My freshman year in college I went on a Missions trip to Amsterdam, Holland. It was a trip that would change my life forever. We teamed up with a missionary, and our primary job was to be released on the streets of Amsterdam and witness! I don’t know if you’ve heard too much about Amsterdam, but let me break it down for you…people don’t go there to hear the gospel of Jesus! In Amsterdam drugs are legal, so people (mainly Americans) come from all over the world to experience the “freedom” of doing drugs right out in the open. I remember when I first got there, looking around and seeing coffee shops every where! I thought to myself, “Man these people must really love their coffee!” When I went into one of them I received two menus one for coffee and the other for marijuana! I immediately looked around thinking I was going to jail just for walking into the place. I watched wide-eyed as people would go up to this guy behind a wall of smoked filled glass and place their order for their marijuana. He would roll it up for them then take a hit for his tip. This guy had to be high as a kite, all he did for eight hours was smoke weed!! I quickly learned that all those “coffee shops” were not just your regular Starbucks!
After the initial shock of thinking “Oh my God I’m in Sodom and Gomorrah!” I began to go up to people and present the gospel of Jesus Christ. Person after person I would tell of how God loved them so much that He gave His Son so they could have eternal life. They would listen intently, hanging on every word. I thought “Man this is going to be easy.” Then I would ask them if they would like to accept Jesus as their personal Savior they would say, “No thanks. That’s great it works for you though–thanks for talking with me!” Each time it was like someone took my ice cream cone and threw it on the ground (I can relate to food not balloons). I was extremely discouraged but kept up with it, sharing my story and telling how Christ loved me and saved me.
One day as I was walking down the street, I began to witness to this guy. He was a short, African-American man and looked very busy. When I asked if I could talk with him he said “Sure–walk with me.” When I began to share Christ with him he immediately stopped and looked at me with wide eyes. He was surprised that I was in Amsterdam, doing something productive.
He asked who I was with. I told him I was here with my college and was spending a week sharing our story and how Jesus saved us. He was a producer that worked for a reputable television station in Europe. He was doing a documentary about backpackers in Amsterdam. He said he had four stories and all of them were about people coming to Amsterdam to do drugs and see the red light district. He was looking for a fifth story and asked if I would like to do it. So from that brief meeting, I and my friends Colby and Dave along with Art VanZanten the director of our college spent a day being filmed as we witnessed on the streets of Amsterdam. We were fortunate that our director Art was a native of Holland and fluent in the language, so if the filmmakers were trying to pull any funny stuff we would know.
We were put up in a youth hostel named the “Flying Pig.” If you don’t know what a youth hostel is, trust me, you don’t ever want to stay in one! Imagine a frat house where everyone thinks not showering is cool. But it’s a really cheap way to travel Europe and does put a roof over your head. You never quite escape the feeling you’re gonna catch something once you walk into the place. The idea was to put us up in the hostel and the next morning they would start filming us. Art and I were in one room, Colby and Dave in another. The room was about as basic and nasty as you could get. You received your sheets for the bed at the front desk when you checked in. I remember thinking “the only thing that’s missing is the rats and crack head lady in the corner.” Sure enough, I looked over and there they were…just messing, but you catch my drift.
We awoke at 8:00 am to a knock on the door and when we answered it, there was a camera in our face. Art and I were standing in our jersey shorts and messed up hair. I was thinking, “I sure hope they’re not recording”, but the red blinking light erased that hope. Great! Let’s start the day off looking like idiots! We quickly got ready and went to get breakfast. We went to a corner market where they were selling these huge waffles. Not your regular waffle, these had whipped cream, cherries and chocolate on it and it was about the size of a small boy! We were passing it around and as it got to Dave he fumbled it, flinging the whole thing all over me. As my temper began to swell, the camera zoomed in. I looked at Dave and thought “Jason, don’t say what you’re thinking ’cause it’s really bad and you need to be a good witness.” So I forced a cheesy grin, looked at Dave “Hey, that’s okay, Dave, Buddy, ol pal, accidents happen!”
We were outfitted with wireless mics and everything we said could be heard 30 feet away. For the first time in my life I thought about literally every word that came out of my mouth. I wish I would live as if I had a wireless mic on me all the time, it would save me from getting into trouble with my wife!! For hours we were filmed as we witnessed to people. Amsterdam is a unique place, with a variety of different people from all walks of life. On one corner you would see a bunch of tourists taking pictures like you would see at Disney World, while across the street you would see a man shooting up heroin. It seemed everyone I spoke with was surprised I was talking to them about Jesus and not drugs or sex. Amsterdam is known for its “red light district,” a strip of street located in the back end of the city. Women in lingerie stand in windows, red neon lights posted above their store signaled to others they were in business. While prostitution is the main focus, drugs are also prevalent. The film director wanted us to go down to the red light district to do our witnessing. He wanted to see how we would react to that situation. Art looked at him and said “No we don’t need to go down there, anyone that goes down there also comes back up here.” You could feel the rest of us sigh in relief! The objective was to witness on the streets of Amsterdam for a couple of hours then meet up with the rest of the team at an event where we would be doing a service. On our way to the service we tried to board a tram. I say tried to because when the tram stopped we failed to push the button that says “push this button to open the door.” It was so funny the film crew was on one side of the tracks waiting to get on the train and we were on the other side waiting, waiting and waiting for the door to open. We figured we did something wrong when the train pulled away, the passengers looking at us like we were morons! The film crew jumped out of their train and had a good laugh at our expense…jerks! We made it to our event and when we finally were ready to call it a day after 12 hours of filming, the director wanted to get one last interview with us.
He sat us down in a room and said he wanted to ask us an impromptu question. He asked who would like to go first and I raised my hand. Immediately I thought “wait a minute why the junk did I raise my hand!!” It unnerved all of us to be asked a question we didn’t know before the cameras were rolling. No time to prepare just bam there it is! He started to record and then looked at me and said “who is Jason Maupin?” It seemed that red light on that camera was blinking a million miles an hour…maybe it was my heart. I had never been asked that before. It’s one of those questions you don’t ask people, you know? That’s definitely a conversation killer. Can you imaging you just meet someone; they ask you your name and then ask you but who are you? Kind of weird! I thought for a second then said “Jason Maupin is a sinner in need of a Savior that was saved by grace.” I don’t even remember what everyone else said I just kept thinking who am I? Who am I? That’s one of those questions that will make you think, because there is so much to it. What are your motives, what do you believe, when the day ends and you’re by yourself who are you really? After they got done I spoke with the camera man who was actually from New York. I asked him who are you? I think he gave the most honest answer when he said “I have no idea.”
It’s easy to put on a face and be someone you’re not, pretend you’re doing ok and most of the time those people end up fooling everyone else into buying it. When it’s all said and done though you have to look into the mirror and deal with the person looking back. I know some people who live their lives trying to fool everyone else around them. I guess it’s easier for them to be someone they’re not rather than actually live with the person they are. No one’s perfect but I respect the person who sees he isn’t, admits it, and then deals with it. At different points of my life I’ve gone through some soul-searching. I really took some time after that question. In Psalms 139:23-24 King David prays a prayer that says “Search me oh God and know my heart, test me and know my thoughts, point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” That’s one of my favorite verses. I don’t think it’s wrong to not have an answer to who you are; I think King David prayed that prayer so he could find out who he really was. So many people look to the things of the world to give them their identity: drugs, alcohol, sports, clothes, their job, their looks, etc. The only one that can give purpose and identity to something is the maker of that thing.
So, back to the documentary. I asked if they could mail me a copy after they completed it. When I didn’t hear from them after about six months of calling them, I began to wonder what was up. I’m pretty persistent, but after a full year of calling and not hearing from them, I just figured they trashed it and didn’t want to tell me. Seven years later I was back in Amsterdam speaking in a couple of International Schools. I was on the trolley with Art when he looked at me with a surprised look and motioned for me to look behind me. He said, “That’s him, that’s the guy!” Sure enough I looked over and it was the director that filmed us seven years earlier! It felt like a Seinfeld episode!! I immediately jumped to my feet and went over to the guy. I said “do you remember us? We were the guys you filmed seven years ago.” He got this wide-eyed look that said “oh man these guys are crazy!!” I know he was thinking “these guys are Americans they won’t be back over here so I don’t have to give them the video.” Well folks, God sure has a sense of humor!! He said to stop by his office and he’d get it for us. It makes me laugh just thinking of it! What are the chances!!! Art and I practically cornered the guy!! After seven years of frustration! “You wanna know who I am huh! I’m a crazy persistent grudge-holding dude that will fly over here seven years later to get that video!!” I didn’t say that to him, but I’m sure he was expecting me to say it. I’m thankful it happened that way. It shows me that God cares about the little things!
The guy ended up giving us a bogus tape. Im sure he thought he’d better give us something or we wouldn’t leave him alone. Im glad we didn’t get the tape the first time, that guys face when he saw us seven years later made it worth the wait! I’ve thought a lot about that night, when I was asked “who are you?” When all is said and done I still stick with the answer I gave 7 years ago. Jason Maupin is a sinner, in need of a Savior, that was saved by grace. I know its a constant journey finding your true identity, what you like, what you dislike, but I know Im committed to that journey and all the great times that come with it. When you’re alone take time to ask your self–and more importantly–ask your maker the question of who you really are. It’s all right if you don’t like the answer. Just continue to be faithful to following the steps He (your maker) lays out before you.