About 30 years ago, Karin and I were in Bible school. The place where we met. At that time we were taught by very different teachers, including theologians, Bible teachers, psychologists, pastors, youth workers, missionaries, foreign speakers and Jan van der Linden. Jan was a professional trainer for the Krauthammer company. He taught communication and his training was truly exceptional. I can still remember the drawings and illustrations on the blackboard.
Jan also had a huge passion for teen work. He was friends with Peter Vlug Jr., the leader of Teen Future, and together they were responsible for the teen program during the Revival Conference. At that time I was mainly a teen worker in our church and during teen camps. Through this shared passion for teenagers, Karin and I became friends with Jan. That friendship ultimately lasted almost 30 years, because last week Jan passed away unexpectedly at the age of 68. A heavy and painful loss for his wife Conny, for his 2 children and 4 grandchildren.
For me and Karin, Jan’s death is a major end to a long-term and special relationship. Jan played a role in the different phases of our lives as coach, mentor, counselor, friend, encourager, inspirer, trainer, source of information and teacher. At crucial or tense moments, a phone call with Jan was sufficient to continue. We received a large part of our knowledge and insight into leadership, strategy, communication and culture through Jan.
He taught me to ask questions more often. Be less concerned with what I want to say, but shift the focus to what I want to hear in a conversation. This way, people can achieve their full potential and better relationships are created. The statement ‘The better you plan, the freer you are’ is also a legacy of Jan. Plan what’s important so you have space to enjoy it to the fullest. We have carried this important truth with us for years in our marriage and in our ministry.
I remember a time when I would present a new leadership model at a large church. After days of prayer and preparation, a beautiful matrix had emerged with an abundance of compartments and responsibilities. I proudly presented my plan to Jan. After a number of questions he said: ‘Now draw the same diagram in circles instead of in boxes. Divide boxes, but circles are inclusive and connect.’ Since then I always try to think and draw in circles.
I can share another hundred principles, quotes and wisdom that we received from Jan. Last Friday and Saturday I taught on the starting day of our School for Leaders and our new School for Young Leaders. Jan came by again those days as regularly as clockwork. With tears I shared the wealth that Jan had given us and managed over the years. The filter you look through, the basic question ‘What is your proposal?’ or the quote ‘You can’t change your past, but you can change how you deal with it today!’ all came by.
Never call again
Last Wednesday was the thanksgiving service. The speeches about Jan’s life were wonderful. It turned out that Karin and I were not the only ones whose thinking and lifestyle were changed by Jan. It was a series of appreciation for a man who had integrity, always showed interest, was there to help, could ask good questions, could really listen, shared wisdom, brought people to a higher level… He was an honest, powerful and loving husband, father and role model. How I will miss Jan, because I can never call him again!
The second property
When Karin and I drove home after the thanksgiving service, we reflected on our lives and Jan’s legacy. It brought me back to Stephen Covey’s second trait ‘Begin with the end in mind’ in his world famous book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. In it, Stephen makes people think about what you want to be said about you and your life at your funeral. Since last week I have felt an even greater responsibility to pass on everything I learned and inherited from Jan to a new generation. I want to make maximum use of the toolbox I received and teach others to use these beautiful instruments as well.
Like a tree
Jan has led a particularly fruitful life and left behind a unique legacy. I want that too. And you? How do you want people to speak about you at the end of your life? And what legacy do you want to leave behind for the people you are close to? Your life matters, so let it be like a tree planted by the streams of water that bears much fruit. And as Jan always said: ‘The fruit is always for someone else, so regularly ask yourself what has God put in me for that other person!’