Tuesday, February 06, 2024




Being a guest preacher is not a bad thing. You get to travel, meet new people, and enjoy their hospitality. And they treat you like royalty, not because of your charming personality, but because of your office. “Do you need anything, Reverend? Are you tired from the trip, Reverend? Do you want a hot water bottle in your bed, Reverend?”

At home, I have to fake a cough for an hour before my wife shows any sympathy. And at night, I never get any snacks, even though I sometimes crave a piece of fried fish or something. And don’t get me started on the hot water bottle. I have to sleep with a woolen blanket and a pair of socks.

It’s the old story of the prophet and his hometown. No respect, no appreciation, no love.

But when I’m away, I have it all. Then I’m valued. And I hope my wife reads this (or maybe not).

Of course, there are some drawbacks. Sometimes, you have to deal with a little monster. I mean, a child. A lovely, innocent child. That’s what they expect me to say, right? Be simple, popular, and kind to the children. No problem, that’s what I’m trained for. But little Charlie Hoogboom was more than I could handle.

He was an only child; unique in the sense that there were no more children. Mr. and Mrs. Hoogboom had been married for several years and were not very young when Charlie was born. And when I stayed with them, he was six years old.

What a child!

The first impression was not very promising. I could hear him screaming as soon as I entered the house. Mr. Hoogboom opened the door. His wife was standing at the top of the stairs. Charlie wanted to go down but was not allowed. Hence the screeching: “Go away, go away, let go, let me loose!’

He wriggled free, ran down the stairs, and bumped into me, making me lose my balance. The umbrella stand toppled over with a loud crash.

Nice little fellow, isn’t he?

Sunday morning at six o’clock, he crawled onto my bed and made me play horse, hitting me with a coat hanger if I didn’t gallop fast enough. Throughout the day, I endured some painful remarks: “You’re a crazy man! (followed by a punch); What a long nose you have! Mommy, look, the pastor spilled his soup, there’s a stain on his coat!”

Of course, his parents tried to control him, scolding him, bribing him, and apologizing to me. It didn’t help. I tried to befriend him, being nice and telling stories.

Result: he pinched me and said: “The teacher tells much better stories.”

That’s how the Sunday went, and in the evening, I assessed the damage: one pair of glasses bent; one coffee stain on my formal pants (caused by a ball thrown into my cup: “Oh, no, Mrs. Hoogboom, it’s nothing!”; one ink stain on my best tie (caused by pulling off the fountain pen cap); one bruised shin (caused by a kick because I couldn’t imitate a cow).

A wonderful blessing, such a little guy!

But the worst came Monday morning. He walked in when I was packing my suitcase.

"Is that where your talent is?"

"Talent?" I asked, puzzled.

"Yes, Daddy says you can’t give more because you only have one talent. Can I see it?"

That was the final straw. I may only have one talent, but I have two hands, and I used them to shove him out of the room.

I said goodbye to the family and thanked them for the pleasant stay.

When I looked from the street, I saw Charlie sticking his tongue out at me.

Yes, yes, a very cute little boy.


“Kareltje.” Peper en Zout (pp 7-9), M. E. Voila: J.H. Kok, Kampen. 3rd. ed., n.d. (Various experiences of a Reformed minister in 1950s Netherlands.) Tr. George van Popta, 2024.