“Hey, Christina! Want to join us pub-crawling?”
Nelly, one of the student nurses had asked already several times, but each time she declined.
Seeing her hesitate Nelly said, “Ah, don’t be such an old maid! We only visit the proper ones.”
Christina sighed. “Ok. I’ll join you. Are you going with the usual group?
“This time only me and Ria, the others have to work.” Nelly smiled. “Friday evening. In the hall at 8 p.m.”
Alone in her room in the nurse’s flat, Christina began to have second thoughts. She agreed to come along because she felt lonely but didn’t want to visit her parents again.
“Too young!” her mother wailed when she left home to begin her nursing studies. “You’re only 18!”
“Almost 19, Mum!” Christina corrected her.
But she had to admit, it wasn’t easy. Especially those first six months, much to the delight of her mother, she frequently cycled to her parent’s home.
‘I’m fulfilling my life-long dream, and still something is missing,’ she thought, ‘but what could it be?’
The three student nurses cycled to Amsterdam’s centre, famous for its night-life.
“I hope nobody steals them!” Christina looked at their bikes, chained to a barrier near the canal.
“Of course not! Come on!”
Nelly and Ria linked arms with Christina. When they began to sing a silly song she already felt out of place and in particular didn’t like to hang out in this part of the city on a Friday night.
The smell of cigarettes and beer hit Christina in the face the moment they entered the pub. Sitting at the bar, she watched how Nelly and Ria emptied one glass after another, while she still nursed her first orange juice.
The girls flirted with the men, but nothing happened.
“Let’s go to the next bar.” Steadying herself Nelly put on her coat.
Christina was grateful for the cold night air.
“Enjoying yourself, Chrissy?” Ria’s swaying bike almost hit her front wheel. “Oops, sorry!”
Christina didn’t dare to say she preferred to go home.
The same ritual took place in the two bars that followed. The girls drank, laughed, flirted, and Christina began to feel more and more out of place.
“I’m going to visit my parents,” Christina put on her coat. “They live not far from here. Thanks for the invitation!”
She drove away. “What a wasted evening!” she mumbled, feeling miserable.
Fellow-student Ana worked on the same hospital ward, and one day during lunch break she invited Christina to a meeting from a Christian Student Organization called Ichtus.
“We first have a meal together, and after that a lecture!”
Her enthusiasm was so contagious, Christina went along.
Everything in the hall was bare, from the walls to the tables. Small groups of students stood talking animatedly when Ana introduced the shy Christina.
“Welcome! Glad you could come! What’s your name?”
Christina felt overwhelmed. Their genuine warmth and happiness to see a new face was totally new to her.
Someone banged with a spoon on a huge pot.
“Quiet! We pray first and then it’s dinner time. Mashed potatoes with cabbage; enough for the hungriest of those poor students among us!”
The hall reverberated with laughter and everyone took their seat. Amazed, Christina listened to the guy praying, who spoke as if he had a personal relationship with Jesus.
She took an unmatched, chipped plate from the table and filed behind the others.
“What are you studying?” One of the girls asked.
“I’m a student nurse,” she said.
“Oh! Me too! Hey, Mary! Another nurse!”
“Yeah!” Mary waved her empty plate in the air.
Christina felt enveloped by a warmth she had never known before and was flabbergasted when one of her table mates genuinely wanted to get to know her. He really listened!
There was laughter and joking and serious conversation, and singing. Oh, the singing. She didn’t know the songs, but they brought such joy to her heart.
“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,” the students began to sing, accompanied by a guitar and a battered piano. “They will know we are Christians, by our love!”
‘This is it!’ A warm feeling spread through Christina’s chest. ‘This is the group of people I want to belong to, what I’ve been searching for all this time! Here, I feel accepted, loved. Here, I belong. This is what has been missing in my life! And I’ve found it! Finally!’
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