George M. Ophoff (4)

In our last article, we were discussing the grandfather of Rev. Ophoff, Prof. G. Hemkes. I have in my possession a story which was written by Rev. Hemkes at the time when he was a minister at De Leek and which was written while he was editor of the Yearbook published by the Reformed (Gereformeerde) church in the Netherlands. The story which he tells of himself took place while he was a student at the theological seminary in Kampen. It is almost too long to quote in its entirety in this article, but excerpts of it give some idea of the kind of man Gerrit Hemkes was. The excerpts follow:

It was in the unforgettable winter of 1865 that Gerrit Hemkes spent his Christmas vacation in the old town of Franeker, Friesland, among his relatives and friends….

Several days before his departure he thought of his trip back to Kampen with very little enthusiasm. He was not very fond of sitting in a stagecoach all the way from Franeker to Zwolloe and then taking the train to Kampen…When someone told him that the Zuider Zee…was frozen over and safe to skate on, he became joyfully interested in a trip on skates back to school.

The question now was how to obtain permission from his aged parents, who were still living at this time, to make this somewhat hazardous trip. He could see possibilities with his father who was a man of courage. On the other hand, to get the approval of his mother, who was always very careful for the safety of her children, was a problem. Nevertheless, he was able…to convince his mother that it was much better to go to Kampen on skates than by stagecoach.

(Because of other problems) it so happened that instead of leaving at 5 o’clock he did not go until 9. He went with his brother and his brother’s wife.

They skated on the canals which led them toward the Zuider Zee. It was indeed a very delightful and beautiful winter day and the sun shown clearly over snowy landscapes. The ice was smooth and in good shape and they had no trouble with the wind. They glided along in single file with good speed and enjoyed themselves as they went. After having been on the ice for a little less than an hour the brother’s wife began to have trouble with her skates. They were not tied tightly enough, so they stopped to remedy the situation. They resumed skating, but soon there was more difficulty with the same skates. It became apparent that ankles were the problem and progress was slow. By the time they arrived at Lemmer it was 2 o’clock in the afternoon. They stayed there for a short time and then after bidding farewell to one another, the brother and his wife went northward and student Hemkes headed south toward Kunre where he would begin to skate on the Zuider Zee.

(The trip) was not without danger, especially when he had to jump over small streams of water about a yard wide which had not been frozen over. However, he continued to make progress. Toward 4 o’clock he rode past the town of Vollenhoven. At this place, he had to go through a great number of skaters in order to continue on his way. He figured that from there to Kampen would take him about 2 ½ or three hours. This he could have done if everything had worked out well…

As he skated thoughts went through his mind as how tings might be in Franeker and in Kampen; also to which of his studies he would have to give the most time in order to pass his examinations. All of a sudden, he became very much upset by a gathering fog which made it almost impossible for him to see. He could not find any scratches on the ice to indicate that others had been there before. He got down on his knees but was unsuccessful in feeling scratches where some might have passed by. Now he became filled with anxiety…It was a terrible thing to be all alone on this side expanse of ice. He resumed skating for a few moments and then again he got down on his knees and poured out his prayer in childlike fashion to his God. In all earnestness and trust he knew that the Lord is just as much present on a wide expanse of ice as in his comfortable family circle…We can believe him when he said that in such dire circumstances one feels himself entirely dependent on the Lord. Knowing this, gave him comfort and trust because he knew he was not alone. The Lord was with him.

After a half or three quarters of an hour…he wondered what the solution to his problem might be. He continued to pray for deliverance when suddenly he thought he heard something. What was it? He listened sharply and heard people calling to each other. Now he also began to shout with all his might. There people noticed that a lost person was shouting and they shouted to him, “Come this way.” He skated in the direction of their voices. A feeling of indescribable joy welled up in him that he was being delivered from such a dreadful situation…

“Where in the world do you come from, friend” asked the fishermen of Vollenhoven. “I come from Franeker and from Vollenhoven and wanted to go the Kampen,” he replied. “Well then, you were a tremendously long distance out of the way,” they said, after the manner of fisherman. “Ten minutes ago we would not have given you a penny for your life. Did you not see the holes in the ice where the fishermen caught their fish?” He said, “No” “When we heard your cries we called back to you to be very careful. You had more help than your own. If you had gone a short distance toward the west from where you were you would have found yourself in the open sea.”

After giving each fisherman a reward and thanking them heartily for having, through God’s direction, helped the lost skater to find his way to be rescued, he asked, “How far am I now from Vollenhoven?” “You can make it in half an hour,” he answered. Hemkes noticed a young man standing there on skates and asked him if he would show him the way to Vollenhoven for two quarters. “Gladly,” said the young man. “I had to go there anyway.” They arrived in Vollenhoven shortly before 6 o’clock. He went to an inn, smoked a cigar and had coffee and a sandwich. At 8 o’clock he asked for a bed and went to rest…

The next morning as he travelled the rest of the distance to Kampen, he was able to see how great the danger was from which he had been delivered. He thanked God from the bottom of his heart and said, “It is wonderful in my eyes!”