the toilet. Apparently there is a charge for water as it is both consumed and expelled.

Things are different here. Yet in many ways, they are the same.

During midweek, I take the subway to the Rafael Center. It’s an intercultural Christian community based in Brussels that houses 300 immigrants, many undocumented. I help a handful of their residents run a community food bank.

As I disembark the train, I walk through a predominantly Muslim community. It’s different from my temporary home near a Baptist church, but it’s also much the same.

A rubber ball bounces from a yard onto my walking path and a little boy ambles after it. I throw it back, but it falls between his feet, prompting giggles and laughs from us both. He throws it back to me. His dad gives a cautious smile to this American stranger. He’s a dad. I’m a dad. We understand.

I walk past the restaurant where I’d eaten the previous day and see the owner carving thin slices of chicken from a vertical rotisserie. I wave and say “Bonjour.” He asks if I’ll be back today.

“Oui,” I say. My mouth waters thinking of his döner kebab. It’s similar to the Greek gyro, but he serves it with a mountain of Belgium fries, cooked three times to make a crisp outer shell with soft insides.

When I arrive at the Rafael Center, Mathias is supervising immigrant volunteers as they sort a hodgepodge of food from various grocery stores. They are people of all colors and faiths and are as diverse as those they are serving.

As I ready my place on the food distribution line, I find a quiet moment to reflect on being in such a distinctive place. It makes me think back to the times I’d challenged my congregations with an imaginary scenario.

I’d ask them, “What if you found yourself in a tornado like Dorothy of Oz? This crazy tornado puts you in the middle of Timbuktu.

“In this imaginary scenario, with no friends or colleagues, would you find a way to practice your faith with the same fervency as you do now?” Or, would you discard it? Or, even morph into a hedonist?

“In other words, “Is your faith portable?”

Here in the Rafael Center, I see folks living out this scenario in real ways. Turmoil has blown them across an ocean to work out their faith on a foreign shore. With the utmost resilience, they practice their faith, they love their families and they forge new friendships.

In these ways, they are not different from us at all. Because at the end of the day, no matter how far we find ourselves from home, if we don’t bring our faith with us, things will always seem oddly different.

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Norris can still be reached overseas at 843-608-9715. Read past columns at or write him at Twitter @chaplain.

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