Serving in his backyard

Sarah Freymuth | Netherlands

The Kingdom of Heaven often turns everything upside down, and Robbie Smitskamp’s life is no exception.

Robbie has run around the world hoping to escape a broken past that stuck to him in his hometown of Emmeloord, the Netherlands. But through an altering encounter with Jesus and a short-term service trip with OM, the road would lead him back home. He wouldn’t have it any other way than God’s.

Born to a Turkish Muslim mother and Dutch Jehovah’s Witness father, Robbie never quite felt he fit in to either side. His parents split when he was four years old, and he didn’t see much of his father. While raised with a more atheist mindset, Robbie’s mother still instilled a secular Islam into the family, with verses from the Qur’an sewn on pillows and other items around the house.

Amidst further family struggles, he eventually went to live with his father. The relationship was rocky as a young Robbie continued to struggle with his identity, unable to embrace his roots.

As a teenager, he started staying out late with friends, breaking into cars and drinking, and other kinds of trouble. His life quickly began to unravel.

“I started praying to Allah, but Allah never came to me,” Robbie said, noticing the actions of his Muslim friends showed no real-life change and disinterested him.

One day, his father noticed Robbie cooking and suggested he be a chef. Robbie saw this as a way out of the tailspin he was headed and dove into the culinary world.

Robbie worked his way up through the rankings of the hospitality industry, into fine dining, and eventually wound up at a top-end Michelin star education. He was on a reality chef’s competition television show and found work at a 2-Star Michelin restaurant. A good job in the capital city of the Netherlands, a girlfriend, and access to top parties--for the outside world, it looked like Robbie was living the dream. But inside churned an emptiness that wouldn’t go away. He had reached the peak but wasn’t happy.

He spent his mid-twenties living from rave to rave, and when an opportunity to move to Australia presented itself, Robbie went, hoping the environment would change him.

However, he soon found himself in the same lifestyle as before: an endless cycle of drugs, girls, work, and an inability to forgive his father for past relationship fissures. Robbie fell into a heavy depression full of anxiety and exhaustion, and tried a Buddhist meditation to calm himself.

On a day in January 2016, Robbie met a lady at an outdoor techno festival and sensed something soothing about her. After sharing about his struggles, the woman asked to pray for him and invited him to a house group of Jesus followers. While visiting this group a month later, Robbie closed his eyes and had a vision of a man in white robes with a face like the sun.

“His arms were wide open, and He pulled me in, laid my right cheek on His chest. I felt joy, peace, love, a Fatherly love, forgiveness,” marvelled Robbie. “It was literally beyond understanding because I was so depressed. God made His home in me.”

Robbie’s life filled with light, as if a curtain pulled open and the mid-day sun poured in. His life immediately shifted; he dove into relationship with Jesus and was able to forgive his father. After spending many years avoiding his homeland, God impressed upon him another vision that moved him back to the Netherlands in May 2019.

Robbie longed for more. That’s when he attended a conference and heard about OM and its various opportunities to help.

Robbie’s heart stirred to serve, and he dedicated one week to a short-term trip. But there was a caveat to his offer. “I didn’t want to talk about Jesus with Muslims and refugees,” he admitted. “But I couldn’t get the time off I had wanted and what was available was a week with refugees in Serbia.”

Those six days again changed the course of Robbie’s life. Seeing who he perceived as “outsiders” with a new perspective, he evaluated his own background, sensing God shifting his mentality on his mixed identity. After Serbia, Robbie went and spent two months in Turkey, where God fully restored his heart. “There was a point where I hated my Turkish background, but God reminded me of my identity,” he said. “I was 100 percent Dutch and 100 percent Turkish and 100 percent born again in Jesus.”

God gave Robbie eyes to approach his unique position to speak to the Turkish population in the Netherlands. Through his trip to Serbia, he now sees himself on mission to build relationships and speak life to the very people he never felt at ease with. He’s travelling around the Netherlands preaching in public squares and sharing the love of God he has personally experienced.

“I fully planned to be in Australia, and when God brought me back, I didn’t think I’d stay here,” he said. “I was a little sad at first, but deep down I felt peace.” He has participated in city outreach days, sharing God’s love with Turkish people, and connecting them to the local church.

Starting over back home brought Robbie new purpose, ministering where he’s planted. He left a lot back in Australia, but God rearranged his perspective to use Robbie to find a common sympathy with Muslim and refugee backgrounds.

For Robbie, serving in Serbia, Turkey, and Amsterdam is an upside-down surprise of life, where everything he once despised, he now holds dear. “I pray and hope I can be an encouragement for people,” he said. “I wanted to be served, and now all I want is to serve.” And Robbie’s starting in his own backyard.

Published: Wednesday, 06 January 2021
Credit: Sarah Freymuth
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