Stories and silence at Eindhoven Airport

On Sunday February 13th our colleague Rev. Mirjam van Nie was installed as an airport chaplain in the Protestant congregation of the PKN in Veldhoven. Mirjam started coming to the Airport of Eindhoven (also Royal Schiphol Group) on a weekly basis as a volunteer since 2014. From the beginning, her presence as a professional is aiming at listening to people and taking care of the airport’s prayer room that opened eight years ago. The instalment in a nearby congregation was a dream come true for our colleague. The involvement of a chaplain at the airport is a solistic one. The support of a local church community for a pastor is very meaningful.

Mirjam van Nie, chaplain at Eindhoven Airport

Mirjam started from scratch, nine years ago. However, soon after the prayer room was arranged (upon Mirjam’s advice) the room played a crucial role in the days after the MH17 disaster. In a crisis of this kind it is very important to offer a location where people can come to mourn. Mirjam remembers the long queue and how many came to express their grief and their condoleances. ‘The flights out of Charkow landed on the military part of Eindhoven Airport and were kept away from the public. In the prayer room the public was welcome. Many signed the memorial register books, many offered flowers or plushies. It is indispensible to have a place available for sharing emotions a disaster like MH17 evokes.’ Mirjam was present every time a flight arrived. She was around the prayer space and it’s visitors were well taken care of. 

The room is open for prayer and meditation for all. The signs in the departure hall show how to get there. The furniture inside consists of two small tables, one offering Bibles in different languages, benedictions and Jewish prayer books, the other one offering Korans and prayer mats. Opposite the entrance finds itself a huge foam picture, featuring a beautiful sunset at Eindhoven Airport. The horizon on the large photograph shows the airport control tower as a small black silhouet. It radiates warmth, vastness and relativity. 

The foam picture in the Meditation Centre at Eindhoven Airport.

A year before the opening of the prayer area Mirjam started a conversation with the non-aviation Director of the airport. Supported by the local Council of Churches, the regional Rotary and congregations around Eindhoven, the well-refurbished room could be officially opened in February 2014. Many passengers and airport staff find their way; muslims appreciate a safe place for their prayers, a lot of Jews fly from Eindhoven to Tell Aviv, and others are also happy to find a place for contemplation and silence. Even staff of surrounding offices prefer the room over the facility within their own office building. The encounters as a result are stimulating and connecting users of different world views and mutual respect is prevalent.

Besides managing the prayer room, Mirjam is lending a listening ear to passengers and people waiting in the terminal. The airport is a place where reflection about the past, presence or future easily starts. Talking to a chaplain whom you will probably never see again, opens hearts and mouths. Stories are told, about losses of loved ones, a job, or health. Regularly a person asks Mirjam to pray for the grief or the journey. She will always say yes to a request and withdraws herself into the prayer room. 

‘You are looking so peaceful,’ a muslim told her during the Iftar meal a few years ago. She was invited by an employee of the airport to join the break of the day’s fast in the evening. She went to his mosk, enjoying the hospitality and the fragrant food. It is her personal life motto: peace for everyone.

On February 13th the liaison of the Protestant church of Veldhoven with the Airport Chaplaincy of Airport Eindhoven was installed and celebrated. The congregation’s officiating minister was Lieuwe Wijbenga and the theme of the ‘stranger’ who is to be invited and welcomed resonated perfectly with the work Mirjam has promised to do. ‘Leave your indoor bubble as a church community. Experience and practice the gospel in unexpected places. I am just doing it. I care for people.’