Monday, June 03, 2024

8. Funeral Celebration (Arie and Katrien in Canada)

8. Funeral Celebration

The venerable Daan van Leeuwen passed away at the ripe age of 83. A widower for six years, he left behind a substantial legacy that included eight children, forty-one grandchildren, thirteen great-grandchildren, three farms, numerous oil royalties, and a sizable bank account.

A native of Holland, Daan was barely twenty when he immigrated to Canada. He spent over fifty years living on the expansive prairies of Canada, where he eventually passed away. Despite his prosperity, Daan remained a humble man, serving as an elder in a small prairie church for many years.

In his later years, Daan began to falter and became somewhat confused. His end came rather unexpectedly one Sunday evening, marking a new and beautiful beginning for him. As a cousin of my father, our paths crossed from time to time. Whenever he saw me, he was delighted to reminisce about the old country and to share stories of my father’s youthful pranks and misdeeds.

Yesterday, we attended his funeral. We were fortunate to travel with another veteran, Gerrit Jongsma, a retired plumber who lives in our city. His son drove us. The three-hour journey to the prairie town was filled with Gerrit’s tales about the Canadian climate, cheap land, immigrant successes and failures, past hardships, and the simplicity of life in bygone times.

We arrived at the church well in time. Although it was empty, a large crowd of both invited and uninvited guests had gathered for the funeral. Outside the building, the visitors were engaged in deep conversations and lively discussions. Old-timers from all corners of Canada and even the States, their faces weathered and their hats well worn, had come to pay their last respects to their friend Daan. Most hadn’t seen each other in years, and they reveled in the joy of reunion.

The friends from the fair coast of British Columbia scoffed at the bald and lonely prairies, while the prairie dwellers complained about the coastal rain and humidity. Those from Iowa grumbled about Alberta’s cold, and the Albertans expressed horror at the heat and tornadoes in Iowa. Everyone was having a grand time.

As a newcomer to Canada, I was swamped with advice when I joined this company. I was urged to move to Toronto, Vancouver, Grand Rapids, and a dozen other places, each purported to be better than the last.

Finally, the undertaker, a stately figure in black, appeared at the church entrance. He clapped his hands and beckoned the crowd to come in. The farmers removed their large hats and fell silent as the service began.

The local pastor delivered a brief sermon on John 11:25, and, following the funeral service, everyone filed past Daan’s remains in a solemn procession. This occurred in complete silence, punctuated only by the soft strains of organ music playing songs about Jerusalem and its golden streets. It was a poignant moment.

The interest and emotion displayed by those present underscored Daan van Leeuwen’s significant role in this small corner of God’s Kingdom. The burial took place in the adjacent church cemetery. Friends of the deceased, confident in their impending reunion with Daan, carried the coffin to the grave. Following a brief ceremony in the Canadian tradition, the funeral concluded.

The old-timers donned their large hats once again, spontaneously approached the pastor, vigorously shook his hand, and expressed their appreciation for the sermon. The preacher, aware that this compliment was a customary courtesy, modestly declined the praise.

Subsequently, the lively discussions about the weather, the past, and the challenging years resumed, continuing until it was time to depart. Everyone began to pat each other’s shoulders and shake hands once more. The large hats were removed and waved in the air. The atmosphere buzzed with witty remarks and cheerful farewells. Engines roared to life, large clouds of dust billowed from the road, horns blared a final salute, and soon the tranquil silence of the rural prairie returned.

On the journey back to the city, Gerrit Jongsma, brimming with excitement, rubbed his hands together in satisfaction and exclaimed, “What a beautiful day that was!”

I didn’t date to disagree. Katrien shook her head, but her indulgent smile belied her amusement.

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Dof, Arie. (1958). “Begrafenisfeest” (George van Popta, Trans., 2024). In Arie en Katrien in Canada (pp. 33-36). Hamilton, Ontario: Guardian. (Original work published in Calvinist Contact [Christian Courier]).

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

7. "I, said the fool." (Arie and Katrien in Canada)

 7. I, Said the Fool


Certain memories from our childhood etch themselves into our minds, refusing to fade. One such memory that I recall with striking clarity is the frequent utterance of the proverb: “I, said the fool,” in the bustling household of my family.

This peculiar saying was a common refrain among my parents and siblings alike, often invoked when a family member became overly engrossed in their own narrative.

I was no stranger to its sting.

Whenever a child boasted of their achievements or adventures, it was almost certain that someone would interject with, "I, said the fool.”

Similarly, when we wallowed in self-pity, voicing our complaints and grievances, the retort was swift and predictable: “I, said the fool.”

This unusual proverb carried a potent dose of wisdom. It taught us, often to our shame and embarrassment, the importance of humility and the dangers of self-obsession. Even today, we find ourselves grateful for this lesson, especially when we encounter certain individuals.

Consider Mien Robbers, for instance. She is a frequent visitor to our home, despite her lack of popularity among the children. Mien has a tendency to monopolize conversations with tales of her own life. Whether her children have been exceptionally mischievous or remarkably well-behaved, she will not fail to share it. If she suffers from a stomach ache or constipation, she will describe it in painstaking and far too much detail.

When my wife Katrien mentions that she has a headache, Mien’s headache is invariably more severe. If she learns that Mrs. Breed is battling gallstones, she claims to feel them too.

Upon meeting her, if you were to ask, “Ah, Mien, how are you?” you can be certain that her expression will darken as she sighs, “Oh, not too bad.” All the while, she hopes you will press further, asking, “Don’t you feel well, Mien?” I once made the mistake of asking her this at a bus stop, resulting in a missed bus and a tardy arrival at the consistory meeting.

I’ve learned my lesson. Now, when I encounter her, I simply say, “Hello, Mien, lovely weather, isn’t it?” Her response to my innocuous comment is always frosty, and I suspect she considers me a callous and unfeeling individual. But then again: “I, said the fool.”

We have a similar fellow at work. He always claims to be on a diet, yet he devours everything in sight. He’s perpetually under the weather, yet he never misses a day of work. His handshake is as limp as a dead fish, but he is as strong as a horse. Last summer, when I was not well, he paid me a visit. Upon seeing me, obviously feeling ill, he proudly announced that he had been diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. My response was less than enthusiastic: “Congratulations, old chap!” His visit was brief, and he did not come again.

Katrien often chides me for being too critical of such people, insisting that I should empathize more with them. I believe she has a point. I’ve resolved to exercise more compassion and patience when dealing with such self-focused persons. Indeed, they deserve our sympathy. They are trapped within the narrow confines of their self-centeredness, suffocating within their tiny cubicles of ego. The booth is so small; they are sadly pathetic and little.

I feel compelled to visit Mien and my fellow carpenter in their metaphorical cells, and share with them the liberating message of Jesus Christ.

For in encountering Jesus, one meets their neighbour; in seeing their neighbour, one sees a vast world. And those who dare to live with Jesus at the centre of that world breathe with a newfound freedom and relief. As Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

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Dof, Arie. (1958). “Ik, zei de Gek” (George van Popta, Trans., 2024). In Arie en Katrien in Canada (pp. 30-32). Hamilton, Ontario: Guardian. (Original work published in Calvinist Contact [Christian Courier]).

 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Babysitting Bertie (Arie and Katrien in Canada)

6. Babysitting Bertie

 

Katrien has a kind heart, and her compassion shone through when she recently offered to look after Bertie, the only child of the Van Klaverens. Bertie, who turned three years old recently, is the much-awaited and cherished gift graciously bestowed upon Mr. and Mrs. Van Klaveren. After years of hoping and praying, they received him with immense joy, though they often find themselves overwhelmed by his energy and mischief.

In truth, Bertie is quite spoiled, and whenever he spends an afternoon with us, mishaps are inevitable.

One Saturday afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Van Klaveren had to go shopping for a ladies’ hat, a men’s hat, and a spring coat.

They brought Bertie to our home, the Arie & Katrien Dof household. Bertie’s mother, Emma, in her usual anxious manner, began to instruct him to behave, to obey Auntie Katrien and Uncle Arie, to inform Aunt Katrien if he needed to use the toilet, and so forth. She also said that Bertie was not to have any sweets due to his recent stomach upset, and to wrap him up well if we took him outside since he had just recovered from a cold, etc.

With these instructions given, Bertie’s parents zoomed away in their Dodge, headed for hat, hat, and spring coat. Since our children were busy with all of their typical Saturday things, Katrien and I were left alone with Bertie.

“What shall we do?” Katrien asked. We had planned to go into town together to buy a gift for our eldest son’s birthday the next day. “Let’s go and take Bertie with us,” I suggested.

No sooner said than done! Fifteen minutes later, we were on the city bus with Bertie. The boy behaved so well that we occasionally relaxed our watchful eyes. However, young Bertie had already observed that some passengers, when wanting to leave the bus, pulled a cord, which then sounded a bell.

So, Bertie pulled the cord signalling the driver to stop the bus at the next stop, even though no one was getting on or off. The driver didn’t take this lightly and started shouting at two boys who looked like they could be trouble-makers. Loudly and indignantly, they protested their innocence. When more passengers began to intervene on behalf of the boys, the driver grumbled and pressed the accelerator.

We kept Bertie on our laps to avoid further trouble. That’s how we finally reached the city center. Bertie wanted to get off the bus “all by himself,” causing a traffic jam and protests at the door. Somewhat flustered, we entered the large department store, turning Bertie through the revolving door twice at his insistent request.

We immediately took the escalator to the fourth floor to buy several records for our son. Bertie marveled at the technological wonder of the escalator. Since we knew exactly which records our son wanted, we quickly made our purchase. We descended the escalator again, and Bertie, determined to “do it himself,” got his way.

When we reached the ground floor, Katrien’s attention was drawn to a sale on fabrics, while I was captivated by the sight of beautiful carpentry tools. Bertie brought us back to reality with a sudden, violent scream. Horrified, we saw him trying to climb up the down escalator. He couldn’t get higher than the third step, his legs and arms flailing desperately against the relentless descent. With difficulty, I managed to rescue him. He hollered for ten minutes. A few ladies looked at us reproachfully, muttering about “some parents” and how “this shouldn’t be allowed.”

Katrien continued to look at fabrics while I tried to entertain Bertie, which he enjoyed for a while. Then she went to inspect and buy socks, which, in typical fashion, involved looking at dozens of pairs, feeling them, and then putting them back. Finally, she bought the first pair she had picked up. Anyone who finishes buying socks in under twenty minutes is not a real woman. I was exhausted with Bertie in my arms.

After the socks, we needed to buy a frying pan in another department. Struggling under my increasingly restless burden, I followed my wife. In the new department, we found all kinds of household items: coffee pots, pans, kettles, bathtubs, toilets, and, of course, frying pans. It was difficult to make a choice. I put Bertie down for a moment and saw my neighbor Jan Mol, who was also shopping. He told me he was buying an electric saw. We chatted briefly about the usefulness and dangers of electric saws.

As we talked, I kept a wary eye on Bertie, hoping to avoid another disaster. Suddenly, I heard a whizzing sound, and then an eruption of laughter. Out of politeness, we joined in, though we had no idea what was so amusing. However, our mirth was tinged with worry as we realized Bertie was missing. Not far off, a large crowd had gathered, their laughter growing even louder.

Determined to find Bertie, I pushed my way through the throng of people. When I finally reached the front, my heart sank at the sight before me. Little Bertie stood in front of a display toilet, just finishing hoisting up his pants. An anxious salesman stared into the toilet bowl in dismay. The situation was immediately clear to everyone. With a swift and firm grip, I seized Bertie and dragged him away from the delighted crowd. The salesman shouted after me that this was “unacceptable,” but it was too late. I gave Katrien a commanding signal, and with Bertie dangling over my shoulder, we bolted out of the store.

We collapsed onto the seat of the city bus, panting and sweating. After half an hour, we finally arrived home, sighing with relief as we walked through the door.

“What an afternoon!” I muttered.

“Tell me about it,” Katrien groaned.

Around six o’clock, the Van Klaverens arrived to pick up Bertie. Emma praised her son for keeping his pants dry. “He’s so well potty-trained,” she said enthusiastically. We nodded in agreement. If only they knew!

“Can Bertie come again?” Emma asked.

“Of course,” Katrien replied.

Sometimes, my wife is the epitome of self-denial.

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“We Passen op Pietje,” pp 26-295, ​Arie en Katrien in Canada, Guardian: Hamilton, Ontario, 1958; Originally published in ​Calvinist Contact (​Christian Courier); tr. George van Popta, 2024.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Commerce and Contributions (Arie and Katrien in Canada, ch. 5)

5. Commerce and Contributions

Upon returning from work one evening last week, I was immediately struck by an unusual silence. Katrien, my usually vibrant wife, was unusually quiet and seemed lost in thought. The fact that she didn’t even remark on the mud caked on my trousers was a clear indication that something was amiss.

The mystery didn’t last long. Katrien soon revealed that her afternoon had been disrupted by a visit from Piet Meersing, a struggling local butcher seeking to expand his clientele among the Dutch immigrants to the city. Piet had launched his own butcher shop a month ago, but his business was floundering. In contrast, Butcher De Kort, the city’s first immigrant butcher, had successfully secured most of the Dutch clientele, including our family’s.

Katrien had relayed this information to a crestfallen Piet, who left our home deeply disappointed. This encounter had left Katrien feeling sympathetic towards Piet, especially given his financial struggles.

In a bid to lift Katrien’s spirits, I offered to purchase some pork chops and a smoked sausage from Piet’s shop the following day. This gesture seemed to do the trick, as Katrien quickly reverted to her usual self, playfully chiding me about my muddy trousers.

Piet Meersing’s story is a challenging one. After working for two years at a large export butcher’s shop, he had ventured out on his own. This decision had forced him to move into a small home, causing much distress to his wife.

I was privy to these details due to my role as an elder in our church. Twice per year we have a meeting in which we review contributions that the families have made to the church. It’s a necessary yet disheartening task, especially in a young immigrant church where resources are scarce. It’s disconcerting to see how financial constraints can lead some to prioritize their worldly needs over their spiritual ones.

In Piet’s case, the consistory had concluded that he had refrained from contributing for two years due to his financial difficulties. His struggle was a stark reminder of the challenges faced by many in our community.

Several times, Piet had received friendly reminders from the consistory, only to respond with a dismissive, “My business comes first, then yours.” It was as if he viewed the consistory as the board of a corporation!

As I approached Piet’s humble butcher shop the following afternoon, these thoughts weighed on my mind. I had intended to discuss with Piet the correlation between faithful stewardship and worldly prosperity. However, knowing myself, I realized I wouldn’t have the courage to broach the subject. Such conversations can easily give the impression of self-righteousness, and there’s no label I dread more than “Pharisee.”

The previous day, Katrien had been burdened with concerns about Piet, and now those concerns were mine. I entered the shop to find Piet alone, diligently working on a piece of beef. The shop was devoid of customers. Driven by compassion, I ordered pork shops, smoked sausage, steak, sliced ham, and soup bones, despite not having been asked to do so.

Piet served me promptly, all the while expressing his grievances about the economic climate in Canada. I found myself at a loss for words. The bill came to three dollars and seventy cents. I handed over four one-dollar bills and quickly turned to leave. Piet called after me, “Hey, Arie, you’ve got change coming!”

In that moment, I mustered the courage to reply, "Piet, there is Someone who is owed far more from you. Put those thirty cents in the collection on Sunday.”

I made a hasty exit. From outside, through the shop window, I saw Piet standing behind the counter, a large butcher’s knife gripped in his hand like a sword. Yet, the sight was far from threatening. Piet stood there, mouth agape, staring at his sausages.

Perhaps I had fulfilled my duty after all. Perhaps my unconventional behaviour would bear fruit.

And perhaps there is an opportunity for an enterprising Dutchman in Canada to start a wall text business, producing a single text, a text that should find a place in every immigrant home:

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10)

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“Handel en Wandel,” pp 23-25, Arie en Katrien in Canada, Guardian: Hamilton, Ontario, 1958; Originally published in Calvinist Contact (Christian Courier); tr. George van Popta, 2024.

 

Monday, May 13, 2024

At the Country Church

 

4. At the Country Church


Henk Nienstra, a hard-working farmer, had frequently extended an invitation to us for a visit. With the assistance of his four children, two sons and two daughters, he had managed to accumulate enough savings to purchase a little farm. He was told by knowledgeable people that the land was good. In addition, Henk had secured a milk contract with a local dairy.

After much deliberation with Katrien, a woman who prefers to be at home, we decided to accept the Nienstra’s invitation and visit them on a Saturday afternoon. Our eldest boys squabbled over the privilege of driving us there, their interest piqued not so much by the prospect of the journey itself, but by the allure of Henk Nienstra’s daughters, who were blessed with considerable beauty. Unable to reach an agreement, we ended up departing with two chauffeurs.

Our visit to the Nienstra’s was thoroughly enjoyable, and even Katrien expressed no regrets about our decision to go. We had planned to stay until Sunday afternoon. Although their house is not particularly large, everyone found a place to sleep for the night.

On Sunday morning, we witnessed a flurry of activity at the Nienstra’s household. In addition to the usual Sunday rush of donning one’s best attire and ironing clean shirts, the women were busily preparing sandwiches and filling large thermoses with coffee and chocolate milk. All these provisions were packed into a massive cardboard box, giving the impression that the family was preparing for a two-day picnic. However, these preparations were necessary for the midday meal, as the members of this small Canadian rural congregation do not return home between the two church services, but share a communal meal. After all, the afternoon service begins at 1:30 and the distances are considerable.

Around ten o’clock, we set off for church in two cars, covering a distance of fifteen kilometres, ten of which were on a rough and dusty gravel road, with the remainder on a broad asphalt highway. We arrived at the meeting place punctually. It wasn’t a cathedral, but an old United Church, rented on Sundays for a minimal amount.

Members of the congregation began to arrive from all directions. Some arrived by bicycle, others in cars and trucks of varying models and conditions. With a thunderous rumble, an old tractor pulled up, towing a trailer that carried a pleasantly plump mother, her husband, and their six children. They all clung tightly to the vehicle. Once these worshippers had disembarked, it was time to enter the church. 

The meeting room was unimpressive: large, hollow, and dark. The lights had to be switched on, despite the sunny Sunday morning outside.

On a large podium, a small table held a little orange crate that served as a lectern for the preacher. In the left corner of the podium, a young man was earnestly coaxing hymns from a dilapidated piano. At the back of the hall, the resonant voices of men announced the presence of the consistory; the brothers did not have a separate room. At one point, they erupted into laughter, and the nearby congregants joined in. Evidently the pastor had told a joke.

In total, there were about ninety parishioners, including babies and toddlers, as babysitting is not offered in this part of Israel.

This Sunday, the small, vacant congregation had the honour of hearing one of the young pastors of the classis—it was a “classis turn.”

At eleven o’clock, the preacher ascended the creaking stairs of the stage and placed his Bible and sermon on the orange crate. He cast a stern gaze at the men who were still standing at the back of the room, having not yet finished their conversation, and at the many mothers who were still preparing their babies for an hour of devotion. The pastor clapped his hands and announced loudly and solemnly, “We are going to begin!”

Seven toddlers did not participate in the silent prayer, instead loudly expressing their admiration or disapproval of a rubber doll that one of their peers was waving above her head.

The singing of the Psalms, heralded by a few deafening strikes on the old piano, was robust and earnest. It was evident that this hard-working farming community was joyful because it was Sunday again, and they were allowed to meet the Lord in a hall whose ugliness they no longer noticed, for the communion of saints was so beautiful. At the end of the Psalm, a little boy continued to sing loudly. A nudge from his father silenced him, and he hid his embarrassed, red face in his mother’s lap.

The first part of the service proceeded without any notable incidents. That is to say, there were plenty of incidents, but no one paid them any mind.

The pastor’s sermon was insightful and well-researched. He preached from the book of Revelation on the number 666, a challenging text that he likely chose due to his youth and inexperience.

I was beginning to immerse myself in the sermon, momentarily forgetting the peculiar surroundings. The sermon was captivating. But suddenly, I lost the thread again; I was distracted by one of the brothers, who left the room rather noisily, not in protest against the sermon, but because his little son had to pee.

Toward the end of the second point of the sermon, the little girl sitting in front of us began to lose interest in the spiritual food and whined for a cookie, which her mother rustled out of a package. Meanwhile, another toddler began enthusiastically to imitate the minister’s gesticulations, much to the delight of a few mischievous boys sitting behind him.

The preacher, consciously averting his eyes from all the vain movements of his audience, was concluding his sermon with a powerful and vivid depiction of the coming Day of Judgment, on which the books will be opened. In the midst of these poignant final words there was a loud thud that startled everyone. Brother Nienstra’s youngest child had fallen from his chair, overcome by sleep, and responded with a loud wail. Henk, unfazed, picked up his son and held him on his lap. Comforted, the little boy quickly stopped crying.

“Amen,” said the pastor.  

After the blessing had been pronounced and a doxology was sung, as is customary in some places, the preacher descended from the platform and mingled with the congregation.

“That was a good sermon,” Henk declared delightedly.

“Yes, it was,” I replied albeit with some hesitation.

In the afternoon we drove home, and, in the evening, I sat again in our church, the large, neat, and well-ordered city church. There were no crying babies; no one fell off his chair; everything proceeded very orderly, to the glory of God.

And yet, it seemed to me that our church was a little colder than that dark church hall this morning in that little village. There was a little less spiritual warmth with us, I would say. The mercury of the spiritual barometer seemed to be lower here.

Why would that be? Perhaps because we in the city, though immigrants, are not really pioneers. Ploughing often brings contentment with the small things and a growing sense of childlike dependence on the heavenly Father.

According to his promise, the Lord was present today in our stately city church and also in that humble village hall.

But where did his glory shine more brightly?

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“De Kleine Kerkdienst,” pp 18-22, Arie en Katrien in Canada, Guardian: Hamilton, Ontario, 1958; Originally published in Calvinist Contact (www.christiancourier.ca); tr. George van Popta, 2024.