MHH: So on short notice, you headed for Guam.
MHH: And he did have a job?
VH: He did have a job. He was the superintendent of the workshop for handicapped adults. We were there for five years. Rev. Wade died of his cancer during the time that we were there. During the time we were on Guam, we went through another big typhoon. In fact, the Chicago paper’s headline the next morning was, “Guam is Gone!” A very lush and beautiful island was flattened. No coconut trees, no anything. Everything was flat. Most of the houses were flat because a lot of them were made of sheet metal. They just blew down.
We lived in a complex of about eleven homes. Ours was the only one that practically received no damage at all. Toni Bourdine was living in a house on the beach. I called her about three o’clock and said, “Do you want to come and stay with us?” She said, “No, my friend is here with me”— Her friend who would become her husband. “I put all things up high,” she said. “I think we’ll be OK.” It wasn’t an hour later she called and said, “The police say I have to evacuate because the beach is going to be gone.” So she came with the clothes on her back and a few other things to stay a few nights. But her house was gone the next day. There was a house across the street from us that the family never came back to and had to have a little bit of renovating. She lived with us for awhile, and that’s the house they moved into when they got married.
MHH: So during your five years on Guam, this Pastor Wade died from his cancer. What happened next, and what brought you to leave Guam?
VH: Well, our first introduction to the Protestant Reformed Churches was through Antoinette Bourdine, who was a member of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. She had the permission of the consistory to spend her two years plus on the island of Guam teaching school. She did that for several years. During our five-year term then she and Ignacio [Quenga] became married. We stood up for them at their marriage. Rev. Wade and Chaplain Zeller, who was from the Reformed Episcopal Church, both officiated at the service, and Chips and I stood up for them. Toni had a baby within a year, and when he was a year old, they came back. They came back to the States in 1965. Rev. Wade had died in February of that same year. The typhoon had practically ruined the rehabilitation center. They were in the process of building a new one, and my husband didn’t really want to leave until that project was finished. He never was one to leave anything unfinished. So in 1966 we came back to the United States. He had a job lined up in San Luis Obispo by the man who had been his supervisor when he first went to the rehab center. Just as we were ready to leave Guam, it was supported by federal funds. The funds were withdrawn, so the job was withdrawn. As we were heading for that part of California, Toni wrote and said, “Just come to Grand Rapids.” She sent us a copy of the “Classified Ads” from the Saturday night Grand Rapids Press. My husband checked off 27 jobs he could apply for. Toni’s family got busy in the meantime, and her brother made arrangements for him to interview at the children’s workshop at Pine Rest. So very shortly after we came back to Grand Rapids, he was employed again in the work that he loved, which was teaching people to do things. Oh, he loved the work. And within a week or so after we got back, I had a job in a nursing home. When I first took it, I thought, I’ll just keep this until he gets a real job. I only stayed 20 years (laughter).
The first nursing home I worked in was a little one that originally had been the Posthumus funeral home—before they built that beautiful new big one on Grandville Avenue. So it had been converted into a twenty-six bed nursing home. That’s where I started.
But when we went to Grand Rapids, we were not convinced that the Protestant Reformed Church was the place for us. We were still loving our roots in the Orthodox Presbyterian church, even though Rev. Wade was gone and we hadn’t found a church to our satisfaction. In fact, when we first went to Grand Rapids, there was no OPC there at all. We first attended Seventh Reformed, and we enjoyed going to [Rev. Gordon] Girod’s preaching, very, very much. I felt kind of bad for Toni. She had enrolled our children in Hope School before we got back. We came back on the 31st of October, and they went to school on November 1st. The next day we had a blizzard (laughter) and they didn’t go to school. But they went to school there for three years before we became Protestant Reformed.
MHH: And in the meanwhile, you’re going to Seventh Reformed.
VH: Seventh Reformed. We went to another one downtown—it was a DeJong—but we didn’t like his preaching. Then Rev. Girod got kind of off course. He was becoming more political, and he was not really loved by the Reformed church. They said he made too much trouble at classis. I can imagine he did, because he was thoroughly Reformed until he started going Birch-wise [John Birch society].
In the meantime, two gentlemen had started a mission work up in Lincoln County, near Lincoln Lake—37 miles from Grand Rapids. They found a church building that was empty and they were renting that. They asked the CRC to help them, but the CRC wanted nothing to do with it. I don’t know how they got connected with the OPC, but they did. They got our name, so we were charter members of that church. Our first minister was a young man (I can’t even think of his name anymore). He was fresh out of Westminster Seminary. He preached well. But these two gentlemen who had started the work said, “You can’t preach about sin so much. You can’t tell people what sinners they are. We’re never going to get anywhere that way. You have to tell them more about the love of God.”
My husband said to me one night, “We belong in the PRC.” I was having trouble with my bad leg then, and the long ride up there and back twice a Sunday was a bit much on a day when I was supposed to rest. We’d been going to Hope [PRC] on the Sundays I didn’t work. He would go with the boys out of some sense of loyalty up to Lincoln Lake. Finally one Sunday, he said, “This is where we belong.” And that’s when we came into the PRC. That was in 1970. We were thoroughly convinced and convicted that we no longer belonged in the OPC. It was our introduction to the Reformed faith. It had been preached to us so faithfully that to hear it watered down, we couldn’t swallow it.
MHH: I understand. So did you join Hope Church?
VH: Yes, we did.
MHH: Who was the pastor?
VH: When we started going there, Rev. Kortering was the pastor. When the boys were in school, they weren’t being catechized because it was too far for the preacher up there [Lincoln Lake] to come down for two kids. So I called Rev. Kortering and said, “Can our children go to catechism with the children from Hope School?” He said, “They certainly can.” And that very day he took the books over to Jo Dykstra and said, “Give these to Skip and Lynne when they leave school today.” He marked in the book what they were supposed to study.
We were slow in getting our papers from the OPC. That was at the time that Hull was calling Rev. Kortering back. One Sunday morning, with tears in his eyes, he said, “I have accepted the call to Hull.” He said, “Those people have been without a minister for four years, and my reasons for wanting to stay in this area are personal.” His parents were getting older. They were in Holland, and he was close to them. So it was hard for him. And, of course, it was hard for us.
So then we were vacant for the first two years that we first went to Hope. Our first pastor was Rev. VanOverloop.
MHH: And, what can you tell me about your life subsequent to that time?
VH: Oh, we loved going to Hope Church. We looked down on our children in catechism. We stayed in Grand Rapids for twenty years—the longest I ever lived any place in my life, and I thought I was there forever. My husband had his two heart attacks, and he had to retire after the second one. They couldn’t do it now, but they were able at that time to put him through the disability business through the Medicare program, so he received what he would have received if he’d been on social security. I kept my job until 1984. We both retired at that point. But they kept calling me back to the nursing home because they needed people to fill in. My husband got tired of that. I came home from work one day, and he said, “We’re putting this place up for sale and we’re going to buy a trailer and we’re going to go to Florida in the winters and just spend our summers up here.” He was kind of a “house-husband” at that time, and felt kind of penned in.
So, I was shocked again. But we did. [Name redacted] came and he was so angry with us, because he did not believe that people should do that. If you had to stay in the house all winter, you just stayed in the house all winter. It didn’t matter whether you got to church or not. You stayed where the church was. But we did it, and we were on our way to Florida. It was also the year of my husband’s fiftieth anniversary from graduating from high school. So we went to the West Coast first, and visited in Apple, California at his high school graduation. Then we went on down to Modesto. Rev. [Steven] Houck was in Modesto at that time. We stayed there for three weeks in a campground and enjoyed him and his family and their fellowship because, we were at Hope Church when they came to Grand Rapids, and while he was in seminary they were visitors in our home often on Sundays. His children have always called me “Grandma.”
Then we went to where Rev. Koole was preaching in Redlands. We were only going to be there over the weekend, but he said, “Oh, just stay a couple more days and we’ll take you up the mountain.” So we stayed there awhile.
Then we went to Houston, Texas by the next Sunday. It was around Thanksgiving time we got there. So we went down to Corpus Christi and visited there, and came back to Houston and stayed through Thanksgiving. Then we might as well stay for Christmas. We never got to Florida. The next year we went down there [Houston] with our papers.
MHH: Because the congregation had organized at that time?
VH: Oh, they were already organized before we got there. Rev. Ron Hanko was preaching there at the time we went there. He had come in August of that year that we went there. Yes, they were organized. That was after Rev. Bekkering had been there, so they had been organized for awhile.
MHH: So you spent your summers here and your winters…
VH: Summers here in Grand Rapids and winters in Texas. When we brought our papers in ’87, we went earlier and we stayed later. We would leave late October and then come back early in April. We didn’t do that. They were delighted to have us. It’s the church I enjoyed the most because we were really needed. We weren’t just people filling in a pew. We were really needed in the whole thing.
They were always so happy to see us when we’d come back in the fall. I’ve just recently gone over the number of people who were our friends when we were there that are gone to heaven now.
MHH: So now you are living part time in Houston and part time in Grand Rapids. What happens next, Mrs. Hunter?
VH: Well, the last time that we went to Texas was the winter of 1996–1997. As we were coming home, my husband said, “I don’t think we can do this again.” The Interstate highways had become so complicated. You had to be in the right lane at the right time with that big rig. It was getting too hard for him at his age to do that. We had already talked to the people in Texas, and they understood why we would not be back again in the fall of 1997. So that was our last trip to Houston. We had plans to remain in Grand Rapids and during the summertime that we were there we found ourselves not having much contact with either of our two children who lived in that area. Ignacio and Dwight were very busy. Skip said to us at that point, “You might as well come to Doon.”
So we thought about it. We didn’t know where we were going to live. And there was two sets of fourplexes in Doon up the street from where Barb and Skip lived. I tried to contact the manager, and I didn’t get any answer for about a week. We were planning to go back to Grand Rapids. I was fixing lunch and decided all of a sudden to call Henry Tenbrock one more time. When he answered the phone, I said, “How do I get my name on the list to rent one of the apartments?” He said, “I have one vacant now, and you may have it. Come over in about two hours and I’ll give you the key.” We just felt that God’s providence was speaking to us again. So we made a complete move from Grand Rapids to Doon, Iowa.
I thought, now I’ve moved for the last time in my life. We were in Doon for almost eleven years, and Skip informed us that there was an occasion for him to change jobs. He said, “Will you move?” By then I had lost my husband. He had died in December of 2005, and this was in the spring of 2008. I said, “Yes, I’ll move.” The opportunity was in Edgerton, Minnesota. The school board gave him a contract, so in the summer of 2008 we came to Edgerton. We found the preaching as orthodox in Edgerton as we had found it in Grand Rapids, in Texas, and all the places in between that we had gone. The people here have been gracious to us, friendly to us, helpful to us in every way possible. I’m content with God’s obvious bringing us to this place.
MHH: That’s quite a story! Your commitment to the church certainly shines through all of the comments that you have made. You have certainly lived a very interesting life, and I thank you for sharing that with us. Before I leave you, I would like to ask one last question. Are there any issues that you would like to address or any opinions that you would like to give?
VH: I certainly have no complaints about the way we have been treated in any of the Protestant Reformed Churches that we have attended, either as a visitor or as a member. When I think about the fact that the relatively short time that we have belonged to the Protestant Reformed Churches, we’ve probably been members of more churches than people who grew up in the PRC (laughter). Of course, you don’t always like everything you hear. You don’t always like all of the people that you meet. But I would not have anything adverse to say. We have been treated well in all the congregations that we belonged to. For many years our summers when we were in Grand Rapids, we went to First Church. The people always welcomed us and treated us just as if we were members there. I can truthfully say that our membership in Houston was the one that made me feel the most used in God’s kingdom, because the congregation being so small, there were many things for everybody to do.
One thing I forgot. If anybody ever questions the sovereignty of providence, I have only to tell them about my life—the places God has taken me, the people he has placed in the places where I was which have brought me to this point in my life—I’ve been totally controlled by my heavenly Father. And to him I give the thanks and the glory.
MHH: That’s a wonderful note on which to end. Thank you, Mrs. Hunter, for sharing your life story with us. We wish you God’s blessing.
VH: Next I got discharged. No, I never did get a discharge. I was separated from the service. They could call me back at any time. I went home to my family because I’d been gone for all that length of time overseas. I’d made up my mind that I was not going back to Oregon on a train. I was going to fly back. Well, you didn’t just call up and make a reservation in 1946. You had to wait until there was an opportunity. I didn’t get to go back until March. So we were separated for almost three months right after we were married. Then I did go to Astoria, Oregon, and set up housekeeping with my husband. We lived in military housing, which was much more basic than what I have now.
MHH: And he was still in the service at this time?
VH: Oh, yes, he was in the service for twenty years—active duty. He only had ten of it in when we got married.
MHH: Was it his intention originally to stay in that long?
VH: Well, he never had a real good relationship with his mother. She told me one time that she really never enjoyed him until he was old enough to help on the farm. She was very dictatorial. That was the main reason why he went to Washington, DC, to try out for the Navy band. He didn’t make the band. So then the recruiter got hot on his tail and said, “You want to be in the Navy? We can put you in the regular Navy.” He was not quite nineteen, so they had to call his parents to get permission. He didn’t know at that time whether it was going to be a career or not. So after his first four-year enlistment, he was discharged from the Navy. Every time you re-enlist, you’re discharged first. And he had thirty days’ leave. So he took his leave and went home, and he decided he wanted to go back in the Navy after one month at home. From then on, it was to be his career. I knew when I married him that he was going to stay. He told me that; it was one of the first things he said, “I don’t plan to leave the Navy just because the war’s over.”
MHH: So now you’re both together in Oregon. What happened next?
VH: Next, his officer’s rank was a temporary because it was a wartime appointment. So in September of the same year we got married (in 1946), he reverted back to enlisted chief. He knew that was going to happen. We were prepared for it, but it was kind of a disappointment.
MHH: A step backwards.
VH: Two steps backwards, because he had both warrant and chief warrant. He enjoyed the chief’s rank too. After ten years in the fleet reserve, after he retired after twenty years (and they never did call him back the ten years he was in the fleet reserve), he reverted again to a chief warrant and received that retirement pay for the rest of his life. So there were advantages in his having been a wartime officer. He did get that permanently after thirty years.
MHH: Did you stay in Oregon for a long time?
VH: No, no. We only stayed there from January to September, and then he took some more leave. His first assignment after we left, was to the USS Antietam. He had never been in the Navy Air arm before. They really didn’t love the Navy there, either. He went there in October of ’46 and then the next March, (I was pregnant) they went overseas to China. I don’t know where else they went in that time. I, who only had had a drivers’ license for a few months, had not had my baby yet before he went overseas. So he was gone when she was born. He came back in October of ‘47 and then we were in Richman, California for awhile. And then we were in Alameda was where the flat-top was stationed. We were there until Vivian [VH’s daughter] was about a year old. Then they went to sea again, so then I drove back from the San Francisco area to Philadelphia with my year-old child all by myself, and I stayed there the nine months that he was overseas.
MHH: With family?
VH: With my family, yes. I stayed with one of my sisters and worked the 3 to 11 shift at the hospital. She had three children, one the same age as mine, so I had a built-in babysitter and a family atmosphere for her and for myself. Yet I wasn’t in the way all the time, but I could help out when I could. So then after that we went to Corpus Christi, Texas. He was the fire chief of air station down there—Cabot Field. We were there almost four years, and then we went to Guam the first time.
And that’s where we met up with the Reformed faith for the first time. We had been going to a chapel. We were satisfied with it—a nice chaplain was stationed there. One Sunday morning we went to chapel and there was a whole different atmosphere. There were at least twice as many people as normally came to chapel, and it was an atmosphere of expectation. When this chaplain came in, there was just something about him that you knew why all these people were here. That was Chaplain Len Wade. He was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
There were people in that audience who had been under his command, been where he had been before, some aboard ship, some on other stations, different places in the world. But they were all in Guam at that time, and he was stationed on Guam. He was so enthusiastic. He not only did all of his Navy requirements, but he also had missionary efforts going on in other places. There was a camp that used to be a Philippine Camp and there was a chapel there. He utilized that, and he ministered to the Philippinos and the Guamanians. This was not required, but on Saturday mornings he would take his vehicle and go around the islands where the Navy people were, pick up children, a whole batch of them, and he had the Children’s Bible Hour in the Navy chapel. He gave these children what he called the Bible alphabets to learn—they were to learn a verse for every letter of the alphabet because that was a good way for them to remember. As they went along, they learned a certain number of verses, I think about 8, and they would get a small prize. When they finished, they would get Vos’ Children’s Bible Storybook. Then they would start on another alphabet. Every Saturday morning, he would come to hear my daughter say her verses. When he first came, his preaching antagonized us. We could see that we were nowhere beginning to measure up to what he says the Bible says we should measure up to in many ways—in Sabbath observance and just the whole thing.
MHH: But this was all news to you?
VH: Yes. I never heard the words “the sovereignty of God” before I heard that man preach.
VH: The Evangelical Church was completely Arminian, and it was your choice to become a Christian or not become a Christian or to know Christ in any way. I used to weep into my dishpan on Monday mornings. Finally, I just prayed, “Lord, show me the way. Either we go somewhere else” (because there were many other chapels on the island—we didn’t have to go to that one) or, “Let me understand what you’re trying to tell me.” And one day my husband came home and said, “Rev. Wade’s going to have a series of Lenten sermons at noon.
MHH: By the way, he was attending with you, correct?
VH: Yes, yes. From the day we were married he went to church with me every Sunday.
MHH: And he went to this chapel of the Orthodox Presbyterian man?
VH: Yes. I wasn’t on Guam when he first went there. We had to wait awhile—Vivian and I—until they had housing. He’d gone to chapel all the time that I was not there. I don’t how much he understood at that time. But he could use his lunch hour to go hear him instead of just eating and resting. So we did that. And somehow everything just fell in place during that week.
MHH: Yet it seems from what you’re saying that you were somewhat conflicted about what you should do.
VH: Right. We were. But, like I said, somehow (and I don’t know whether it was his subject or whether the way he presented the Passion Week or what it was), we just felt that we could follow his leading, and we enjoyed it from then on. We changed our lives in many ways from then on. Before we left Guam the bishop of the island of Guam went to see the Admiral and said to him: “Get that man off my island!”
MHH: When you say “bishop,” what do you mean?
VH: Of the Catholic Church.
MHH: Because obviously he did not like…
VH: No, because some some of the Catholics were coming to this chapel that he had outside of the Naval chapel—some of the Philippinos and some of the Guamanians. We had a radio program called the Challenge to Faith. I really think that what God presented to us was a challenge to our faith to bring it to where it should be, because it was really understood what was in his work. That was the first time I’d ever heard of TULIP. I knew nothing about the Reformed faith before that. Gone to church all my life, made profession of faith when I was twelve years old, but it was a whole new life, really. So then he was removed from Guam and the Navy went even further. He was within four years of retirement. And they removed him for the good of the service because he believed every word of the Bible to be true and expected all of the men to do the same.
MHH: How did they get rid of him?
VH: They discharged him under those reasons—separated him from the service.
MHH: Really? Within four years of having his twenty years in. Wow!
VH: But he left behind this little group that he was pastoring outside of the Navy. And two men, who had belonged to First [Protestant Reformed] Church somehow or other got word of it. There was a sailor who had become converted to Christianity when he was in the brig because he had been drunk and disorderly. The only thing he had to read was the New Testament, and when he read the twenty-first chapter of Revelation he said he was so scared he had to believe. This man, who had not even had a high school education at that time, learned the word well enough that he could expound it—maybe not the way you’re used to it. Anyway, these two guys, who had left our church in ’53, heard of this mission work that was going on.
MHH: Were these men…
VH: They were school teachers.
MHH: In Guam?
VH: Yes, they were on Guam at that time because the man who was superintendent of schools in Guam was Christian Reformed. And he had an advertisement in The Banner that he needed to raise the standard of education in Guam to the standards of education in California or the Navy was going to build its own schools because the kids got back in the States and they didn’t meet the standards there and they couldn’t manage to go from grade to grade as they should have. So he was advertising for State-side teachers to come and teach for two years, and they would give them a free trip around the world. So that’s why these two guys were out there.
MHH: And these were two men who had left…
VH: Our churches in ’53 and were members of the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Church.
MHH: And this would have happened approximately in what year? Obviously after 1953.
VH: It was somewhere between ’56 and ’60.
MHH: So now you’re back in the States.
VH: We’re back in the States.
MHH: But you know about these men who went to Guam to help.
VH: Well, we found out about it. We didn’t know at that time. We didn’t know what had happened to the little group we left behind.
MHH: Because you’re in the States now.
VH: We were in the States. Johnny Reynolds was carrying on even before we left. We knew them. He was part of that group of people who were so excited to have Rev. Wade there because, after his conversion, all by himself just reading the New Testament, he was on a ship that Rev. Wade was on. So don’t talk to me about the providence of God (laughter). When my husband retired in 1956 we bought a farm in Bend, Oregon.
Before Rev. Wade left Guam, he had started instructing us to become members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, even though there was no Orthodox Presbyterian Church on Guam or even a mission. He was almost finished when he had to leave. We had talked about where we were going to go because we knew that retirement was going to be within a year. My husband had a vision that retirement from the Navy meant hunting and fishing and that kind of stuff. He didn’t know he’d still have to support his family (laughter). Anyway, it sounded to him like the best place for us to go was Bend, Oregon. Preaching there at that time was a protégé of his, Rev. Robert Sander. Through classis and presbytery, they had made arrangements that we could become members of that church while we were still on the island of Guam. Rev. Wade had to leave, so he left the finishing of our instruction with John Reynolds. And when Johnny finished it, he came with the same questions that were asked of anybody that came into the Orthodox Presbyterian churches. We were able to answer those questions to his satisfaction.
MHH: I’m going to read the pertinent part of the bulletin into the record because it is relevant. This is the bulletin of the Westminster Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Newport Avenue and Drake Road, in Bend, Oregon. Robert D. Sander is the pastor. The bulletin is dated July 24, 1955. Appearing in the “announcements” on that bulletin is the following: “Mr. and Mrs. Chester E. Hunter, on the island of Guam, were examined by elder D. Reynolds for membership into our local church at Bend. Mr. Reynolds reports: ‘They have met all the qualifications for membership into the visible church of Jesus Christ.’ We wish to welcome the Hunters into our fellowship. They have one covenant child, Vivian, 8 years old. They write: ‘I cannot tell you how our hearts are thrilled to be one with you. God bless you for receiving us. We are so happy to be no longer orphans without a church home.’ The Hunters have left the Presbyterian Church USA to become affiliated with ours. They would like to hear from members of our church. Their address: Chester E. Hunter, US Naval Magazine, c/o FPO San Francisco, California. Let us remember them and elder Reynolds in our prayers as they seek to establish a true witness for Christ on Guam.”
VH: We went to San Diego before we went to Bend when we left Guam. We were only there about 9 months. Skipper was born there in the Naval hospital (he really is Chester Hunter, Junior). Then it was time for my husband to retire from the Navy. His twenty years were up and he was ready to go. We already had our membership in the Bend church, so that’s where we went. We went up there the summer before he retired and looked at property and found a farm that we liked (40 acres), and we bought that. Then we went back to San Diego until October. He retired from the Navy on October 8, having served twenty years and one day (laughter). And then we lived there. The town was beautiful. It was a wonderful town. But as we found, the longer we belonged to the OPC, it was not like our PR churches where you go from church to church and you hear the same doctrine, the same preaching. It’s consistent. You know where they’ve been trained. Here it depended on who was the minister. They had absorbed people from other denominations, as is common in these days, even as we have done some in the PR churches.
The man that was minister had been CRC, and he was more controlled by the consistory than he was the controlling factor in many ways, and he bowed to their wishes. There was one man on the session who was opposed to infant baptism, and he was an elder in the church.
VH: So we were really not church-happy there, not like we were under Rev. Wade’s preaching. In the meantime, he had been discharged from the Navy, and the work on Guam went on under the leadership of John Reynolds. The two men who had belonged to the PR churches in Grand Rapids, who were school teachers, came out there and affiliated themselves with the group. They said to themselves, “We need a missionary. Who we really need is the man [Wade] that started this work, who is now a US citizen, so there’s no way that the ship can keep him off the island of Guam unless he’s been a criminal or some such thing.” So they got in touch with him. He consented to go, and he had the permission of presbytery to go. In the meantime, just before he was ready to go, he became aware of the fact that he had lymphoma. It had settled within his kidneys. He was very blessed in the fact that his association with the Navy was so recent that it was considered “duty-acquired” and the Navy took care of him medically. After he’d been back on Guam for a couple of years, he came back to the United States for cobalt treatment. He received that at the Naval hospital near Portland, and while he was there, he came to see us on our farm. He said, “I need help. I need help that knows me and knows how we operate, what our church stands for.” He knew we were not real happy where we were. “Would you be willing to come and help me?” My husband said, “Find me a job and I’ll come.” I about lost (laughter) my cool. It wasn’t too many months later till the phone rang one morning. My husband was out plowing a field. This lady said, “I’m in Oakland, California. I have a few minutes. I want to speak to Mr. Chester Hunter.” I said, “Will you give me your number, I’ll have him call you back.” I have to go get him.” She said, “Just go get him. I don’t have enough time to wait around.” So, I went out and got him to come answer the phone. And I heard him say to this lady, “When do I have to be there?” This is March. She said, “June 1.” I had a ten-month old baby and a two-year old, plus my mother-in-law was living in her trailer on our property. So we had to find a place for Mom to live, and we had to get ourselves to Guam by June 1. And we did. I made a trip to Philadelphia so I could say good-bye to my family too.
MHH: What happened to the farm?
VH: We sold it. We left with it unsold. It wasn’t sold for several months after we left. But we just trusted the Lord and left it.
To be continued…
It is March 2, 2009, and I am at the residence of Mrs. Vivian Hunter in Edgerton, Minnesota.
MHH: Mrs. Hunter, where and when were you born?
VH: I was born in Philadelphia, PA, May 31, 1921.
MHH: Who were your parents and what can you tell me about the circumstances of your early life—your family, your religious affiliation, anything that you can tell me about your early life?
VH: My parents were Melinda and Foster Row (spelled Row and it rhymes with Cow). I was one of six children, in the middle. I had an older brother and sister, and a set of twins 16-months younger than I was, and a little sister that came later.
We were members of the Evangelical Church, which was really an offshoot from the Methodist Church, because they would not let them preach in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect in their services. That originally was why the Evangelicals and some of the United Brethren left the Methodist church (at least that’s what I’ve been told). By the time I was born, they were not using the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, but there were quite a few people in the church I attended who were Pennsylvania Dutch people. And part of my background is that, too. My mother’s background is almost completely German and part of my father’s is. But it’s not all pure either way. In fact, my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Saul. So I figure somewhere along the lines there’s some Israel in the history (laughter).
MHH: Tell me about your childhood and your growing-up.
VH: Grade school and Junior High—we went to public school—grade school and junior high were very close to where I lived. Junior High was within a half a block of my house, and the grade school was a block and a half down the street from where I lived. Then I went to Overbrook High School, which was about a mile from where I lived—walked both ways for four years. I graduated from there. Then I went into nursing at the oldest hospital in the United States, which is the Pennsylvania Hospital—not the University of Pennsylvania but the Pennsylvania Hospital, formed by Dr. Benjamin Rush. Benjamin Franklin had some hand in the whole thing too. It first opened in 1752, so it was an old hospital when I went there.
MHH: And did you undergo further schooling or training?
VH: No, I just took my boards and got my RN. A year later, I went into the US Army.
MHH: You did?!
VH: Yes, in 1944.
MHH: May I ask what prompted that?
VH: Well, all the time that I was in nurses’ training, my siblings were supporting my mother. When I was in training, you didn’t have any side jobs. We were not even allowed to babysit. We had to concentrate on our nursing program. And we had real strict rules—we had to be in by 10:00 every night. And if you were going to stay out later than that, you had to have permission to do that, and that was only till midnight. And then once a week or once every two weeks, you could have a weekend where you could go home for Saturday and Sunday. But then you had to work Saturday afternoon, if you had a weekend, because you had to work a half day on Sunday—either morning or afternoon.
To help support my mother, I did private duty, which was seven days a week, 12 hours a day, for $49.00 a week. That didn’t leave me much money for myself to help mother and pay my car fare and my laundry and that kind of thing. The army offered a good bit more money than that, plus taking care of all my physical needs—providing housing and all of that. In addition, they told me when I enlisted that you don’t go overseas unless you volunteer. But then they didn’t tell me that volunteering is waking up from night duty and finding your name on the list (chuckle).
MHH: Did that happen to you?
VH: Yes, yes it did. I enlisted in the summer of ’44 and in October of ’44 I was slated to go overseas.
MHH: And did you go?
VH: I went. I had a leave to go home. Everybody in the armed forces, if they were going overseas, got an opportunity for one pre-overseas leave. So I did that. Then I went back to (that was in Fort Meade) Stanten, Virginia. That was where I went after my basic training. I was there for awhile and then transferred to Longview, Washington. We left there on New Year’s Eve, one minute after midnight, because a law had been passed that the WAVES could not go overseas until January 1, 1945. They went on the same troop ship that we did.
We were kind of organized in Longview, Washington as a unit—the 233rd General Hospital. Then we went to Hawaii for our pre-combat training. We were there from January to May. Then early in May we sailed for Okinawa on the USS Beckham. The war didn’t go as quickly as Washington had planned, so about halfway there, we made a side-track to a bunch of islands that were called Mogmog and Ulysses, and we sat there for many weeks. During that time I met the man who became my husband. The night before we got off the ship in Okinawa, he said to me (we were sitting on the fantail looking at the beautiful Pacific moon), “How would you like to be tied up with me for the rest of your life?”
MHH: So he proposed to you on the fantail of the ship as you were headed for Okinawa. A bit unusual.
VH: Very unusual. He, of course, had no ring in his pocket, so I gave him a friendship ring that I was wearing (it belonged to another nurse that I knew from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania).
MHH: I assume you accepted his proposal.
VH: I accepted his proposal.
MHH: And when you got to Okinawa, what happened? Okinawa had been captured by the United States at that time.
VH: Yes, but it wasn’t really secure yet. They were not ready for us. They had no barracks for us to sleep in. They quickly rigged some twenty-man tents and a bunch of cots. They had no shower facilities or bathroom facilities or anything like that. We shared with the enlisted men on certain hours of the day. They really were not ready for us. In fact, there were air raids. Many nights we had to get out of our tents and head for what they called the air raid shelter, which was really those tombs which the Japanese caught in the hills. We didn’t have any casualties from our unit, but occasionally we would get a soldier or a Marine when we first got there. They did build barracks for us then and our own bathing facilities and stuff. But it took a little time.
MHH: And what was your work there? Did they bring in wounded from other locations?
VH: Yes. Then the war ended in August of that year, so we were there just a couple months before the armistice. What our major thing was, they would bring prisoners that had been in prisons of war in Japan. And they were the most pathetic creatures you’ve ever seen in your life.
MHH: In what way?
VH: They were nothing but skin stretched over bones. They had been fed for months on nothing but the water that the Japanese boiled their own rice in. I had to go outside the tent and collect myself when they brought me the first load. I could hardly handle it.
MHH: Wow! What an experience!
VH: And then my husband’s ship came in (about three times, I think, while we were there), while they were still transporting troops. And then he would always get the opportunity to come ashore.
The last time that I remember his coming to Okinawa was in October. And he came ashore. The captain also (I think he was married, but anyway) dated one of the other girls in our outfit, or he sometimes escorted the major who was our chief nurse to the officers’ clubs. And so he let Chips [VH’s future husband] have his military jeep to come and see me on the base. And my chief nurse was just as generous. She would find somebody to take my place if I happened to be on duty, or she would let him sit in my tent and talk to me while I was working. That was the last time, I thought. He had said they were going to be there for two or three days. He didn’t know exactly how long he’d see me the next afternoon. A typhoon arrived that night. They had taken to sea because that’s the best place for a ship when typhoons hit. So, that was an experience, because we were still in tents, and it was quite a problem to keep the tent (there were three of us—two corpsmen and I). We took turns pounding in the tent stakes to hold it down. One of us would go around and as soon as we came in, one of the other ones would go out. You took off your wet clothes and the other guy would dry your clothes over a stove so you could have dry clothes to put on when your turn came up in another hour. And we did that through the night.
MHH: I forgot to ask you this gentleman’s name.
VH: That I was going to marry?
VH: He was Chester Edward Hunter. At the time that I knew him, he was a warrant officer, CW01. Then shortly after the first of November, he wrote me a letter saying that I was no longer two ranks ahead of him because he had been promoted to chief warrant officer on November 1. So I wrote back and told him, I’m still two steps ahead. I became first lieutenant on the first of November (laughter!).
MHH: Where did things go from there?
VH: Well, by December we were no longer really useful. We were just taking care of some that got shot inadvertently in their own outfit, or an occasional sniper that was still in the jungle. So they made arrangements to just stay in the hospital and bring us back. At that time, I had viral pneumonia and I was in the hospital. The doctor didn’t really want me to take (in the winter time) that long boat ride to (oh, the Navy will kill me) to San Francisco, so he made arrangements for me to fly out. I flew out somewhere close to the end of December. The plane ride at that time took about four days. We stopped one night in Guam, and they almost left me there because they forgot that I was in the hospital overnight (laughter). They were about to take off and somebody remembered, “Hey, we don’t have the nurse.” They had to come back to the hospital and pick me up. We were in Honolulu one night, and then I really felt like was back in the States—sheets on the bed and all that. I got back to San Francisco on the 31st of December. I had always wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but I didn’t want to see it from the back window of an ambulance that took me from the airport to the hospital that I went to. We got back on a Sunday night, and the next Saturday we were married.
MHH: Your husband-to-be…
VH: He was on leave. He was taking all the leave he had, and he had eleven days left, hoping I was going to get back in time before he had to go back in. So we arranged with the Army chaplain to marry us in the Army chapel of that hospital, just about a week after I got back. I had a day off to go find a dress and a pair of shoes and all that stuff.
MHH: So you did not really know your husband for a very long period of time
VH: Seven weeks that we were on that ship. That was our courtship when we got married—all in the Lord’s hands.
MHH: But you were convinced
VH: Oh, yeah. He was the one.
MHH: If you will, tell me a little bit about him. What was his background? What did you have in common?
VH: I can’t even say what we had in common except our love for each other, because basically he was raised on the farm here and there. His parents were not religious at all. His father had had a bad experience with a minister. His father (would have been Chip’s grandfather) had used a lot of energy, time, and money to help build the Methodist church in Napa, California. That’s where my husband was born. Then he became ill and the minister never came to see him. So the whole family just gave up on anything religious at all.
So he was not churched. He had never been taken to church. He went to Sunday School with some friends in the Presbyterian church in Napa when he was a boy. Just because his friends went, he went too. That was his only connection with a church. But when we were on board ship, I went to the chapel services. He had never attended before, but he did attend with me. He knew that if we got married the church was going to be a big part of my life, though what I knew as church then is certainly not what I know as church now.
MHH: He was accepting of that?
VH: He was. Then, the Navy sent him to Astoria, Oregon eleven days after we were married, and the Army sent me to Fort Dix, New Jersey.
MHH: So now you’re separated.
VH: But I only enlisted for the duration of the war, so they didn’t want me anymore. They sent me to Fort Dix to be mustered out. They sent me back on a train, from San Francisco to New Jersey. We went through a tunnel near Denver. It was a coal-burning steam engine, and all that coal smoke came back into the car. I could hardly breathe. In fact, I was in pretty bad shape. Somebody was saying, I think we’d better leave her in the hospital in Denver. I hid in the bathroom until we pulled out of the station (laughter). They didn’t look very hard.
MHH: You were determined to get to New Jersey.
VH: To get out of the army. That was my aim in life, was to get out of the army. I do not recommend for any Christian person to go into the military. If the country needs to be defended and the government calls him to serve, I feel they should go. That’s their duty. But I do not recommend that any Christian voluntarily go into the service. I was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I took my training on the south edge of Philadelphia, which is close to the slums, if you want to call them that. I thought I’d seen everything in the emergency room when I was in training. I saw a whole lot of immorality when I was in the army. I could hardly stand it.
MHH: In what sense do you mean that?
VH: Nobody has any respect for the truth. They had no respect for each other. Immorality is wild. Of course in this day and age, it’s just about as wild any place you go. People live together without marriage. They try it all out first and see if it’s going to work. But I was not used to that, even though I had been brought up and gone to public schools. I still feel that it beats the military—it’s no place for a Christian.
MHH: And that’s your reason?
VH: And that’s my reason. As far as possible, I never missed a chapel service. But you can’t help but get caught up in it, you know. Even when we on Hawaii, about the only thing we did for entertainment was go to the Officers’ Club. When you did that, you were bending your elbow all night, or you were exposed to that kind of thing. Dancing was the only thing known for entertainment or movies. And all the time that I was in the service, I never really met a chaplain who tried to make it any better for those of us who wanted it better. Even when we went to Okinawa and I was engaged to Chips, my roommate tried to get me to go out with other people because she said, “He’s probably doing the same thing. Nobody sits around in this day and age, you know.” But that was not the way I felt about it.
MHH: So you’re definitely speaking from a lot of personal experience.
VH: Yes, I am.
MHH: I can tell that. So now you’re in New Jersey. What happened next?
To be continued…
It is January 6, 2009, and I am at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Harold Schipper in Holland, Michigan.
MHH: Mr. Schipper, where and when were you born?
HS: I was born in Holland, Michigan, on 236 East 11th Street.
MHH: And when was this?
HS: January 14, 1926.
MHH: Who were your parents?
HS: Mr. and Mrs. Peter and Grace Schipper.
MHH: Can you tell me a little bit about your family: where did you grow up, what did your father do for a living, how many siblings did you have? What was your family like?
HS: My father worked at the Holland DePrie Chemical Company. He was a stock-cutter. He cut for for all the labels to go on medicine bottles. We had eight in the family: four boys and four girls. My mother’s name was Grace.
MHH: What was your position in the list of siblings?
HS: I was the youngest, the baby.
MHH: Did you live most or all of your life in Holland, then?
HS: Yes, I was born and raised in Holland.
MHH: What was the church affiliation of your family?
HS: My folks at that time belonged to the Christian Reformed Church of Fourteenth Street. That’s where HH [Herman Hoeksema] was at that time (I call it the blitz of 1924), from which they went out because of the schism of common grace. So, I was born, like I say, in 1926. When they built the church, my dad and a good group helped, like digging out with horse and scoop. And they got the church taken care of. Well, then, of course, when ’53 came, then it was different, you know.
MHH: But you were essentially then born into the Protestant Reformed Church.
MHH: You’ve been a member all your life.
HS: I’m the only confessing member of the church right now from that time.
MHH: Really? And have you been a member of Holland congregation all your life?
MHH: What are your earliest memories of church life?
HS: Well, you came out from Sunday School, and then as you got older, you got into things—what things were, and how things developed. It was a good education.
MHH: You had good catechism instruction?
MHH: Do you remember any of the pastors; does anything stand out in your mind as far as the ministers were concerned?
HS: Sure. We had good ministers until the time of the split, of course. I had good catechetical instruction from the elders and the ministers. We had Rev. [M.] Gritters at that time. We started out in the bakery, that is, the first starting was in a bakery. And then we had different ministers as we went along.
MHH: What are your recollections of the Protestant Reformed Church prior to the split of 1953? Were things on a pretty even keel in Holland for most of those years?
HS: They were. We were only about 25 families.
MHH: But nothing particularly remarkable or anything that really stands out in your mind?
HS: Not really. I thought everything went all right.
MHH: But it must have become apparent somewhere along the line that not everything was going all right? What do you remember about those days?
HS: I can remember quite a bit. We were only with nine families after that split, and we started out again in a house—Henry VanPutten’s. In fact, I gave the history of our church, I’ve got it on paper—meeting in store buildings and back and forth in store buildings. We were only nine families when HH (Hoeksema) came and re-organized us again. We were in a house of Henry VanPutten on East State Street in Holland. Most went the other way.
MHH: If you had approximately 25 families prior to the split, and you ended up with nine—about a third.
HS: That’s right.
MHH: Did the division of ’53 have any effect on your family?
HS: Yes, it did. We had ones that left—one family. And that hurt. That really hurt.
MHH: Was there conflict and animosity?
HS: Yes, I think so. But I think most of this here in ’53 was personality. And what has personality got to do with the truth, with the word?
MHH: It’s interesting that you say that. Could you elaborate on that or maybe give me some evidence. You say personalities were heavily involved. What is your reason? I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.
HS: Well, I just think that they swung at random on things. I don’t think that they really thought thoroughly about it—those who left. I say again, I had good catechetical instruction from those elders. And how can they do that?
How can one not give God the glory when he’s turned from a hottentot in Africa to him? That’s tremendous, isn’t it? That’s really the heart and core of what’s given to us.
MHH: That’s what we fought for in 1953 without doubt.
HS: Yes! I can say that.
MHH: But you feel that personalities got too tangled up in it?
HS: No, I know it had to go the way it went, because the Lord did it. He had a reason for doing that. And I can say this too: we had better behave ourselves and know that he speaks and all those things can change. I believe that whole-heartedly.
MHH: What has been important to you in your church life? Earlier you mentioned catechetical instruction when you were younger. Now you talked a little bit about going through the division of 1953. Is there anything else that stands out in your mind?
HS: First of all, I’d like to say that in 1946 I came back from the service—May 1, 1946. And I had quite a deal with it. But I also know that the Lord was with me because at one time I took out my Bible. When I was reading it I had twenty guys around me. I know that a lot of those twenty guys didn’t know what I knew. And that helped. It helped me all the way. In fact he brought me home, which it could have been the other way. So, quite an experience.
When I came back, I made confession of faith. I had been highly blessed. I had a brother who was a minister too. He was the oldest. He could have been my father, he was twenty years older than me. In my last work that I had, the teamsters’ union got in, and I had to deal with it. I didn’t have to belong, because I was there before it got in.
MHH: You were grandfathered in, then?
HS: Two of us. The other was Christian Reformed. But I stuck to my guns. I told them, “No. I must not have it.” And I gave my reasons. And so, as life went on, they bucked you,.Why aren’t you…Why? They kept pestering you. Even had my car on blocks. Even opened the hood of my car. That’s was OK. Finally three guys come to me: “Skip, why aren’t you one of us?” I said, “I told you why in the beginning. But you want a letter from my consistory to let you know why?” They said, “No, we won’t go that far.” I said, “Then keep your mouths shut and leave me alone.”
MHH: I don’t blame you.
HS: That’s what I said. And they did leave me alone. [Later] I had one of them come up to me while I was working at the park—I had Centennial park downtown—seven acres, across from City Hall, beautiful with nature. Before that I had a garbage route where you had maggots and all that. What a history. And he wanted to take my place when I retired. But he came to me before that and put his arms around my neck and said, “Skip, you were right. We didn’t get nothing.”
But see, they were mad because you get a slip that you could take off on your income tax of the premiums that you have to pay. And I was glad that it didn’t get to that flower fund too, because the flower fund is just the same. And Christian Labor Union is the same thing.
MHH: But you definitely stood your ground.
HS: Yes. Stood my ground.
MHH: I want to ask you also about your recollections or your views on a controversy that happened in the mid and late fifties in the congregation of Holland. It had to do with the whole question of labor unions that you were just talking about, with various members of the Elzinga family. I would like to know your recollections and your thoughts on that. What happened?
HS: We just have two of the Elzingas left in the church (Al Elzinga and Terry). At the very last, the parents were there. But there was a group that left. It was over perfectionism—that we are all ready, it doesn’t make any difference how we act now. We’re perfect in the eyes of God, so it was perfectionism.
MHH: That was the issue?
HS: Yes, that was the issue at that time. Where they ever got that is beyond me. The parents weren’t that way. Allen and Terry weren’t that way. But it was the others who were left. A lot of them went to California. They split all over the place.
MHH: How did this issue of perfectionism come up? What prompted it?
HS: I don’t know. I have no idea.
MHH: Mr. Schipper, how would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?
HS: Well, the word of truth that’s given today is solid. It was solid then and it’s solid now. I do say that I can be very thankful that others came from the outside in. But it’s to a point now, I think, that you’re going to grow within instead of much from the outside, because I don’t believe that many are really interested anymore in the word. Now, I say that with all respect, because I’m only saved by grace alone.
MHH: But, perhaps, the differences between various denominations are getting large enough that they are so different from us that we are not likely to get a lot of growth from outside?
HS: Absolutely. A good share of it is that way, yes.
MHH: Now you mentioned that we have stayed strong doctrinally. Do you see any significant changes in our walk of life?
HS: We’ve got to check ourselves always in our walk of life. And that means that we’ll sin to our dying day. And we hate it. That’s why we pray, “Lord, forgive!” in the night when we go to bed on our knees. You know, another nice thing about that is our death comes too. And we don’t know the day and the hour. He’s got a reason for that too, because if I knew the day and the hour of my death right now, I don’t think I could talk to you like this. That’s a wonder, isn’t it? You can shed tears over that. And I’m quick to shed tears over that. I really am. Normally I’m kind of hard-boiled in a way. But I can be glad that I can shed tears over that. ‘Cause when I go to the [church] service, I get the word, so that I can say when I walk out of there, “It was good.”
I want to say something else that hit me. Your dad [Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema] was out there in Tasmania. Two ministers—one that you got, and the one we got—were out there (the Kleyns). He did a wonderful work out there, your dad did.
MHH: So I hear.
HS: Well, I’m glad you’re hearing it, because it’s true. And you know what I said to ours when he came here from Minnesota when we called him? I told him that. I said, “You had a nice education, didn’t you?” And he said, “Yes, I did .”
MHH: We got two ministers, two Kleyns out of there.
HS: Yes, two Kleyns out of there. You may be happy you got that one. And I know I’m happy that we got this one.
I’ve been highly brought up, I tell you. And I got discipline in the Marines too. They taught me. I became a man when I got out of there. I was a boy when I went in—just 18. The officer said to me, “Is that a little fuzz under your nose?”
RBH: Did you get drafted?
HS: I got drafted. I waited for that. Otherwise it would be my fault to go in—when you enlist.
MHH: Your responsibility.
HS: That’s right.
MHH: But in those days, it was almost the inevitable that you would get drafted, right?
HS: Sure. Not like today. We’ve got a highly different war today.
MHH: And a different military.
HS: And a different military, yes.
MHH: You had some experiences along the way.
HS: I had good experience, when God took my first wife too. Thirty-eight years old, right in the prime of life. I had five kids to bring up after she went. And, you know what words she said to me before she couldn’t anymore? “I can’t see you staying single the rest of your life. But get one that loves God!” Isn’t that terrific?
MHH: Certainly the right perspective.
HS: And I got one!
MHH: How many years later did you marry?
HS: We both waited eight years. W didn’t know each other till we met. Our spouses passed away a month apart the same year, with cancer.
MHH: Mr. Schipper, thank you very much for your time. Thank you for your thoughts, your memories, your recollections, your opinions. They are much appreciated.
January 5, 2009
Mr. Terry Elzinga, Zeeland, Michigan
MHH: Mr. Elzinga, where and when were you born?
TE: I was born in September of 1940, in Borculo, Michigan.
MHH: Who were your parents?
TE: My parents were Tom and Edith Elzinga.
MHH: Where did you grow up?
TE: When I was about four months old, my parents moved from Borculo to Holland, Michigan, in the Tunnel Park area (that would be west of Holland).
MHH: Why did they move there?
TE: My dad had a farm in Borculo, Michigan. But then he took a job in town at the Holland Furnace Company. And they had become members at Holland Church in about 1938. They moved in January of 1941. So, the draw was to Holland for them as a family.
MHH: Prior to that time, where was their church membership?
TE: Originally my parents were members of Borculo Christian Reformed Church. My father was excommunicated from Borculo Church because he opposed the three points of common grace. Then their membership moved to Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church, I think, shortly after Hudsonville was organized. I’m not sure whether they were charter members, but it was right in that time frame.
MHH: So he was excommunicated over the issue of common grace.
TE: Yes, that’s correct. He opposed that. My uncle, who lived in Grand Rapids, was a member, I believe, of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, and he was a follower of Rev. Hoeksema. And he was quite an influence upon my father, and, I think, convinced him of the error of common grace. And my dad, being quite a feisty individual (laughter), opposed that pretty strenuously in his congregation in the Christian Reformed Church. Then he was disciplined for that. and eventually was put out.
MHH: So, by way of Hudsonville, they eventually made their way to Holland. So he was a long-time member at Holland?
TE: From 1938 on, until he passed away in ’81.
MHH: Tell me a little bit about your childhood and your youth. What do you remember as far as growing up was concerned, in general, but also in the context of the church? I’m sure you have some memories.
TE: I’m from a large family. I’m the tenth of eleven, so consequently, material things we didn’t have much of. My dad had quite a way with making things stretch. I recall that we went to the Dutch Boy Bakery that was in our neighborhood and got day-old bread. He also went to the Holland Co-op and he got the corn cobs from there. As kids, we would take the few kernels of corn that were left on the cobs to feed the chickens and then burn the corn cobs in the furnace (laughter).
MHH: He was definitely frugal then. Probably had to be.
TE: Had to be, I think, with a family the size he had. And, of course, my folks lived through the depression. My folks lost a farm in the depression and had to stretch to make things go, I guess.
MHH: Where were you educated?
TE: I went to Holland Christian schools all but one year. In 1954 Holland began sending their kids to Hope Protestant Reformed School, so I went to Hope School in the ninth grade. But I graduated from Holland Christian High School. So I spent all but one year in the Holland Christian School system.
MHH: You were born into the Protestant Reformed Church. What are your earliest memories? Where did the church meet at that time?
TE: The Holland Church, when I was born and when I was growing up, had their own building on 20th and Maple. Prior to that I think they met in a bakery at one time. And there was a little chapel on North River in Holland. As a matter of fact, when my folks became members of Holland Church, they went to that little chapel. But that’s where I recall going to church— in the building on 20th and Maple. We lived, as I said, in the Tunnel Park area, which was probably a mile and a half west of the church. So consequently, we rode our bikes to catechism for the most part, and lived fairly close to the church, then.
MHH: Do you recall any of the pastors? Or, do you have any memories in connection with growing up in the church?
TE: The first pastor of Holland Church was Rev. [M.] Gritters. And I was baptized by Rev. [P.] DeBoer. I don’t recall either one of those. But I do remember Rev. [W.] Hofman, the first pastor that I have a recollection of. I remember Rev. Bernard Kok quite well. I had catechism under him. He was the minister in Holland at the time of the split in ’53.
MHH: Speaking of the split, you would have been about 13 years old at that time. What are your memories of that time period, perhaps preceding and even post-dating the split? And what were the effects that it had as far as your family was concerned, as far as the church was concerned?
TE: Yes, I have some memories. Like you say, I was just a lad at the time. I remember my dad being quite involved in the discussions and maybe even the arguments at the time. And I recall Mr. Kortering being the sole consistory member who was, as we called it, on [Herman] Hoeksema’s side. And, of course, the majority of the congregation did go the other direction with Rev. [ Hubert] DeWolf. That’s how we always separated the two—the Hoeksemas and those that were behind DeWolf. But I recall some very heated discussions, and I can remember listening one-sidedly to my father on the telephone with a member of the church and debating and discussing the issues. And I do recall one time in particular when, after church, we were in the car getting ready to go home. My father noted that the consistory hadn’t left the church at all yet. And he said, “My Kortering is down there doing battle alone.” He said, “I have to go and help him.” And he left us sitting in the car for some time. And he went back in church. I don’t know exactly what transpired, but I guess you can almost imagine.
As far as my family is concerned, I’m the tenth of eleven, so towards the bottom. And at that time I had several of my siblings were married already and had families. And they all were of the same bent, I guess, as my father and my parents. So there was no disruption in the family at that time over the split of ’53.
MHH: What about the church? What do you remember as far as the effects on the church—property questions, location questions, numbers? You say most of them went with the DeWolf faction.
TE: I think it was approximately 2/3 to 1/3. And I recall that we lost our building. We had to find a different place to worship. I recall distinctly the first worship service we had on our own—it was, at that time, called the Federal School building on East 8th Street in Holland. And I remember looking around to see what faces would be in the congregation—who moved in one direction and who didn’t..
So, it was quite an interesting period of history as far as our church is concerned.
MHH: Was there continuing fall-out from the split in the years afterwards?
TE: Not that I recall. I don’t know how much you personally are aware of the difficulties that followed closely on the heels of the split of ’53. But there was a big controversy in our congregation in which my family was quite involved. I think, prior to that controversy, our family (that would be my brothers and sisters and their families), probably constituted at last a third of the congregation, probably more. But there was a real controversy in which, once again, our congregation was diminished in numbers. I think we went down to about 13 families by 1960.
MHH: That is not large. Could you describe and speak about the controversy to which you alluded? I think that’s an important part of history that needs to be recorded, certainly from your perspective. I am not all that familiar, but I would very much like to hear what you have to say about that. What were the issues? What happened?
TE: Interestingly enough, after fifty years, on the next classis the same issue going to come up again. It came up, I think, in September, but it was ruled out of order because it was not finished in the lower assembly, I believe. But I don’t know what classis will do with it. It started this way. It’s so involved, I can’t provide you with all the details, but…. My brother-in-law, my oldest sister’s husband was nominated to the office of deacon and was elected.
After the election, there was a member who had just transferred to Holland Church who approached the consistory with a protest, you might say, because he was a conscientious objector to the union. He worked in a union shop, but he was a conscientious objector. Consequently, the amount of dues that would be required from a union member were taken from his check and given to a charity. And this individual protested against that. The consistory basically dropped him from the office of deacon, even though he had been elected.
Several of my brothers and sisters protested that action. That was the beginning of the controversy. And it went to classis and synod. Classis and synod, at least in the beginning, pretty much upheld the protestants (that would be my brothers and sisters, who were protesting the action of Holland Consistory). From there it escalated, from my perspective, I would say it became more a matter of personalities. The end result was that several of them were excommunicated from Holland Church.
MHH: Several of the protestants—your brothers and brother-in-law?
TE: Yes, I think two of my brothers and at least two of my sisters and at least one brother-in-law. I don’t know the exact number, but, several of them.
MHH: On what grounds were they excommunicated, or first disciplined and then excommunicated?
TE: Well, originally, they were disciplined for neglecting the means of grace because they went to other congregations. They went to Grand Haven, quite a few of them at that time. My brother Louie eventually ended up in Hope Church. But then they were reproved by the synod for that discipline because they were going to a Protestant Reformed Church. That, to their mind, did not constitute neglecting the means of grace. But it came down to the grounds for excommunication was not being willing, I guess, to being reconciled to the consistory.
MHH: And perhaps not being submissive?
TE: I think that certainly would be part of it. From my perspective, they were wronged. Classis and synod agreed with that in the beginning. But from my perspective, I would say that the Lord brought them through a severe trial and they failed. They became very hardened. There, again, I was a lad at the time. But I know that they did not receive the committees that were sent to them, that worked with them, at least not in a brotherly way. And I know your grandpa [Herman Hoeksema] was involved as a member of the classical committee that met with them, because classis, of course, had to concur with the excommunication. From what I understand, they said some very harsh things about the consistory, even calling some of the members reprobate. So that’s where it got to be.
MHH: Subsequently, what happened to those of your brothers and sisters who had the problem?
TE: Well, that’s quite interesting to consider. Some of those moved en mass to California. Six of my siblings moved to California (to Redlands), because there was a member there that they got to know and, I guess you might say, sympathize with. It was one of the Feenstra twins—there were two of yhem. It fails me which one it was.
MHH: Was it Kryn Feenstra?
TE: I think it might have been Kryn. Who was the other one, do you recall?
MHH: I know, but I can’t recall.
TE: It was one of those brothers that had also been put out of Redlands Church. So they moved to California. I still have a brother and sister in California who are basically non-church, I guess you’d say. I would say hardened in their way, too. I had a brother Jim who was (that’s my oldest brother), his wife, as a matter of fact, is a member at Hope Church. And he’s going to be the subject of the matter that is brought to classis this month. My brother Pete has made reconciliation with the Holland Consistory and is a member in an independent Reformed church at present.
MHH: So this whole episode obviously had great consequences for your family. What I’m curious about is your understanding of why an individual protested against the deacon in the first place? Because he was a conscientious objector and his dues went to charity?
TE: Pine Rest, at that time.
MHH: Do you have any understanding or any knowledge what were the grounds or the motivation behind a protest such as this? My understanding is that they way you described it is pretty much the way the situation was handled in other cases.
TE: I guess I can’t get in the individual’s mind and know what motivated him to do that. I know it was dealt with on a classical basis and classis did rule that it was acceptable to be a conscientious objector working in a union shop. I know that the argument was that it was a forced contribution. But that argument was refuted, I know, on the floor of classis. And classis did rule that that was an acceptable thing to do.
MHH: Yes, that was my understanding of the situation as well. So you say the consequences, as far as Holland congregation was concerned, was that it was greatly reduced in size. What happened from there? Where did Holland meet and what was the history that followed what you just described?
TE: Well, at the time Holland was meeting in temporary building,—after the split. Like I said, we first met in the Federal School. From there we moved to various vacant store buildings, just small Mom and Pop old store buildings. That is where we were meeting at the time of all this controversy. So the meeting place really wasn’t affected by that. But obviously the numbers and the support of the congregation was diminished. Yes, Holland struggled quite a bit at that time.
MHH: For quite a long time? This would have been, perhaps, in the early ‘60s?
TE: The controversy began at the election in 1955. So that’s in the latter part of ’55. I think that excommunication occurred for most of them in ’58, I think. So by 1960, the Holland congregation was depleted considerably.
MHH: Who served Holland in those years? Obviously you were older by that time and you would have knowledge of some of the history there.
TE: Rev. James McCollam was the minister at the time. As a result of the difficulties that he had, he came from outside of our churches. There were three ministers who came at that time: McCollam, Harbach, and Emmanuel. He left in ’59. Part of it was because of the grief that he went through, although, I personally don’t think he was ever truly Protestant Reformed.
MHH: What happened after that?
TE: Eventually we called Rev. [George] Lanting, from Grand Haven Church. Grand Haven was in the process of disbanding at that time, and Rev. Lanting came and served us for seven years.
MHH: When was it that you were able to build your own facility? I believe it might have been off 16th?
TE: Yes, off of 16th. Actually on 18th Street, just off from Hazel Avenue. We moved in in 1965. We began construction in ’64. That’s kind of an interesting history. Holland congregation was struggling financially in those years. But when Grand Haven disbanded, they gave Holland their church building. And Holland, not being able to use that in the location where it was, sold the building and with a good share of those funds we were able to build a building of our own.
MHH: Great. I had never heard that before about Grand Haven. That certainly was an appropriate gesture on their part.
TE: Yees, we appreciated it.
MHH: I’ll bet you did. More recently, you outgrew that facility and you’re obviously in a much newer building today.
TE: Yeea. After Rev. Lanting received the call from Edgerton, he accepted the call. Then we called Rev. [John] Heys from South Holland. He came to Holland and during his ministry there, Holland grew considerably. We really outgrew the building that we had. In the late ‘70s we added on to that building and continued to grow. Eventually we outgrew even the addition that we put on. Then the decision was made rather than try to add on again, to relocate. I happened to be on that building committee at that time. I think I served, about seven years from the time we decided to relocate to when it really came to fruition, by the time we build our present facility and moved in.
MHH: A lot of work. I want to switch gears here just a little bit. What has been important to you in your church life?
TE: First, I think what did make an impression on me in my formative years, being a member of the Protestant Reformed Church, is that I felt quite different from the other friends that I had. I went to the Christian School, so I had a little different perspective, I think, from most of my fellow students. One interesting incident that occurred in high school. At that time we had a class in Reformed Doctrine, which was taught by a Mr. Bratt. He knew that I was PR, and he would single me out. I remember one particular incident where in the textbook it made a point of saying that when the word “all” appears in scripture, that it does not necessarily mean everyone head for head. And he posed the question to me in 2 Peter 3:9, where it says, “God is not slack concerning his promise as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” His question to me was, “Who is that all?” And I tried as best I could to explain that from a PR perspective. But what was interesting to me, he posed that question to the entire class. But he also singled me out, knowing that I was PR.
But every other member of the class differed from me as far as their perspective was concerned, except for one individual who was a member of the Reformed church, which was kind of unusual in the Christian school. He eventually became a Reformed minister. But that was kind of an interesting experience for me. But I think the distinctives of the PR churches were quite impressed upon me, especially being in the situation that I was going to a non-PR school. In our neighborhood there were not many PRs—probably no other Protestant Reformed people in our neighborhood.
So from that perspective I felt a little different from those that I dealt with.
MHH: Mr. Elzinga, how would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?
TE: Oh, I think in many ways it has not changed dramatically, especially when you view other churches how much other churches around us have changed. I’m convinced that the Protestant Reformed churches substantially have remained the same in doctrine. I think that in some of the practical matters, as I recall growing up, were probably more restrictive then they are today. For instance, when the television came out, my parents never had a television set. I think it was for the most part viewed as an evil in itself. And we all know that there are things that can be said about many things that can be used in the wrong way. But I think that we have to remember that the evil is not found in the object. I think that’s the main difference that I would recall growing up in the Protestant Reformed Church.
It does seem that the pendulum may have swung too far the other way—being too permissive, I would say, in our walk of life and, maybe what has become quite commonplace in our practices today. But I do believe that, from what I’ve experienced from the pulpit, we’ve been warned against worldly-mindedness and conforming to the world and have been admonished to be transformed by the spirit. I think that has remained consistent in the Protestant Reformed churches.
MHH: Thank you very much, Mr. Elzinga, for talking to me and for the thoughts and ideas that you’ve expressed and the history that you’ve given. This concludes the interview with Mr. Elzinga.
*Mr. Elzinga is a member of First Protestant Reformed Church of Holland, MI.
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” —Psalm 37:25.
These words apply to me as I write my last editorial as editor. During my tenure as editor of Beacon Lights, I have studiously avoided or minimized interjecting a personal element into my writing, preferring to focus on ideas and principles. In this article I will continue this practice, but the reader will kindly indulge me for adding a personal element to my comments. In so doing I want to apply the words of Psalm 37:25 to David, the author of these words, to myself, as well as to our Protestant Reformed young people.
The main idea of the text is God’s covenant faithfulness in the line of generations.
David knew this truth by experience. As he pens these words, he is an old man, as he says. He is looking back over his life, reviewing the events that have occurred from the days of his youth.
“I have been young.” David had lived a hard life. As a young shepherd, he had killed a lion and a bear—no mean feat for a youth. As a young man he had unexpectedly attained a position of leadership in Israel by killing Goliath. After he was anointed as the next king of Israel—while Saul was the actual and reigning king—he had to flee for his life when Saul sought to kill him because he perceived that David was a threat to him. As king he fought many wars to establish the kingdom of Israel. During his reign his son Absalom attempted to usurp David’s throne. Again he had to flee for his life until his son was killed. All of this is undoubtedly on his mind when he says, “I have been young.”
“I have been young.” In no way can I match David’s experiences and the difficulty of his life, but I also do not have positive memories of my youth. I grew up in the days of the Vietnam war with its horrors and atrocities and its 58,000 deaths in a futile conflict, the only war that America has ever lost. They were the days of civil disobedience, sit-ins on college campuses, and demonstrations in the streets. They were the days of rampant racism and riots in the streets, they were the days of unbridled political corruption, of Watergate, of the resignation of Richard Nixon from the presidency and the ascension to the presidency of Gerald Ford. They were the days of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, of Robert Kennedy, and of Martin Luther King. There were troubles in the church, and general social upheaval. It was difficult to avoid being caught up in the spirit of the age, and thus to be a Reformed Christian. I realize that all of this is likely foreign to you, young people, but as the saying goes, “You can look it up.” I suggest that you do precisely that, both from secular sources and in the Beacon Lights archives, available online.
“I have been young.” That was so long ago that I cannot remember many of the details of those days. I do remember that in one or more instances I was a convention delegate, and I also served on the Federation Board, though the details are fuzzy in my mind. I also remember that upon graduation from high school, I produced an index to Beacon Lights with the help of Don Offringa, my contemporary, who remains a member of the PRC. So, I was involved in leadership positions. I have no doubt that my involvement was flawed, since young people of my age were still developing their judgment and wisdom abilities.
David’s words about his youth make me think of the Beacon Lights staff. They are young, as befits a youth magazine. Most of the members are between eighteen and twenty-five years old. They are remarkably capable, inventive, and enthusiastic, which speaks well of the young generation in the churches. During my tenure as editor there has been a complete turnover of the staff, with the exception of Ryan Kregel, our managing editor. Yet when the young staff members move on, as is to be expected, there remains a certain continuity in the staff, which insures the quality that our readers expect. For all the hard work by our young people I am most thankful.
But everyone matures and eventually becomes old, as David points out: “and now am old.” This leads me to reflect on how I became editor of Beacon Lights. When I received a phone call and a letter asking me to assume the position, I was incredulous. I was 63 years old. My children were long gone, and we did not even subscribe to Beacon Lights. Imagine: as a relatively old person, I was asked to take over a youth (teenage) magazine. I must confess that initially I mentally rejected the request as being impossible, and even a bit absurd. At first I did not really give the idea serious consideration.
I was requested to appear at the next staff meeting for an interview and an answer to the request I had received. As I was getting ready to leave for the meeting, my wife asked me, “What are you going to do?” I replied, “I’m going to listen politely and respectfully to what they have to say, and then I am going to refuse the position.”
The Beacon Lights staff, however, had other ideas. In the course of their interview of me (and I of them), they produced compelling and cogent reasons that I could not gainsay. Exactly what they were is irrelevant. But they were extremely persuasive. Five months prior I had had quadruple heart bypass surgery with complications that necessitated three open heart surgeries in three days, followed a month later by a stroke, all of which prompted my physician to forbid stressful activities (such as being responsible for the publication of a monthly magazine). Despite his injunction and my own misgivings, I succumbed to the staff’s persuasiveness and agreed to accept the position. When I returned home that day, my wife asked me, “So what did you do?” I replied, “You won’t believe what I just did.”
Now almost six years later, it is time to pass the torch to a much younger man. When I interviewed for the position, my major argument against becoming editor was that I was too old, and that it would be much wiser to choose a younger person who could relate better to our young people. Now this will happen, in the person of my capable successor, Dewey Engelsma. We have worked together for six months to insure a smooth transition, and I have no doubt that he will do a wonderful job. I ask that you give him your encouragement and support, as you have to me.
Now it is time for me to say, “I have been young, and now am old.” I have almost reached the biblical three score and ten. Because Beacon Lights is not about individuals, but about a cause, I am convinced that the magazine will continue to exist and flourish in the days to come. It is already more than 75 years old, and I hope it continues long into the future.
I write this farewell letter to our young people in the confidence of David: “yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” David can say these words because he rests in God’s covenant faithfulness to his people. He knows that God always maintains his covenant and always sends his blessings upon his people, both young and old. This truth of the covenant means that in our generations our seed will never spiritually beg for the bread of life, even though they may not always prosper materially.
In the context of David’s words, I have good confidence that Beacon Lights will continue to prosper as a means to prepare the coming generations to take their places in Christ’s church. I sincerely thank all those who have served with me, for without them I would have been abysmally lost. Now as I take my leave, I wish the staff and all of our readers God’s richest blessing.
It is June 21, 2008, and I am at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Poortinga in Dyer, Indiana
MHH: Mr. Poortinga, where and when you were born?
RP: I was born in Munster, Indiana, not too far from here. December 25, 1924.
MHH: A Christmas baby!
RP: A Christmas baby, yes. It was also the time when they had the big dispute in the synod of 1924.
MHH: So that’s a fairly easy birthday to remember. It has double significance.
RP: Right. But the Christmas party wasn’t the greatest (laughter). My mother loved it.
MHH: Who were your parents?
RP: Mr. and Mrs. Steven Poortinga.
MHH: And what was their background and history? Tell me a little bit about your family.
RP: My dad came from Friesland in Holland. My mother came from Zealand (“Sayland,” I guess they call it in the Netherlands). My father emigrated here. I think it was first his sister and a brother who came over here. They earned some money, and they sent the money back to Holland. Then [my father] and his brother came here. They worked here for awhile, and then they made enough money with the four of them to send over for the whole family to come over here. They lived right in Lansing, Illinois. That was at the turn of the century.
MHH: And you have how many brothers and sisters?
RP: Originally there were eight in our family. My sister died when she was, I think, 15 years old. And now there are four remaining yet of us. There are three sisters and one brother left.
MHH: Did you grow up in the Lansing area?
RP: I grew up between Munster and Lansing. And now I’m living in Dyer.
MHH: What did your father do for a living?
RP: My father was a farmer. He farmed and he also truck-farmed. When he originally came from the Netherlands, I think he worked on a farm too. He did other work occasionally, but he mostly was a farmer.
MHH: What are your memories of your youth? Tell me a little bit about your childhood and adolescence.
RP: I worked on the farm most of my life, till I got married—always worked on the farm. When I was younger, I remember working in the Van Baren’s warehouse, the [onion] set house. I probably was around 16 or 17 years old then.
MHH: During your childhood and adolescence, what was your church affiliation and the affiliation of your family?
RP: Well, I only remember the Protestant Reformed Church when I was young, because my dad went to the Protestant Reformed Church in 1926, when I was only two years old. So, I was a charter member, but I don’t remember much of it. And I always went to a Christian School—Munster Christian School (now it’s the Lansing Christian School). And I had my catechism all in the Protestant Reformed Church until 1943.
MHH: What is significant about 1943?
RP: Then’s when we had the problems in South Holland Church with the minister, Rev. [L.] Vermeer. I think that’s pretty well known to some people, to some people not.
MHH: It’s not well-known to me, so would you like to talk about that?
RP: I was young at that time. It was very traumatic to me.
MHH: You’re speaking about an issue that took place in 1943 regarding Rev. Vermeer, who was pastor of South Holland at that time.
RP: What I remember—a lot of it is hearsay, and I don’t really want to slander anybody. There was this group that was going to the consistory and saying that Rev. Vermeer attended taverns. He did like to drink, and he had obviously tried to quit. There were people from the Lansing region who went to the Reformed church. They said, “Boy, your minister is really a cut-up. He is a nice man.” They enjoyed him because they met him at the taverns. This was actually not a tavern so much as a road house.
MHH: What does a road house mean?
RP: They had women there, too. A roadhouse was not too good of a place, as far as I’m concerned. It was in Calumet City. My father and others knew this, and they protested to the consistory with this. I don’t think they did it the right way. When you protest, you have to have proof. They didn’t have proof. They had hearsay. It’s these people who said he was there. And hearsay doesn’t really stand up in the consistory. I know that. I know the way it should be done. Of course, they didn’t want to go down there and catch him in there. Although, at the end of the whole deal somebody did go down there and found him over there. I don’t know if you want me to say the name.
RP: I think it was Menno Smits. He was a member of the church. He found him over there, and he went to the consistory. The consistory worked with him for awhile, and they put him under censure. It was Ade Poortinga, my dad, and Mr. Miedema, and I don’t know who else, who were put under censure.
MHH: For what reason?
RP: It was probably because of slander. They were slandering the minister. They were telling stories that weren’t right about the minister. I could feel the undertone in the house between my mother and my father. He was very moody at times, and at last she couldn’t take it no more. She just couldn’t take it any more. So then after they had him under censure, he left the church.
MHH: And went where?
RP: Went to Munster Christian Reformed Church. That’s where I met my wife.
MHH: What was the upshot for Vermeer and for South Holland congregation? Was this resolved or swept under the rug? What happened?
RP: I could tell you how it happened. We came back with my dad—I and my brother Dan, all came back in 1957. We left in about 1943. We all came back to [the Protestant Reformed] church because we knew we didn’t belong in the [Christian Reformed] church. And my wife came back with me at that time. The upshot was that Rev. Vermeer left South Holland in 1945.
MHH: Did he take a call?
RP: He took a call. And, as you know, every place he went, he had the same problems.
RH: I didn’t know.
RP: Every place he went he had the same problems. He left in 1953, and then he went to Bethesda and there he had the same problem. But there they caught him., and he was not a minister any more. And the end of his life was quite bad, because, I think, he had a lot of mental problems.
When we came back, then your father [Prof. Homer S. Hoeksema] was minister over there [South Holland, IL]. And there was one left of the old consistory that dealt with my dad. When they came back, they had to make it up—Mr. Lanting and Pa, they had to come together and they…
MHH: To reconcile.
RP: Reconcile their differences, yes.
MHH: And that happened?
RP: That happened, yes. So that was a good way to end it all.
My dad was never happy in the Christian Reformed Church. I remember we used to have an older minister in Munster. His name was Rev. Bolt. He was of the old [school], before ’24. He used to preach a sermon and then my dad said, “You ruined that whole sermon on the end. You had a good sermon, but you ruined it.” He had to preach common grace, of course. He had to bring it in, you see?
MHH: So he was definitely not pleased with a lot of things that were going on there.
RP: Oh, no. My dad was not. My mother passed away over there [Christian Reformed Church], and we had a lot of friends over there. I met this lovely lady over there (laughter), and we got married.
MHH: So you did not experience first-hand the entire history of the split of ’53.
RP: No. I did follow it a little.
MHH: Were you affected at all, Mr. Poortinga, by World War II?
RP: No. I had two brothers that went. Conrad went in the Coast Guard. He really enlisted in 1941. I had another brother that was drafted into the Navy. That was Daniel. He went back to the Protestant Reformed Church. Conrad never did. I went up to Indianapolis to be drafted. I needed a physical. I passed the physical, but I was pulled out because when I went into the line I threw up. I was very nauseated. So they took me out and they put me to another line. I had to visit all kinds of psychiatrists. Amazingly, when I come home, they gave me a 4F. I guess they thought I was a little psycho (laughter).
After that, then my other brother got drafted. He was on the farm. One of us could stay on the farm.
MHH: So you missed it and he went.
RP: Well, I was again drafted for the Korean War, and I was ready to go. The date was set that I had to go. Then I had an appendectomy (emergency). So for six months they couldn’t take me in the Army. And I turned over age after that—turned 28, so they couldn’t take me.
RP: Laughter. Providential. I say that’s the Lord’s doing. He evidently didn’t want me in the Army. That’s all you can say.
MHH: Yes, because they certainly missed you twice (laughter). That’s interesting. Was there anything else that helped to shape your character and your thinking or your attitude towards the church? You talked about the problems in the early 1940s. Are there any other events or incidents that stand out in your mind connected with the church?
RP: In 1957, if you recall, that was the time when divorce and remarriage was a big problem in the Christian Reformed Church. They were opening the doors to it. That really was very sensitive to us. We didn’t believe in it. Even her father and mother never believed that divorce and remarriage was right. I even remember having a debate. I still have the papers yet. We had a debate on that in our Men’s Society. Myself and one of the other fellows debated with the two ministers over there at present. And it was amazing. We got God’s word out, and they didn’t. They didn’t take what we said. They just said, they just took it for granted that it was good enough. But their they all wanted hearsay—not God’s word.
MHH: Just purely a matter of opinion.
RP: Yes, just opinions.
MHH: Amazing. So that started already in the mid-50s.
RP: Oh, yes. I remember the limited atonement deal in the Christian Reformed Church—Dr. Dekker. I followed all this, and, yes, it was the Lord’s leading us back to the church. He took us back when our children were young, which we were very thankful for. There are some that came back from different groups, and their children were brought up in the Christian Reformed Church, and most of their children never came along.
MHH: It’s amazing when they’re born and educated in another denomination, and then they’re older when their parents come back. You see that so often. Parents know better and they come back, but the rest stay behind. [At this point Mrs. Tena Poortinga (TP) enters the conversation]. Mrs. Poortinga has some comments that she would like to add.
TP: When we came back, I went with Dick. I wasn’t used to that kind of [Protestant Reformed] preaching because I had my catechism in the Christian Reformed Church, and Prof. Hoeksema, Rev. Hoeksema at the time, talked about the “lie.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. In his sermons, it was always about the lie. Well, I had problems understanding him, so I wasn’t too happy with the preaching. But then they decided to have a doctrinal class. I think it was for my purpose your father did that. There were some other, couples that came, too: Frank and Eileen VanBaren were just married, and they came. She was having problems too. So then we had a doctrinal class, and slowly on it started getting better. Now I had learned! I just wasn’t used to that type of preaching, so I had a lot to learn.
MHH: So, even in those days the Christian Reformed Church was becoming weak in its doctrinal teaching and positions?
TP: They didn’t believe like Protestant Reformed Church did, so it was just a matter of learning for me, you know?
MHH: As you look back on your own personal history, are you glad that you’re here?
TP: Oh, it’s the best thing I did. I’m so happy that I did that, for my children, too. And for me. It’s
about 49 years that I’ve been in the church. And, oh, I had a lot to learn. But I enjoy the preaching, and I would never, never go back.
MHH: That’s great.
TP: Very, very thankful. This was all in the Lord’s plan, too.
But I did have a difficult time at first, and I’m not the only one. There are more people [who have this problem] when they first come if it means anything to them.
RP: That’s what it really brings out—if they can just throw away the preaching that they had, then they haven’t been there. But they had to absorb the new preaching of God’s word. And God’s word, when it’s spoken, bears its fruit.
MHH: Speaking of preaching and of the past, I’d like to direct this question to you. When you look back over your lifetime, how would you compare the church of today with the church of yesterday—say in either prior to the time that you left or perhaps after you came back in 1957?
RP: Well, I think there’s been a development of the truth. I think the ministers and the seminary stand stand pretty strong. The preaching is a little different, I think. If I remember your grandfather [Herman Hoeksema], I remember going to church and hearing him preach a sermon in the morning, and then he said, “Well, I just can’t quite get finished with it. I’m going to finish this this afternoon.” And Rev. Ophoff used to do the same thing. I still think that our churches are developing and the truth is developing. I can’t say, “Well, they’re going this way, they’re going that way.” No, I think the church is developing in God’s word. It’s still strong. But there has been change.
MHH: In what way do you think? I’d like to pursue this, because I’ve heard this from others as well.
RP: I think the change is in the covenant view. They’ve developed the covenant so much. I think that’s good. I’ve read a lot about it. I read quite a bit now, but I don’t absorb it as much as I used to. When you’re younger you can absorb more of it. And I think I can say, with all this doctrine of conditions, Federal Vision and all that, it brings out God’s truth. You can see it all around us. You can see the churches departing. We can see it in our family so much. The ones that have left don’t get preaching anymore. We have to be fed. I would say that some people say that the church is losing its distinctiveness. The preachers don’t preach God’s word anymore. I can’t go along with that. I can’t go along with that. I think they preach God’s word.
MHH: I’ve heard it said that there has been over time a less sharp emphasis or even a compromise on the truth of the antithesis. Would you agree or disagree with that?
RP: I don’t think so. I think the antithesis is still preached in the church. Sometimes the minister preaches the antithesis. He doesn’t have to say the word “antithesis” all the time. If you listen to his sermon, you know he’s preaching the antithesis. Naturally, there are weaknesses in the church. I mean, I’m not gonna say that the church is infallible. There are weaknesses, I mean to say, but, on the average, I’d say that our churches have been holding fast to the word of God.
MHH: I’ve also heard it said, that there is insufficient emphasis on grace and election and too much emphasis on man’s responsibility. Would you agree or disagree with that?
RP: I can’t say that there’s such overemphasis on man’s responsibility. I think it depends how you listen.
I’m not saying that the church is perfect. It varies from one minister to another. I know that. I can feel that. But to say that one minister doesn’t preach God’s word and the other one preaches God’s word, one might be more doctrinal that the other, no. We have to live our doctrine. We can preach doctrine, but if we don’t live the doctrine, what have we got?
MHH: Are there any other issues that you would like to address or any opinions that you would like to express? And that can be on pretty much any subject you choose in connection with the church—positive or negative, it doesn’t matter.
RP: I served on the school board in the Christian school in South Holland. We had an issue there with the administrator we had there. We wanted to make a rule that the administrator only come to the board meeting to present his agenda to the school board and then he leave, that he doesn’t attend the whole school board meeting. And that certain administrator did not like that rule. He wanted to be at the school board the whole time. That created a big problem in our school. I think we had a book about this thick that went to the classis because of writing between each other—the administrator and the school board.
And at that time we also voted in a minister into the school board, which was very unwise. And it divided the South Holland church and the Oak Lawn church.
MHH: That would have been Vanden Berg, right?
RP: Rev. [G.] Vanden Berg, right. I think that it’s a very volatile issue when you start the school and you put the church with it. The school should stay separate from the church. The minister should never involve himself. He can give his opinion, but he should not give his opinion off the pulpit. That’s beside the point. You have an opinion, and you have a right to your opinion. But then to get the church involved—that was a big issue in South Holland church at that time.
And it was also a big issue in Oak Lawn Church. I think it kind of broke that church up too. I think most of them came to South Holland after they left [Oak Lawn]. It was all settled, but there were lots of problems.
[Here follows a lengthy discussion regarding recent school and church issues. While this is historically valuable, it contains many personal references that are not appropriate for publication. Regrettably this material has therefore been redacted].
MHH: This concludes the interview with Mr. and Mrs. Poortinga. My thanks to both of them for participating.
As is our custom, in this issue we are publishing four essays from the annual scholarship contest. This contest is open to those who are pursuing an education directed toward either the ministry or toward teaching. These papers are the ones the committee determined were the best from this year’s submissions. Two are written by those intending to seek the ministry, and two by those pursuing an education degree. The question prompts were as follows:
- 1 Corinthians 13:13: of the trinity of Christian virtues, faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is love. How do you intend to live by this and use the principles taught in that chapter in your future calling?
- The Constitutions of our schools contain the statement that the Bible, the doctrines of which are contained in the three forms of unity, forms the basis for instruction in the school. Give an example of how a Lord’s Day, a single question and answer from a Lord’s Day, or an article from the Belgic Confession or Canons of Dordt could be used in classroom instruction.
Beacon Lights hopes that these essays will encourage those who are considering the ministry or teaching in the future.
MHH: Nick, do you have comments on all of this?
NK: Well, back in 1975, Prof. Hoeksema and Rev. [Cornelius] Hanko came over. And they came to Winnaleah where we actually lived. We lived in LaPort, just only a few minutes out of Winnaleah, and we have to be to the airport at five o’clock. Anyway, it was so funny. We got to the airport, but he wasn’t there, and we had no idea what they looked like. So when they came off the plane, Prof. Hoeksema had a big coat on and my wife went up to him and said, “Are you Mr. Hoeksema?” And he said, “No, I’m Prof. Hoeksema” (laughter).
Anyway, they gave a lecture in Burnie Church. Then they went to Launceston, so we didn’t see much of them at all. I think Rev. Hanko actually preached in the Presbyterian Church. They only gave him twenty minutes to do his sermon. That was the first time they came, but they came again, back in the ‘80s. We didn’t see them then, did we?
IK: No. They went to Pastor Fisk’s house, and Pastor Fisk hadn’t told any of the congregation that they were coming, because he felt threatened by the Protestant Reformed. You could see that the people were hungry for learning more, so he felt threatened by that. And then we didn’t know anything about it. And we had a bit of a hitch-up with family visitation from Pastor Fisk and John Driscoll. The question came up, “Well, how do you like my preaching?” And I always said he was one of the best preachers that we had as far as doctrine goes. I said, “Oh, I don’t think it’s as good as what it used to be.” And he said to John Driscoll, “Well, what do you think?” He said, “Well, my wife and I said the same thing together.” He stood up and said, “If you have anything against my preaching, you go to the presbytery, because it’s a presbytery government. We didn’t mean it that way. He asked the question and I just answered it. So he was very angry with us after that.
But anyway, life went on, and then we got more to learn from the Protestant Reformed Church. We had the Standard Bearer and Beacon Lights, and we would order what was on the back. Gradually, like when we got that sermon from the Lord’s Prayer and people wanted to hear more of it, Launceston would allow us to listen maybe once a month, and that gave them a bit of easy time because they didn’t have a minister at that time, either. The elders were giving the preaching, and they never read sermons. They had to make up their semonette. So then we in Burnie got much more involved with the Protestant Reformed Church. Then we were saying, “Can’t we get a minister from somewhere else,” because the EPC didn’t have any ministers. Where do we get a minister from? That was our big question mark as a church. And they said, well, we were allowed to look around. So then we had to look around. We had a Rev. Dekka who had left the Free Reformed Church. We had him come over for a weekend and he preached to us. We just wanted to see what he was like. Then our church put out a call to him. They also put out a call to Prof. Hoeksema for help from the Protestant Reformed Church at the same time. Albert, my brother, said, “You can’t do that. You can’t put two irons in the fire at once.” And we said, “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine.” So then they both said “Yes.” Prof. Hoeksema said he would come. And the Protestant Reformed said, “Yes, we’ll help. We’ll give you Prof. Hoeksema for a year.” And Dekka said “Yes, I’ll come.” So then they choose Prof. Hoeksema. They said to Albert, “You had better tell him that he can’t come.” Albert said, “No, I’m not going to do the dirty work for you.” So they had to do that themselves.
So then we had Prof. Hoeksema. And it was the high peak of our spiritual wealth. Our boys were teenagers, Albert’s boys were teenagers at the time. It was just like a dry sponge that wants to soak in the water. It was tremendous. They were like parents to us well: “Ina, what are you cooking? We had a tremendous time. When we went out for drives, your mom [Gertrude Hoeksema] always used to tell us lots of stories.
So that’s how we started with the Protestant Reformed. Right before that, because we were allowed to have Protestant Reformed sermons, we got the tapes from Hudsonville. So we heard Rev. VanBaren every Sunday.
NK: And then Prof. Hoeksema went back home. In the meantime, Prof. Hanko came out, too, and he brought a couple of girls along. And Prof. Hoeksema said, “I’m going to introduce you to the girls.” Anyway, we had to pick them up at the airport. And Sharon met Daniel then and Deb met Nick at that time. They were in love with each other.
When Prof. Hoeksema left, he organized the wedding. I was in Grand Rapids at the time for the wedding, and I saw Rev. Woudenberg. He had a couple of videos [of church services] from Hudsonville, and he said, “You take them home.” I said, “You need them Sunday,” because that’s what he got them for. He said, “Ah, don’t worry what Kalamazoo needs Sunday. I’ll find some. You take them home.” So, we took the videos from Hudsonville at the time of Rev. VanBaren. We couldn’t play them on our video player because American is a little bit different speed. So we went to a shop and said, “Can we borrow a video player and a TV for the weekend.” We had no trouble obtaining that, so we played the videos. People were so pleased with it they didn’t even want audio tapes anymore. So, after that we bought a TV and video player, and they regularly sent the videos from Hudsonville—some of Rev. VanBaren, and then later on with Rev. Gritters. After that we never went back to audio tapes anymore. It was much better to look at something than to sit there and listen. It was so wonderful, we just got the first two tapes from Rev. Woudenberg, and then afterwards we always got video tapes.
IK: We had audio tapes for about three years before we got the video tapes in Burnie. So we were very Protestant Reformed-structured. For Bible Study we were doing the books of Acts, and we followed Prof. Hoeksema’s study guide that he wrote for it. Then if we had any questions, one of the men would write to Prof. Engelsma and ask for an explanation.
We didn’t even think of asking our men in Launceston. We just went straight to the PR and asked for answers on complications that we had with some of the things. Then we had Rev. [B.]Woudenberg with us for six months, because Prof. Hoeksema had to leave because of his cancer. Then we had Rev. Rodney Miersma from New Zealand. He stayed in Burnie for four months and looked after us.
So gradually we were more introduced to more depth of doctrine and understood it better. Also, the congregation in Burnie was more Dutch, while the ones left in Launceston were all Australians. So our Reformed background was better fulfilled in this area at this time.
NK: When Prof. Hoeksema was there, our son Daniel was very interested in going into the ministry. When Prof. Hoeksema came, that really made the decision for Daniel to go into the ministry. So he had a few lessons with Prof. Hoeksema during the week at his home, and then he applied for ministry in the EPC. He had to make an essay on purity of worship—worship without music in the church.
IK: Regulative principle.
NK: But they called it purity of worship over there. Anyway, he had to make his essay, and he showed me the essay. Daniel mentioned in the essay music is just things indifferent, but we worship God in spirit and in truth. I said to Daniel, “Dan, you’re finished with the EPC.” And he was. They sent him a letter that they could not accept him any longer in the EPC if he held to that point of view.
Prof. Hoeksema warned him. He said, “Your loss is our gain.” And that’s what happened. When Daniel came over here in the States he went to the university and then to the seminary.
IK: Later on when Rodney was inspired to go to the ministry, he said, “Shall I go straight to the Protestant Reformed?” We said, “No, your duty is to ask the church here where you belong.” So he did, and they straightaway said, “No, not if you hold to the same principles.” So they didn’t even go into it much—just asked where he stood on the regulative principle. So he straightaway went to the Protestant Reformed.
MHH: So that made the decision for him very simple.
IK: Yes. Because of the history, because when Daniel did his thesis, they said he resigned. And we thought, well, he didn’t resign. And when it came to marking (this was foul) there was no marking on where he went wrong, what he said wrong—nothing. To me that was always a fault on the EPC part that they didn’t correct where he failed. So, what do you go on?
MHH: But your sons had apparently learned the Protestant Reformed viewpoint about the regulative principle from Professor Hoeksema?
IK: No, we always ourselves were strong about that too. We had no problem singing without music because I don’t think it’s a sin to sing without music. But I don’t think it’s a sin to sing with music, either. And that was the difference—that they thought that was sin in worship to sing with music. They only used music for anything not to do with psalms or hymns. Maybe they sing hymns with music. But they won’t sing any psalms at home with music, either. We had a farewell for Nicholas [her son, who also went to the States] once, and we were singing the psalms. My brother always had his button accordion, so we sang with the button accordion. And some of the EPC people were so rude that they just sat there talking loud because that was not what they would call a right thing to do.
MHH: So it’s at this point that you have at least one son in America, and another one either here or on his way. What precipitated your move to the States?
IK: All right. Nicholas married Deb, and after marriage he straightaway went to live in America. Daniel and Sharon stayed in Tasmania because Daniel was hoping to become a minister in the EPC. It took a year until the presbytery said no. They just said he resigned. That was hurtful to me because I didn’t think it was a resignation. Before that, we had officebearers’ nomination and Albert and Nick were on there. But they were never put in office because they could not agree to say that it was a sin to use music. So, that’s why Burnie never had officebearers. So then Nicholas, when he became an American citizen, could sponsor us to come to America. Looking back now, who would want your girls to court someone from the other side of the world, a different denomination, that you might have just had a brief knowledge of? But I see that God had Prof. Hoeksema there to put his stamp of approval on it, spiritually, you know.
MHH: Plus, he played match-maker a little bit (laughter).
IK: Then also, he was there for my mother’s funeral. I thought that was very special too.
MHH: That is truly an interesting history. Now I would like to put this question to both of you: How would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth?
IK: In the Liberated Church, we arrived from the Netherlands. When a church starts up in a new country, I think you stay more conservative because you don’t have any roots, and the roots that you form are God-focused. We had no sport with the Australians. We didn’t do anything. We weren’t mingling. We were almost like Jews in the Old Testament. Later on when we joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, their concept of the covenant was new at first. It wasn’t till ’75 that it was introduced by the lectures that Prof. Hoeksema gave that our people started to grow more in the necessity of the covenant and the friendship that God related with Abraham. Before that, there was no concept of that. So they didn’t want Christian school. In Burnie we tried the Christian school, and presbytery stepped in and said that if you do that, it’s our property and not yours. So we, as Dutch Liberated people background, were not going to do that. So we didn’t start up a Christian school. We had a place ready to buy and everything. When we were going to buy it, just as families, the presbytery was going to take over, so we didn’t do that.
So then our children went to Laylands Christian School, and Albert and Mary’s children went to the Baptist Christian school which was more like a home-schooling). Albert’s children went to the Baptist school, and that was more monitored. It’s called ACE curriculum. Later on we used that with our four youngest children, and they were homeschooled.
When we came to the PR— I’m not involved with all the sports, but I think that is a weak spot in the Protestant Reformed Churches. I don’t mind them playing sports. But in America you can become a college student if you’re a good sportsman, huh? That doesn’t make any sense to me.
MHH: That was not true in Australia?
IK: No. Still isn’t. You don’t get in by any sports. There is no college sport. There are sports—they are sports mad, but it is never on a college basis.
MHH: It’s not a part of the educational system?
MHH: Whereas it is here, obviously. That’s interesting.
NK: Just to get back to your school again. Back in 1972, the EPC didn’t start a school. We got involved a little bit with the Christian Reformed school. It was Christian Reformed people. We wanted to start a school on the northwest coast in Tasmania. I was even in the board at that time. So we got together and decided to send out flyers to see how many we could get. We got 22 students, but we still went ahead with a little four-classroom school. After it opened we did get about 60-70 students. And when we got going, then later on some parents wanted to start a high school. I wasn’t on the board, but, they didn’t want it because they wouldn’t be able to get all the facilities that the state school had. So there was a bit of a division. Most parents were going to start a high school because that’s just as important [as grade school]. But they didn’t start a high school, so numbers stayed about 70-80 students. A couple of years down the road, they came to agreement to start a high school, and the school doubled in enrollment.
IK: In the middle of the year. They doubled in their enrollment.
NK: It became interdenominational. So we had to pull our children out because it had Baptist ministry, a Pentecostal minister, you know. It didn’t work out very well. So then we pulled our children out and we did home-schooling for five years before we came to Grand Rapids.
MHH: Do either of you have any closing remarks?
IK: OK. I’m just very thankful to God for guiding our pathway and bringing us here. And I’m just so thankful we can live here. People say, “Do you miss Australia?” I say, “No, I never miss Australia.” I loved it there, but I have no desire to go back. Spiritually I was famished compared to what we are given here in the Protestant Reformed Churches. Another thing is, when you move and you have to get new roots, I think you are closer with the Lord. We went back to the Netherlands eighteen months ago and the Free Reformed Church, where we grew up in, is so wayward down there. You go to Australia, and they are very conservative. And it’s the same denomination in the Netherlands. They allow homosexuals to be officebearers. It doesn’t even look like church. The new building is just a hole with loose chairs, jeans, and whatever. It didn’t even feel like we were in a worship place. And that is something very unique to the Protestant Reformed, where people sit together as families worshiping God. In the Liberated Church the young people always tried to sit in the back seats and play around. Even in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, the kids always sat together. We always made them sit with us. That’s why we go to church for, not just to be unrespectful and unattentive.
So I’m so thankful to see our grandchildren growing up in the atmosphere and the school. I’m very impressed with the dedication of learning and praying at the schools here too.
NK: It’s like Ina said. It’s very family-orientated here. I found that’s wonderful. It was like in the EPC and the Liberated church in early years—family orientated. The third time I came here in ’89, I could not believe how people came to worship the Lord on a Sunday, how well they present themselves—well-dressed. And big families. It was just wonderful to see, and it is still today. Children sit with the parents in church. It wasn’t like that in my young days and later not either, like Ina said. Children sit separately, and I don’t think that’s any good at all. I hope and pray that it may continue over the years to come that this family-orientation is so important—that the family comes to church and worship together as a family.
IK: You know, Mark, it’s very interesting. We’ve taken some relatives from work to church. They cannot, for the life of them, think that all these little kids can sit still for all that time (laughter), and that there is no separate place for them to go and play. It brings them back a hundred years ago to when that was how it was. And they cannot believe it—there’s still a church today that holds to that kind of tradition.
NK: We were in Western Australia in ’77. We went to a Presbyterian church. The children had their Sunday School because the children could not sit still in the worship. We were there with our nine children at the time, and our children sat still. That was such a blessing to that congregation to see, to show that children can sit still and worship. And I think it’s wonderful that Rev. Smit is going to the Philippines. He’s got a large family. It’ll be a blessing to the congregation there to show that children can attend worship and sit still in the worship and listen—that’s a real experience we had, and I think it’ll be wonderful even in the Philippines. It’ll be such a blessing there to teach them that we come together as a family to worship.
MHH: It’s certainly clear from your comments that both of you see and appreciate the outworkings of the covenant. And I thank you both kindly for your time and for sharing your thoughts in this interview.
As our regular readers know, Beacon Lights has recently sponsored a writing contest. The intent was to encourage our readers to think, as well as to develop their writing skills. The entries have been received and judged, and the winning essays are published in this issue.
We received disappointingly few entries in three of the four categories—high school age, college age, and post-college adults.
The junior high category, however, produced very positive results, due mainly to the encouragement of a couple of our Christian schools. We received sixty entries at the junior high level. This produced a pleasant but thorny problem, there were so many good articles that it was difficult to choose a winner from all the submissions. Therefore, we decided to print what the judges considered to be the three best.
Beacon Lights thanks all those who took the time and put forth the effort to participate in this contest. We hope that our readers will benefit from the thoughts contained in these essays.
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One of this year’s “mini conventions” was hosted by Grace and Grandville Protestant Reformed Churches at Quaker Haven Camp. Located just over two hours away in northern Indiana, the camp was a perfect fit for the 120 kids and 15 chaperones who attended. A total of twelve different churches were represented: Byron Center, Faith, First […]
At the point that this edition of Beacon Lights arrives in the homes of our subscribers, most young people in the Protestant Reformed Churches will have been sitting under the catechism instruction of their pastor or elders for more than a month. If our readers are honest, that observation probably comes with a (quiet) sigh […]
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