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How and Why I Joined the PRC

Note: In May of 2019, Mr. Kleyn was asked to give a chapel speech at Covenant Christian High School about how and why he moved to the US and joined the PRC. The following is a condensed version of that speech.

 

I was born and raised in Tasmania, a small island state south of mainland Australia, with a population of 500,000. It is almost on the exact opposite side of the world from Michigan. When I was growing up, I didn’t know anything about Grand Rapids or the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA). My journey to both started when I was twenty years old.

My parents, who were born in the Netherlands during World War II, both migrated to western Australia with their families in the 1950s. After settling, their families helped start the Free Reformed Church of Australia, which was a daughter church of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. So my roots are from a Reformed church background.

In 1988, I was twenty years old. We lived in a town called Burnie, Tasmania, population 20,000, and at that time we were members of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). But we had no minister. The EPC is a small denomination and back then had only five small congregations. The congregation in Burnie was around thirty people, and more than half of those were Kleyns and Bosvelds.

What the EPC did have was contact with the PRCA. I believe the EPC learned about the denomination through the Standard Bearer. This was before internet and cheap phone calls, so communication with the PRCA was initially limited to letters. But early in 1988, my uncle Albert Bosveld suggested we contact them to see if they had a minister whom they could send to us for a year. A few months after our letter, the PRCA agreed to send us Prof. Homer Hoeksema for a year. We couldn’t believe it!

The son of Rev. Herman Hoeksema who helped start the PRCA, Prof. Homer Hoeksema arrived in Tasmania in July 1988 with his wife, Gertrude. He was recently retired from seminary, having just been replaced by Prof. David Engelsma. We found the Hoeksemas a house to stay in, filled it with furniture, and tried to provide for all their needs—I even lent him my 1972 Holden sedan. Prof. soon settled into preaching, teaching catechism, and Bible study. And could he preach! As a small group of believers that had never before been blessed by such preaching and teaching, we quickly fell in love with the Hoeksemas.

The Hoeksemas were a really neat couple. Prof. was well-known across the PRCA as being somewhat aloof and hard to interact with, but we in Burnie, Tasmania, didn’t experience that. Maybe it was because we had never met or heard of him before and had no preconceived notions about him. It might have also been that because he was far from home with no other PRs around to see, he let his hair down around us! Either way, the man we grew to love was a great blessing to us.

I think Prof. loved being a pastor again, and he took up the work seriously, preaching three times every Sunday. He would preach twice in Burnie and would then be driven two hours each Sunday afternoon to preach in the town of Launceston. It was a big commitment. Mrs. Hoeksema was fun to have around too. She taught us how to sing in parts, beginning with Psalter 83. Though we were an a capella church, we didn’t know how to sing parts and had lots of fun learning from her.

For those of us in Tasmania, Prof’s time was to us a period in our lives where we got to hear solid, Reformed teaching like we had never heard before. It was also a time in which we learned about the PRCA. If your parents or grandparents remember Mrs. Hoeksema now, it’s probably as a great storyteller. She spent many hours telling us about what the PRCA believed, about the split of 1953, about First church and the issues they had with safety during the race riots. When I think back, I feel privileged to have met and learned from the Hoeksemas.

At that time, the PRCA was also planning to send Prof. Herman Hanko for a few weeks to a conference with the EPC. A man in Tasmania named Alan Duff was making the arrangements, and on one of his calls to the United States (US), Sharon Hanko (Prof. Hanko’s daughter and now Rev. Daniel Kleyn’s wife) answered the phone. Alan suggested that Sharon should come to Tasmania with her father. She agreed and brought along her friends Deb Kuiper (my wife) and Joan Hanko.

The group arrived in September 1988. My brother Daniel and I got out of work early and drove two hours to Launceston to check out these American girls. We put on our Aussie charm, and over a period of ten days we showed the girls around Tasmania and went to speeches by Profs. Hanko and Hoeksema. After the group left, Daniel and I went into letter-writing mode. We each wrote four or five letters per week, with eight to ten pages per letter. Each letter took ten days to get to or from the US, so it took about three weeks for us to get answers to our questions!

Then, in January 1989, Daniel and I visited the US for five weeks, during which time we each got engaged. Once home, I sold my property, my cars, everything, in preparation for moving to the US in May 1989. Deb and I were married in June 1989. A quick romance, for sure, but the Lord has blessed our marriage and has been with us.

Moving to the US came with some struggles, but I enjoyed the adventure of it. I was twenty-one years old, newly married to a beautiful wife, and adjusting to life in the US. Living here your whole life, you might not see the adventure in it, but for me, everything was new. In a sense, I was here by myself, the first Aussie of my family in the PRCA.

After learning to speak and understand the American version of English, I started a new job as an electrician. I had experience as an electrician in Australia, but working here was very different and felt like learning a new trade. I also learned to drive on the other side of the road (and had some close shaves!) I made new friends, most of them from Hope church in Walker, Michigan. Both that congregation and my new wife’s family welcomed me with open arms, and pretty soon I felt at home.

As a twenty-something living in Tassie, I was rather down about finding a godly wife. But God, through his providence, provided me with the best wife I could have asked for. I learned that God knows what is best for us. As you, young people, look forward to your futures, remember that God knows what will happen. Think about this: in just over a year, I went from not knowing anything about the US and the PRCA to falling in love, getting married, moving to Michigan, and joining a new denomination. Some of you young people may have similar experiences in the near future; you just never know what God has in store for you. Wait on him and make good choices!

 

Originally published September 2021, Vol 80 No 9