One of the things that’s kind of interesting out here is that we have visiting ministers. Rev. Bekkering was visiting at that time. He was preaching down in Houston at that time, and I was in the consistory. This is in the old church yet. On the northwest corner, there is a door you can come in from the outside. We have a little consistory room there. Very small. But there’s a platform there and then steps going down because the basement sits halfway out of the ground. Well, Bob Brands comes in, and he was all scared. I said, “What’s the matter with you?” “Oh,” he says, “there’s a car out there with three really scuzzy-looking guys by my van.” I said, “Well, did you lock your van?” “Oh no.” I said, “Go out there and lock it.” “No! I’m not going go out there.” “Oh, for cryin’ out loud. I’ll go out there with you.” So we went and locked his van up. There was this car there with three scuzzy-looking guys in it, and they kinda moseyed out a little ways from us. We didn’t think too much of it. Got in church (it was summer), and the windows were all open. I heard: clunkity-clunk-clunk out ther. I thought, “What in the world was that?” I thought, “Well, when I stand up to sing” (the consistory was in the first row by that door), “I’ll go out that door and see what’s going on.”
When we stood up to sing, I looked out the window, and here’s the guy in my van which is parked right there, stealing my CB radio. I went out the door, and I jumped off that platform. I was going land right on top of him, you see? And I said something that was obviously not very nice, and the whole church heard it because the windows were open. (laughter) I don’t remember what I called him, but I was reminded of it afterwards. Anyway, I pulled up short when I saw another guy coming from Joanna Schwartz’s car. He stole some stuff out of hers. I thought, “If I get this one, the other one will get away.” So I landed right next to them. And, man, it scared the liver out of that guy. His eyes were bugging out like a stomped-on bullfrog, and he quick ran towards his car. I had a little thirty-eight special (a snub-nosed barrel). I ran over there and I stuck that in the guy’s face that was driving. Told him I’d blow his head off if he moved the car one inch. And I made a believer out of him.
About that time Frank Van Baren comes running out .“You need a gun, Ray?” I said, “No, I don’t. Go and call the sheriff.” So Frank takes off. In the meantime my son Steve comes out because I think he might have heard what I said (laughter). In the meantime, there’re two guys in the back seat of this car and the driver up front., and the driver was shaking like a leaf.. It seems like looking down the barrel of a 38 kinda unnerves people (laughter).
Anyway, the two in the back seat were up to something. I said, “Steve, watch those two in the back seat. They’re gonna make a run for it.” I said, “Get the guy with the white shirt, because he’s the one that was trying to get my CD radio.” So all of a sudden he said, “We’ll pick up that broken glass.” They jumped out, picked up the glass, threw it in the cracks and away they went, and Steve after them. They were a Mexican and a white guy. The Mexican peeled around behind the school. The white guy with a white shirt headed where Steve’s house is now, and Steve after him. The guy in the car started to make like he was gonna blast off. I said, “Just go ahead, bud. Move and you’re dead.” He said to me, “You think he’ll catch them?” I said, “Yah, you don’t never want to try to outrun these old elk hunters here. Git you every time.”
I wasn’t so sure of that, because Steve was right behind this guy, but he wasn’t gaining on him. They went around the corner of the house, and a while later Steve came back and he had the guy by the back of the neck, by his collar, and he was pushing him along ahead of him. And, ho, the guy’s face was all scratched up and his shirt was all tore up. I said to Steve, “Man, what in the world did you do to him?” “Well,” he said, “I finally had to tackle him. He wouldn’t stop. Then he was swearing all the time. When I told him to quit that, and he wouldn’t do it, I took his head and smashed it up and down on the gravel till he got over it” (laughter). Well, OK, that will work.
So we put this guy in the back seat again. As he got in, I saw him reach in his pocket, get something out, and slide it under the floor mat.
Well, by this time, r-r-r here comes the sheriff department. They can’t come without the sirens on. The windows were open on the church. So this sheriff asks, “What’s going on here?” So we told him what was going on. So he takes the driver out and he puts him in the sheriff’s car with handcuffs on. Shortly after that another sheriff came. So they took the other guy and put him in the other sheriff’s car, and then they were going to start searching tem. I said, “You won’t find nothing on him. He put it under the mat on the floor down there by the front seat, whatever it was.” He said, “I didn’t put nothin’ under there.” I said, “We’ll look, if there’s nothing under there, what’s the big problem?” So they looked under there and he had a gold metal medallion. It was solid gold. It had been in this family for many, many years. It was Christ on the cross. It was really a beautiful thing that had been in their family forever. It had been stolen that morning from an old lady at Zion Lutheran Church. She was just beside herself having lost that religious medal. There was also a little package of cocaine.
By this time they had everything under control, and I said to the sheriff, “Care if I go in? I think I can still get the message of today.” And he said, “Yah. Care if I take pictures in your van?” I said, “No, go ahead.”
Well, we get in church. And poor Bekkering’s up there trying to preach with all this stuff going on (laughter). The sheriff called in a wrecker to haul this thing away, and this ain’t a little wrecker. This is one of these great big ones, sounds like a locomotive coming in. Poor ol’ Bekkering’s trying to preach and look out the window.
Then the state police come and they have to have their sirens on. City police come. They have to have their sirens on. Well, it got to be a relatively short sermon (laughter). Afterwards Bekkering came over to me and said, “What in the world are you doing, Ray?” I said, “Well, you know, you’re from Texas and we just thought we’d make it a little more exciting for a visiting minister.” (laughter)
So I went out there and Chief Steel was there from Loveland Department. I said, “How ya doin’?” He said, “Oh, man, real good. We solved all the burglaries that were on the books plus some of them we didn’t even know about. You know, they got a sawed off shot-gun in the back there, and masks. They were gonna hold up the Homestate Bank that Wednesday.” I said, “Yah, I saw the shotgun.” He said, “Weren’t you worried about that?” I said, “Not really. I had a 38.” He says, “How did you get those guys to stop?” I said, “Aw, I stuck a 38 in his face and told him I’d blow his head off.” “Yah,” he said, “that generally works pretty good. But what about the guy that’s all chewed up? Somebody ran him down.” I said, “Yah, my son did that.” “Boy, he must be able to run,” he said. “In my whole career, I’ve run after I don’t know how many crooks. I’ve never caught one yet. They get zinged up on adrenalin, and you can’t catch them.”
So anyway, that was quite interesting. Later on, the one guy—he had a record that went back to the time he climbed out of the cradle— just turned the age where he can be prosecuted as something or other. They can really nail them. So he’s gone. He went to jail. Then they found out through these guys who the other one was that got away. I went up to the sheriff’s department about a year later. The one of was in jail, the other one had been in correctional facilities, and one of them was still in the correctional facility. So they pretty well nailed them down for a while.
Jean Ezinga (JE): What about the bullet? [Ray’s wife asks this question]
RE: Oh, yes. My dad has always said that pistols are only good for killing people, which works pretty good, I guess. But he had no use for them, and wouldn’t let me have one at home at all. There was an old couple in the church, and as they came out I was just sticking that gun in my side pocket in my coat. The guy saw it, and I could tell that he’d seen it. About a half year later (I called Dad every Monday morning to talk to him), he said, “We had a couple over last night visiting, and, he had some kind of cockamamie story about they went to Loveland and there was some crooks taking stuff out of somebody’s car and somebody pulled a gun on them and held them till the cops came. You don’t know anything about that, do you?” I said, “Yeah, I do.” He said, “Did that happen in your church?” I said, “Yah.” He said, “Well, who had a gun?” I said, “I did.” “Well, why didn’t you tell me about that?” I said, “Dad, you know I’ve got into all kinds of things. I’ve used a gun about six times. I never had to fire a shot. And every time I tell you what happens, you get so doggone mad at me. Why would I get you all agitated again?” He gets mad. I said, “Dad, ya gotta understand I wouldn’t be talking to you today if I didn’t make a habit of carrying a gun. I never had to kill somebody, but I came real close. Saved a police officer’s wife twice.”
So anyway, Dad doesn’t have any use for them. So he got ticked off at me.
MHH: It was probably the most exciting service that Loveland Church ever had.
RE: I would certainly think so. In fact, when we built the new church we didn’t put any windows in it, probably for that reason (laughter). Another reason could be that one day I was sitting on this side and Tom DeVries was sitting near the window. I happened to see a commotion over there. I looked at Tom DeVries and he pointed out the window. I kind of got up in my seat and looked out. There was a four-point bull elk walking right between the church and the school. [Without being asked a question. Ray here goes on another tangent]
One of the things that I remember about First Church, outside of our running round the top of the balcony is that we always sat up in the balcony kind oh in the front row, right in the middle, straight across from the minister in the center balcony. If I remember right, there were two aisles. In those days the ladies got dressed up real fancy. They had hats with veils on them, and there’d be like cherries in them and pheasant feathers and all this stuff. They had some naughty boys way in the back. All of a sudden, out of the side of my eye, I saw one of these big airplanes that you make out of the bulletin came floating down and just barely cleared that railing. It went down real slow, down into the audience down there and stuck right in a lady’s hat (laughter). Because this thing is so massive, she didn’t feel anything. But everybody sitting round her laughed. It was a distraction, of course, from the sermon. Finally one old man reached up real carefully and took that airplane out of there and she never knew it. That was pretty neat.
JE: Then they had people back there.
RE: Yah, after that the old janitor would sit back there. Kids respected him, boy. They didn’t put anything over on him. So they put an end to that.
RH: Do you remember the name of janitor?
RE: If you said it, I’d remember. It was…
RE: Yah, right, Dan
MHH: Dan Van Alten.
RE: Yup, that’s him.
MHH: He could be a bit ornery.
RE: Yah, he was, and they knew that too. Those kids didn’t put anything over on that old boy.
I remember Mom saying to me, “Make sure that Dad doesn’t snooze off. Dad worked hard, and we worked hard. As soon as you sit and get nice and comfortable, you have a hard time staying awake. I was a little kid at that time, and I kept my eye on Dad real careful, like Mom said. Pretty soon Dad kind of dozed off. So I took my two fingers, and I went (p-whew), right into his eyes (shocked laughter). His head shot back. Everybody was snickering around there, you know. Dad didn’t sleep after that (laughter). Mom was kind of laughing when she told me that I shouldn’t have done that (laughter).
MHH: You didn’t cause your dad to go blind at that point, did you? [Ray’s father eventually went blind]
RE: No. When we were little kids, I didn’t have any memories of that. But when we got married, we were in Fourth Church. Then we went from there to Southeast. I’ve been in the consistory about all my life, and the school board before that. It strikes you that in every church the same people are there. They just look different. They have different names, but every church has the same people in it. You have ones that are easy to get along with, you got ones that are always kind of stirring up trouble, you got the old bullheads. Whatever church you go to, there they are. And you learn one thing: with any controversy you get into in the church, forget all about people. Look where the truth is. Stay with that. No matter what it takes, stay with that. The reason I say that is Jean and I are the only ones that remained. Now look at her family. All the kids have left the church. Her brothers and sisters still go to somewhat of a church, if you can still call it that. But all their kids are gone. They don’t go to church. They go to Christian Society, stuff like that. No preaching, no nothing.
So all the kids and all the grandkids are gone. When you get into a controversy in the church where the truth is at stake, you stay with that, because if you leave the church, you may still believe what’s right. The wife you married because you left the church probably might not. And you can forget about your kids being anything, and staying with the church at all. You lose them all. Mom and Dad used to tell us, “You don’t go with girls from the Christian Reformed Church.” Why not? Man alive, we could go to a Christian Reformed church and hear a sermon just like we do at our churches today, right? They’d say, “The seed of the destruction of the church is there. Only just a matter of time that it’ll go down hill.” In your mind’s eye, you visualize the church going [apostatizing] over eight, nine, ten generations, right? No. One or two generations—boom—it’s gone. Leave the truth, you’re out of it. It’s gone. So the most precious thing you have is the truth. And if you don’t hang on to that, you lose everything, and you sure lose your kids. There ain’t anything more terrible than seeing your kids and your grandkids leave the way of the Lord and go about their life without it, and watching what they turn into. It’s a sad thing.
MHH: Do you think that the rate of decline has increased in your lifetime? The decline was always there, but do you feel that it’s faster now?
RE: You mean in all our churches?
MHH: Well, in terms of departure in the generations. That maybe it took more generations years ago for people to depart and now it happens within one or two generations. Do you feel that the rate of departure has increased or not?
RE: The thing is that in ’24, our churches left, right? It’s taken awhile for them [the Christian Reformed Church] to get to the point where they are now. But in our generations—and I’m not looking at the history of the church now, I’m looking at the history of the generations of God’s people where some have split off and left the truth—one generation is all they get. They’re done. I look back and I see that same thing as long as I can remember. So it isn’t a matter of that it takes a long time. You lose your kids. You lose your church, you lose your kids.
One of the neat things about when we first came here to Loveland, they had just one cup for communion. That didn’t bother me any. When we came out here, we weren’t much for changing anything. We liked it the way it was. But later on, when the people started coming from back East, they said, ”This is the way we do it back East, so we’re supposed to change.” That was alright, but when we first came here, we just said, “Whatever they’re doing is good enough with us.” So we had the one cup. I remember Rev. Engelsma passing the cup around. It’d get part way, and he’d take his hanky out and redistribute the germs evenly all around the cup (laughter). And then he would start it over again. So, when we had communion, there was a mass change in where people sat. There were those who wanted to be way up in front where they’d be the first ones to use that.
That went on for years. Finally we got so many people that we were starting to go up there in two big groups. The consistory said to me, “Maybe we ought to change …” So I made up the octagon trays to hold all the little cups, and I think I made the trays for the bread too. We used those for years and years and years. So that was something pretty interesting. We had communion, and had people that really dreaded it in a way (laughter).
MHH: Mr. Ezinga, how would you compare the church of today with the church of your youth, or at least the church in bygone years?
RE: Are you talking about the church itself or are you talking about the way we observe the sabbath and things like that?
RE: OK. Well, you don’t see the reverence for the sabbath that we used to have. For instance. Saturday night I got on the steps to the basement with all the shoe polish and I polished all the shoes because you couldn’t do that on Sunday. We peeled all our potatoes for our meal Sunday on Saturday because next day was Sunday—you don’t do that. When Jean and I started going out together, there was just no way in the world you could go out on a Saturday night, because the next day was the Lord’s day. Now that changed between me and my brother. When he started going with his wife, they could go out every Saturday night, because she worked and I don’t remember what all the reason was. It didn’t make sense to me then and it still doesn’t.
I think that the kids respected the parents more. You almost had to like your old Dad [Herman Hoeksema,my grandfather, not my father]. I’d hear the people talk about him. I’m a little kid. He comes out there on the pulpit. I just thought he was really pretty close to being an angel. I was scared of him. When he preached on Revelation, I thought I’d never get to be ten years old. The end of the world was obviously going to come within the next week or so (chuckle). Scared me pretty bad.
You see also the way people dress for church. The men always wore a suit and a white shirt. I remember standing probably in First Church—it was either a classis or it was a synod. It was during a break and they were all standing outside. They looked like a great big bunch of penguins, all standing in black and white suits, huge clouds of smoke coming out of their nostrils. I said, “Dad, how come they all smoke?” “Well,” he says, “That seems to give them an air of mystery.” Fortunately most of them got over that stupidity. But we still have some of our ministers who still smoke.
Which brings me to my next thing—you talk about something I’d like to see changed? At the time of the second World War, people called those “cancer sticks.” The guys who came back were tough—they smoked. I remember my uncle Jack smoking like a fiend. I also remember him when we went to see him the last time when he was full of cancer and dying. He didn’t look all that tough any more. Since with all the things that science has figured out what it does to you, and especially to little ones, I have a real problem with this.
Let’s stop to think once. Say you had a flock of sheep, and there was something wrong with that flock of sheep that would knock twelve years off their life. It would destroy their lungs and their hearts. The little ones would be born deformed or too early and die. The shepherd of that flock would immediately start saying, “What in the world is going on? Better get rid of the shepherd.” Now, we are given oversight for the flock of God—the church. All these things that I just told you are just a small amount of what happens to people when they smoke. Our ministers will preach from Lord’s Day—sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” In that it also talks about that you don’t do anything that harms your body. You may not commit suicide. Now they’ll get up there and say things like it would be wrong for you to run out in front of a truck or in any way drive crazy to where it endangers your life, which is safe to say because nobody, is in the habit of running out in front of trucks. So that’s OK to say. But not a blasted one of them will say, “And when you smoke, you are setting yourselves up to die. You’re committing suicide practically.” And they won’t touch it. A few of them will, but it’s like the rest of them all got together and said, “We won’t touch that.” That’s the OK sin against the sixth commandment. Anybody that reads all those statistics—what it does to little kids and in a mother’s womb—it’s so bad that if the dad smokes and the mother breathes it, they can, with their ultra-sound, they can see that little kid in there just startin’ to go crazy with that smoke coming in. It shrinks down the tubes that feed the baby so that they don’t get oxygen the way they should. They come out with trouble with their brain. Ssmoking affects their genes so that they can grow up to be children that have very low mentality. It affects their ability to learn throughout their life. They won’t say a word about it. I don’t know what’s going on, but to me it’s just a terrible thing. We let them smoke right by our church.
So I’m on a campaign to stop that. I get into it with people all the time. You have ministers that are supposed to be people you can look up to and the buggers will stand there and smoke. Just stop to think of a missionary—and I know this for a fact, because I’ve seen it happen up in Spokane. You get people that come from a Baptist background. They’re way ahead of the Protestant Reformed churches because they got the intestinal fortitude, or guts, or whatever you want to call it, to simply, flat say that smoking is a sin against the sixth commandment. So they don’t smoke.
What does it take for our ministers to finally wake up? What do you have to do to them? Beat them over the head with a club? It’s so obvious. It can’t be argued against. They can say, “Well, it’s just (what do they call it again?) Christian freedom.
MHH: Christian Liberty?
RE: Christian liberty. Well, that’s not Christian liberty. Take only just a little bit of it and you’re already getting all screwed up.
MHH: Do you perceive any other differences, or similarities for that matter? I’m curious as to your view of the preaching. If you compare the preaching of today, over your lifetime, I’d like your thoughts on that.
RE: I don’t think it’s changed that much. I talk to men, who came from outside the church and the thing that really struck them about the Protestant Reformed Churches is that you can go to our church or you can go to any church—the form of worship is the same. The preaching is by a different man, of course, but it’s the same basic preaching all the way through. I don’t think that has changed a whole lot. We’ve got good faithful ministers. And we have a good seminary, as long as we are able to keep that seminary from preaching things that are like Calvin College. They started teaching all that other crap. They destroyed the church. No, I think we have pretty good ministers. They do well. There are some of them that have more talent than others. There are some of them who have more teaching people ability. But as far as preaching is concerned, I think pretty much the same.
MHH: Are there any other issues that you would like to address or any opinions that you would like to give—on any subject connected with the church?
RE: No, just what I’ve said. If you ever get into a big row over the truth, you’d better stick to the truth if you value your posterity.