Brussels Attack: A little TWO close for comfort.

My experience this week in Belgium was not nearly as dangerous as some may believe based on my location during the recent attacks.   I debated whether to write about my experience but felt that it would be beneficial to get my thoughts down since there was potential it may be encouraging to others and help me process the entirety of what occurred and just how close I came to being impacted.  You could say it was premonition or awareness of the recent events in Belgium, but leading up to this particular trip I was more mindful of risks than I typically would be.   However, I refused to allow fear to paralyze me and truly believe that nothing comes as a surprise to God or catches him off guard.

When I was booking my flights I originally was going to arrive the morning of the attacks and go straight to my meeting in Leuven but choose instead to arrive a day early so I could see the city of Brussels and attend the final session of the EDAN symposium occurring before my OrBiTo work package meeting (I know I am a nerd: Bio-relevant dissolution testing).  Without this slight change of plans I would have been in the airport at the exact time of the incident.   I took a taxi to Leuven which is about 10 miles away and thought my biggest challenge would be finding an ATM that would accept my corporate AMEX.  After searching Leuven in vain for an ATM, I travelled by train into the city to see the sites and hopefully find an ATM.  Upon arriving in Brussels I ended up calling our international corporate assist because of what at the time I thought was an emergency.   I had no money and the public restrooms required you to pay in cash to use them.   Luckily they were able to find one just around the corner and I was off for my day in Brussels.

I spent the morning walking around the city center and saw most of the famous tourist spots.   I wanted to see the large automobile museum which was about a 10 minute car ride from down town.  I took a taxi out to the museum and the cab driver was friendly and was really into cars.   I usually avoid telling people where I am from when travelling abroad but he asked so I told him I was American and he said he was Moroccan.   When I exited the cab he told me to have a nice visit and “God Bless America”.   At the time I felt it was an odd comment to make, but in light of recent events it strikes me as peculiar to say the least.   After the auto museum I decided to take the metro back to the city center because the station was literally across the street.   This is the second time I was too close for comfort on this trip.   I boarded the very train line a day before attack and rode through the impacted station.

The morning of the attacks I was standing outside my hotel about 10 miles from the airport with a group of people attending the meeting when one of them received a call from Hans who had left just 30 min earlier to go to the airport to catch a flight.  He said he was fine but he had just witnessed a bomb at the airport.   At this point all of us are concerned to say the least but at that moment I felt the strong urge to pray.  Not prayer for just my personal safety but for those affected and that God would grant me peace and wisdom on what the next few days would potentially entail.   A few scripture passages entered my mind “Though I walk through the shadow death I shall fear no evil” and “He would provide a peace that goes beyond any understanding”.      The truth is that even if I had been at the airport or the metro and I had been injured or killed it would not have meant that God had failed.   God has never promised us earthly safety but instead the security of an eternity with him if we accept him.

I knew that when I travelled Merck would provide security updates based on my location and would assist if ever there was a reason too.   I actually never thought I would travel to a location that it would be required but I was grateful for it on Tuesday morning.   What I found impressive is they reached out to confirm my welfare prior to it even hitting the large news outlets, within the first hour of the incident.   Security verified that I was in a safe location which happened to be a meeting room at KU Leuven, and instructed me to remain there until further notice and to avoid all public places or transportation.

I was able to send messages to Rebecca and my family that I was safe and I got a hold of my Uncle Steve in Germany as a potential place to go if necessary.   When news of the metro attack occurred I knew that the situation was significantly larger than an isolated incident.   Once morning hit in the US, I was inundated with calls and messages about my safety and I was able to speak with Rebecca and kids, Mom, and Zhihong my boss at Merck.    Corporate travel was able to rebook my flight out of Amsterdam for Thursday morning and an OrBiTo member Ronald from Holland offered to drive a few of us across the border on his way home Wednesday morning.    We ended up having a very productive meeting and the whole group is definitely closer today probably due to shared experience.    The night of the attacks we went out for a wonderful dinner in Leuven a few blocks from our hotel instead of simply hiding in our hotel rooms.   Belgium is truly a lovely place with wonderful people and culture and is definitely worth visiting.

There were some reports of closed borders and very long lines to enter Holland.   Thankfully the Goggle navigation app automatically routed us around the check points and we crossed without issue into Holland around noon on Wednesday morning.   We took a taxi for the last hour of the drive to the airport.    I will say that I definitely was anxious to walk into the airport check in area but I have often found the quickest way through anxiety is to face it head on while truly trusting in God.    I was able to check in for my flight in the morning and corporate travel found me a room at the Hotel attached to the airport.    I took a train to downtown Amsterdam and played tourist for the afternoon and evening and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.

There was an obvious visible security presence all over Amsterdam and I can honestly say I did not feel unsecure at any point in the process.   Standing in the line to board the airplane I was struck by something my brother Jon has said in the past about transitioning from anxiety / fear back to joy.  It is important to identify where Jesus was during the time.  For those who lost their lives I truly pray they knew him and are with him today.    For me, he provided exactly what I asked for which was a peace that passes understanding and wisdom about how to get home.  As I write this at 34,006 feet above the north Atlantic I can truly say I both feel relieved and grateful to be coming home.   I am thankful for Merck who didn’t hold back any expense in getting me home and a boss who has to approve the crazy expense report.  Most of all I appreciate all the thoughts and prayers of my family, friends, and colleagues.

In closing, these attacks did not take God by surprise in anyway.  The solution for the issues is not hiding in fear or isolating ourselves but living out the gospel and bringing his love to all the nations.   I will not hesitate to travel in the future and will not allow this attack to change who I am.  I refuse for the attackers to be successful in one of their aims in creating “terror” because God’s perfect love casts out all fear.  I was reminded of a Bethel music song that was playing in my headphones while I walked around Brussels the other day. “You make me brave, you call me out beyond the shore into the waves.  You make me brave, no fear can hinder now the love that made a way.  You make me brave, no fear can hinder now the promises you have made.  For you are for us you are not against us, Champion of heaven you have made a way for all to enter in”.

 

 

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