In the long run, as a teenager, Nienke Bakker fought so much against the form that she almost forgot the content of what the church was about. Now the head of EO Metterdaad looks back with pleasure. “I saw how people in my environment contributed, but I needed another world.”
Nienke Bakker (43) had “a pleasant and carefree childhood” in the reformed family in which she grew up in the Overijssel town of Genemuiden. “My parents were quite permissive with the system they were in – the Reformed bond before the formation of the Protestant Church in Holland. For example, going to church twice was not a must, and hats were not a problem.”
Still, the leader of EO Metterdaad began a lonely but fierce battle against form in his teenage years. So much so that she forgot the content of her faith, she says on a Hilversum terrace a stone’s throw from the EO building. “In my head, I probably made my protest bigger than in reality,” she puts into perspective with a laugh, “because in the run-up to this conversation I asked my father if he remembered that I came down in my pants on Sunday morning. He couldn’t remember anything about that, while I really did it with my heart in my throat.’
Safe and cozy
In the meantime, Nienke has learned – apart from this one incident – to look at his religious upbringing with leniency. In any case, she looks back on her childhood very well. “Almost all my family lived in the same place, which meant that all your aunts and nephews and nieces could come for a birthday visit on Tuesday afternoon at 3:30. It really was a safe and fun childhood. I think most of the kids in my class went to church. Last year, my husband and I thought it was a miracle that our daughter ended up in seventh grade with one Christian girl. This is the context close to Amsterdam, where we live.”
I did not develop a personal relationship with God as a teenager
Did you pray to God as a child?
“No, at the table and before I went to bed I said the standard prayers. My parents only started praying freely at the table later, when I had already left the house. I did not develop a personal relationship with God as a teenager. Nor anger against him; I was only angry about the schedule, in my opinion it had nothing to do with God, by the way, it wasn’t so bad with that schedule outside of the services. I have fond memories of the activities for children and young people. They were a warm bath to which many lovely people are obliged.”
Nevertheless, Nienke, who at the age of seventeen was allowed to cross Europe without problems with a friend (“without a phone, huh! Sometimes we made a collect call home, that was it”), the freedom. At eighteen she left the house where she had lived since birth and traveled to Groningen to study Dutch and later also journalism. With a laugh: “Those were my wild years, although that’s also relative.”
She no longer went to church. She needed space to discover her own way. Journalism became her world, so she moved to Amsterdam to work at Skyhigh TV in Hilversum. In those years, around the age of 23, Nienke started to do something with faith and the church again. “I told Christian friends that I wanted to do an Alpha course. They referred me to Crossroads, an international church that I still attend today with my husband and our three children.”
What happened on that Alpha course?
“The cloud fell. All form and culture was stripped of faith, I went back to the basics. It had all been told to me at one time or another, but now I began to feel what really happened on the cross and the significance of had for me. Jesus’ suffering and death and his resurrection is such a great act of love for everyone. For everyone! Not just for the group of people who get up early on Sunday morning, not just for the few who partake of the sacrament… And that was there for me too.”
So often things work out wonderfully
What were the consequences of this discovery?
“From the age of 23 I started to make more conscious choices and do things prayerfully. Jesus became a part of my life. I went back to church and was baptized after much hesitation. I hadn’t made any confession and wanted to quit anyway . It took years, now our eldest daughter was already here, to my delight my parents were also at my baptism. And even when we had dedicated our children, they came to the service.”
How would you explain your faith to a non-believer?
“Believing in Jesus and God is the stable basis for my life for me. At EO Metterdaad, we often talk about God as the great director. So often things work out wonderfully. Every Thursday afternoon at half past one we pray together. Sometimes also very specific about a visa, e.g. And often it just works.
Recently we asked for a visa and it didn’t come. We said, “We’ve been praying for it, so I’m sure it will come tomorrow.” But no. At such a time, you have to cancel your trip and plan a new one. Trouble for the colleague who also has a family at home who is prepared for the trip. A week later he still went to another area. We believe in such a moment that we must be there.”
There is also room for doubt or not feeling connected to God in the editorial office, emphasizes Nienke. “Believe is entrusting your life to someone you can’t quite fathom, someone told me recently. It is. It requires loyalty. You can’t explain it well. For why is there disease, injustice and misery? I don’t know, but the basic trust is there and it gives peace of mind.’
Philippians 4 verses 6 and 7 is Nienke’s favorite Bible text: “Do not worry about anything, but in any case ask God what you need and thank him in your prayers. Then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.” Thoughtful: “I’m deeply worried. This text is my survival mechanism. I don’t always have to pray for a solution, rest is enough for me. Even when the kids get older and maybe less easily go to church, I have to trust God. Our son loves football. What do you do if he has to play games on Sunday morning? He is also a real thinker and knows the Bible like the back of his hand. How does it get from his head to his heart? Questions like that can occupy me . Philippians 4 verse 6 teaches me that I have to let them go at some point.”
Picture: Ruben Timman