I've had the privilege of being a pastor at the American Protestant Church since September of 2008. But, my connection with the church goes back a bit further. I was born and raised in The Hague to Henry and Maria Blackmon. My Dad was the Minister of Music here for well over forty years. This meant that my two brothers, David and Paul and I, grew up at the APCH. I mean this in the most literal sense possible. We spent a lot of time at church. At an early age we were “invited” to join the youth choir. I use the term "invited" ever so loosely because it inevitably involved a seesaw between duty and delight.
Our life revolved around the church. I remember having my first moment of transcendence here. It happened when I was asked to be an acolyte, lighting the candles for Sunday worship. Back then, this meant you had to wear a neatly ironed, sparkling white supplice (think of it as a little white dress for boys), but somehow, I had a sense on my heart that this was a holy moment and a holy place.
Also, during this time, I enjoyed my first stint of employment at the APCH. For several years I was the custodian and groundskeeper here.
I grew up in a wonderful home and enjoyed this unique church community immensely and there are two memories that really stand out:
During my freshmen year in high school I was mesmerized by a beautiful little Bible I had seen on the Church's book table. There was just something about the pretty leather cover and the handy pocket size that called out to me. There was one problem: I didn't have any money to buy it. But, my eye saw that it was beautiful and I had to have it. After considering the options, I decide to steal it. Of course, I felt deeply guilty over having done this and in an attempt to get rid of the guilt, I started reading the little leather Bible in search for relief.
After some time, the little book began leaving a mark on my life. Not long after this I surrendered my life (and my kleptomania) to God and felt like I had become a new person. I still have this little Bible and it serves as powerful reminder to me that everything I have, do and am is a gift from God. I often take it with me when I visit people in their homes or in the hospital. It reminds me of what pioneer missionary William Carey wrote to one of his sons on his seventieth birthday:
"I am this day seventy years old, a monument of Divine mercy and goodness, though on a review of my life I find much, very much, for which I ought to be humbled in the dust." That little stolen bible is a reminder that I am “a monument of divine mercy and goodness". Only a few months after the mysterious disappearance of the little Bible from the church's book table, I was baptized. Soon after my baptism I was offered an amazing and surprising opportunity. Our youth pastor, Rev. Sam Rodenhizer, invited me to preach on a “Youth Sunday.” I still remember the conversation vividly. As soon as he asked me, without any forethought, not even spiritually savvy enough to offer the customary "Let me pray about it", I just said "Yes, absolutely."
I had several months to prepare for this big day. I got some coaching from my uncles, most of whom are ministers as well. They instructed: "If you run out of things to say, just say them again, repeating it all, but just a little louder." This advice has served me well ever since.
On that day, at age 17, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I longed to serve God in this way for the rest of my life.
After graduating from the Zandvliet high school here in The Hague I moved to France to attend the European Bible Institute in Lamorlaye. In between two of the school terms I returned to the APCH for summer internships in youth and children’s ministry.
After my studies in France, I moved to Grand Rapids, MI where I attended Calvin Theological Seminary. Soon after arriving at Seminary in 1991, I met Betsy, who is originally from Grand Rapids. After graduation and our wedding, Betsy and I moved to Southern California. Having been ordained in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (http://www.crcna.org/) we enjoyed four amazing years at Oasis Community Church in Moreno Valley, CA. Working closely with Rev.Al Breems, these years helped us get ready to start a new church somewhere else in California.
After several years of searching, we decided to plant a new church in Folsom, CA. In the fall of 1998, together with one other couple from our church, Chuck and Char Dillender, we moved to the Sacramento area. Our mission was to begin a new church for people who were new to Christianity. The task was daunting. We didn’t know anyone in this new town and these early days required tremendous patience and hard work. We begin by meeting people in coffee-shops, the gym and in the neighborhood. After a while we invited people into our homes for parties which then turned into small group Bible studies. Slowly but surely we met people who expressed interest in participating in this new church. And finally, after two years of ground work, using a banquet facility in a local hotel as a meeting place, we begin weekly worship services. The church and the church staff began to grow and the next ten years proved to be some of the best and most challenging years of our lives.
After accepting a call to serve the APCH as pastor, I transitioned from Lead Pastor at River Rock Church (http://www.riverrockchurch.org) and Pastor Chuck Dillender, took over the pastoral leadership of our congregation.
While we were in Folsom, our family grew considerably. Luke was born in 1998, Jessica in 2000, David in 2004 and Jonathan in 2007. It is a thrill to see my kids grow up in the same neighborhood and attend the same church. They are even learning how to speak Dutch!
I consider it to be a tremendous privilege to be the pastor at the American Protestant Church. It is an amazing church, in an amazing city and I hope I will soon get a chance to get to know you better.