Miracle of languages at the “Bible van” in Amsterdam


Christian Life

Michiel Bakker, RD

The booth from the evangelisation organisation Kruispunt Bijlmer. The text on the tent reads "Free Bible book". Photo Kruispunt Bijlmer

A young man in his twenties ends up in prison in Amsterdam. In his cell, he reads the Bible for the first time. Five minutes after his release he sees a sign on the street: "Free Bible book". He immediately walks up to the corresponding booth to ask for a copy.

It is one of the many stories told by volunteers of Kruispunt Bijlmer, an evangelisation project of the Dutch Reformed denomination HHK, on a sunny Saturday in June. They took up their regular spot at Bijlmerplein in the southern part of Amsterdam. A multicoloured crowd, including Dutch, Surinamese, Ghanaians and Antilleans, shop here at the local stores or enjoy coffee and cake on a terrace.

Surrounded by shops and cafés, Kruispunt Bijlmer's transformed ambulance bus is parked with the inscription: "Are you safe? Jesus saves!" In front of the bus is a book table, under a yellow awning with the call "Repent to God and believe the Gospel". Near the table, the text "Free Bible Book" catches the eye. There are New Testaments, Bibles and Christian reading materials in Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu and Polish, among others. Interested parties can take away a New Testament free of charge. For a complete Bible, Kruispunt Bijlmer (Crossroads Bijlmer) asks for a donation of 5 euros.

A Dutch woman looks at the offer. She says she has been neglecting Bible reading and wants to start again. After putting down 5 euros, she leaves with a Bible. A man in a tracksuit, two bags of groceries in his hand, asks for a French Bible. An African woman takes a children's Bible. It goes on like this all morning.


One of the volunteers is Gert-Jan van Hell. He is a member of a Reformed church in Driebruggen and a zinc worker in daily life. Encouraged by his wife, he took an evangelism course at his church a few years ago. He then became involved in Kruispunt Bijlmer, which, among other things, has a Bible bus in Amsterdam every first and third Saturday of the month.

Van Hell says he often has special encounters around the bus, like with the young man who had been jailed for defacing graffiti and passed the Bible bus five minutes after his release. Or the soldier who at first firmly asserted that God does not exist but, after a chat, began to doubt that. Or the kickboxing trainer who did not want a conversation but took a Bible for 5 euros and left a business card with his phone number. "Two weeks later, we called the man. He said he had started reading the Bible but did not want to be disturbed otherwise. Then we may also let it go. We sow in trust that God will provide the fruit," says Van Hell.


Around the Bible bus, volunteers come into contact with numerous nationalities. "I have already spoken more English than Dutch this morning," says Huib Vonk Noordegraaf. The Dutch pig farmer got involved in evangelisation work in Amsterdam about four years ago. He regularly meets people who speak neither Dutch nor English.

In an unusual way, a conversation then sometimes turns out to be possible after all is the volunteers' experience. Van Hell: "A month ago, two Romanian women arrived. We could hardly talk to them, only a bit through a translation app. Then suddenly, a woman from a Roma camp stopped by in a wheelchair. She spoke Dutch and Romanian and was able to translate for us."

It was not the only time someone passed by to act as an interpreter. Van Hell also recalls meeting a Spanish-speaking woman who was encountering the Bible for the first time. "Right at that moment, a young lad on a bicycle stopped. He spoke Spanish and was able to refer the woman to a Spanish-speaking congregation in the neighbourhood. This is how we see God sending people to remove our language barriers. The language miracle of Pentecost continues."


Jos van der Hoog studied religious pastoral work. He became involved in evangelisation work in Amsterdam in 2013 and has been affiliated with Kruispunt Bijlmer as an evangelist for two days a week since September 2022. He also does, among other things, training work in the field of evangelisation of his Reformed denomination HHK. He explains that Stichting Evangelisatie Sjofar (Association Evangelisation Sjofar) started the work in Amsterdam years ago, and his church denomination took over in 2016.

Meanwhile, a woman -bike in hand, bicycle helmet on her head- stops at the Bible stall. "I wish you a very blessed day," she says to the men standing by. "Thank you, we wish you that too," Van der Hoog responds, as the woman is already walking on. A little further on, a man -red coat, black hat- passes by with a bicycle in hand. In front of his bicycle is a cage with a bird in it. "A Surinamese custom," Van der Hoog explains. "In summer, there are often all these people with a bird cage in the square."

A police car passes at a walking pace. A policeman lowers the window a little, points to the ambulance and says: "Nice van!" "Would you like a Bible, too?" replies Van der Hoog. The officer benevolently accepts a copy. His colleague behind the wheel gestures that he does not need one.

Children's club

It is time for lunch. The volunteers stand in a circle, and Van der Hoog says a prayer. He gives thanks for this morning's encounters and prays for a blessing for the meal. After the meal, he walks down the street with a stack of flyers from the children's club. The club is held from 1 pm to 3 pm in the neighbourhood building Mi na Mi, just down the road. Kruispunt Bijlmer rents the space for the children's club, among other things.

While Van der Hoog advertises this activity outside, Jeanet van Woudenberg and Elise Knoop set up the equipment inside. The women, both members of the HHK, are substituting for the regular children's worker, Ine de Vogel from Elspeet, who has other commitments today.

A mother walks into the building with her 9-year-old son. It is the first time he has attended the club. "I believe in God, but not in any particular religion. I believe in my own way," says the mother as her son picks out a colouring page.

By half past one, five children have joined in. The teachers begin by singing the song "Read your Bible, pray every day". Knoop holds up a paper with the lyrics. Most of the children do not know the song but try to sing along.

"Now we are going to pray," says Knoop. "Do you know what that is?" "I once saw someone praying on a mat," says one child. "We don't pray on a mat; we fold our hands and close our eyes," Knoop explains. Immediately after the prayer, a boy stands up. "I have to go home," he says. The boy next to him follows his example.


This afternoon is about Pentecost. In a simple way, Knoop explains what Pentecost is. Halfway through her story, two children walk in. They take a chair and listen.

Moments later, Van Woudenberg puts a wrapped present on the table. "Who wants to help open it?" Immediately, several fingers shoot into the air. When the wrapping paper is torn away, a box reveals a screwdriver, spanner and pliers, among other things. Van Woudenberg links to the Bible story. "The Holy Spirit is a gift from God. When the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts, He gives us everything we need to serve the Lord. Isn't that a beautiful gift?"

The teachers teach the children a text from Romans. "I can write Roman numerals," says one boy, who does not think of the Bible when he thinks of Romans. Knoop reads the text aloud: "Everyone who will call on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:13." Then the children read the text, which is on a large sheet, aloud. First together, then one by one. After another song is sung, they are given lemonade. After a break, the group goes to work with popcorn.


At the Bijlmer square, meanwhile, it is even busier than in the morning. Many contacts around the Bible bus are one-offs, says volunteer Van Hell. He doesn't find that a problem. "We always start with Bible reading and prayer. This morning we read about Philip and the Eunuch. The meeting with the Eunuch also lasted only briefly. Philip proclaimed Jesus to him, and then the man continued on his way with joy. We sometimes see that happening here, too, after a short encounter."

How does Kruispunt Bijlmer deal with people who not only show an interest in the Bible but also want to attend services on Sundays? "Then we try to refer them to a congregation nearby," says Van der Hoog. "Two kilometres away, for example, is the Christian Reformed Church of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Furthermore, in the Bijlmer, there is a gathering of about 140 migrant churches. I have contact with a number of pastors, for example, from a Spanish-speaking congregation. They are often Christians living close to the Bible. Sometimes we refer people to them."


Does Kruispunt Bijlmer hope to one day hold its own services? Van der Hoog: "The desire to establish a congregation here is definitely there. A few years ago, we started with a monthly Sunday meeting but didn't succeed in getting people to attend it then."

Meanwhile, the work did gradually expand. For instance, Van der Hoog leads a Bible study group on Mondays in Mi na Mi, with between four and 12 participants each time. "My dream is that in the future, we will have our own location, a drop-in centre where people can also come during the week. Maybe one day we could also hold services there. We try to listen to what the Lord wants."


On weekdays, the evangelist visits local residents. These have missionary and pastoral as well as diaconal goals. Sometimes he delivers food parcels to people. "There is an awful lot of poverty here. We also often refer people to a Christian food bank in the neighbourhood."

More than once, Van der Hoog is amazed at the faith he encounters among Amsterdam residents. "I once brought a food parcel to someone. Instead of saying, "Thank you, Jos", this person immediately uttered a prayer: "Lord, I don't deserve that You look after me. Day after day, You carry me and endure me. How good You are to me."

Dirty apartment

Volunteer Vonk Noordegraaf is also surprised more than once by what he experiences in the Bijlmer. Once, he had to take home an ex-prostitute who had a breakdown at the Bible bus. "I arrived at a dirty apartment building from which poverty radiated. On this woman's table was a worn Bible. She testified richly to the Word of God."

It is one of many moments that stayed with Vonk Noordegraaf. "God is also building His Kingdom among ex-prostitutes and drug addicts. I see that happening here. I almost always come away from here happy and encouraged."

This article was translated by CNE and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on July 13, 2023



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