It is June 21, 2008, and I am at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Bruinsma in South Holland, Illinois.
MHH: Mr. Bruinsma, where and when were you born?
RB: I was born in Highland, Indiana, October 10, 1924.
MHH: And who were your parents?
RB: My parents were Louis and Anna Bruinsma.
MHH: Were they born in this country?
RB: My father was born in this country and my mother was born in the Netherlands and came over here at the age of eight years old. My father’s parents were born in this country.
MHH: What can you tell me about your childhood and your youth? Where did you live, what was your church affiliation.
RB: I was born in Highland, Indiana, and grew up there as a young child. We didn’t live too many years in Highland before we moved to Lansing [Illinois]. In the early part of the ‘30s my parents were members of First Christian Reformed Church of Highland, IN. My father was contacted by my uncle who was already a member of the Protestant Reformed [PR] Churches, and he got my parents interested in the PR Churches.
In the early ‘30s we lived in Lansing a few years. I remember my catechetical instruction began when Rev. Peter DeBoer was our pastor. We grew up on the farm in Glenwood, and we were commuting to the South Holland Protestant Reformed Church.
It was kind of difficult for my mother to leave the Christian Reformed Church [CRC] because she had family there: her parents and some of her relatives. And she had friends in the church. My father was a member of the American Legion, and he was in the drum and bugle corps. My mother was kind of disturbed about that because he had to take care of the cloak room perform at the American Legion. She knew that there were things going on in the American Legion that did not harmonize with a good Christian life. So she said to my father , “If you terminate your membership in the American Legion, I will go with you to the PR church.” Which my father did.
Being members of the Protestant Reformed Church was a real joy to us. We had a difficulty at first—the ministers were always preaching in Dutch. Finally the church decided to go to one English service. I don’t remember the year, but that was in the ‘30s.
The time came that I grew up to be a young person of 18 years old, and in 1943 I had to register for the Army.
I registered in October, and I was inducted on April 14 of 1943. That’s when I really realized what it meant to have a good foundation upon which to build. The catechetical instruction I received equipped me with knowledge as a young person to be very serious-minded in entering into the service, because you enter into the cesspool of corruption. If it wasn’t for the grace of God, one soon would be swept along with the debauchery going on in the US Army. But it just brought it home to me how important your church family was to you, and I just missed that so much. It was only by God’s grace that I returned too because I was on the battlefield. My occupation in the Army was to be a medical technician, and my duty was to dress the wounded soldiers’ wounds and to carry them back to the aid station. In the meantime I had all kinds of bullets and shrapnel and artillery pieces coming in on me.
But it was such a great joy to me to have that knowledge that whether in life or in death, I was not my own, but belonged to my faithful Savior, for from day to day on the battlefield, you don’t know whether your life is going to be spared or not.
MHH: Where did you serve?
RB: I served in the Pacific—Japanese theater of war. In New Guinea I saw my first combat. That was quite an experience, because we were trying to take a rocky point. There was an amphibious alligator that was going around to get the location of an artillery piece. He finally spotted the artillery piece, but it was too late because they zeroed in on this amphibious alligator and blew it right out of the water. Three days later the bodies of the two men who were in there washed ashore. So they came to us medics and said, “Can we have a volunteer to take these bodies to the cemetery?” I volunteered for it, but it wasn’t a very pleasant job. In the meantime, the Japanese zeroed in on our position. I was back with the quarter-masters taking these bodies back to the cemetery, and I was allowed to stay in my camp that night when I got back from the quarter-masters. When I came there, there was just absolutely line upon line of wounded soldiers that were coming back from the front line. I could see how God, in his providential care over me, led me to volunteer for a nasty job, but that the Lord used it to spare my life.
Then we were alerted to go to the Philippines on January 6, 1945. I was in combat, and this is when I was wounded. I was picking a wounded soldier out of a foxhole. Just as we were coming up with him, I was struck with something in my right shoulder. It was a piece of shrapnel that come right past my head, right into my shoulder and come out the top. I was evacuated back to the station hospital and then to the division headquarters to another hospital. And my buddy was there. He came and I said to him, “George, would you get me my Bible and billfold?” And he said my belongings would be under my bunk. I had gone in surgery and I came out and they told me that that’s where I would find my belongings— my billfold, my driver’s license, my songs (Psalter numbers). He went under my bunk and said, “Ray, did you know this? Look here. There’s a bullet hole through the Bible.” And there was a little Dutch coin in my coin purse. The bullet had gone through that. It didn’t as much as touch me because of my thick clothes, and it went in on a slant. So it missed me. But there again, the Japanese were very good sharp-shooters. Many of the dead men that we carried off the field had a bullet hole right square center in the forehead—right between the eyes.
So those were the experiences I had as a young man, how that God by his grace and Spirit strengthened my faith in and through all of that, and how I experienced that God guided and directed every one of those pieces of shrapnel, the bullets. Because this bullet was intended for this [points to his forehead]. But I apparently moved at the right time. It didn’t hit me right between the eyes—all by God’s providence. He has our life completely in his hands. We experienced that as we got older too. All the trials that the Lord has sent upon our pathway turned out to be blessings.
Our whole life is wrapped up in the church and the church family. What a blessing it is to have a church family, because you experience that they are there to help you when you’re in need. I hope I haven’t gone off on a tangent because that’s probably not what you’re looking for.
MHH: No, you go off on any tangent you want to.
RB: But, anyway, now let’s get back to my experience in the church.
When we joined the Protestant Reformed Church, we’d been catechized with Rev. DeBoer. At that time we were attending the Munster Christian Reformed school. I was in the second grade.
Rev. DeBoer would come there on Saturday and teach catechism for us, until we started meeting at the church. But that was such a joy too, because even as a young child, you never really got that instruction in the CRC that you did in the PR churches because we’ve always been faithful in the covenant instruction and the covenant seed of the church.
And it pays dividends because it gives you the foundation upon which to build.
MHH: And you think that was true way back in those days?
RB: It never came clearly to my consciousness as when I got into my teenage years. Then I really began to realize how important that catechetical instruction was. When I entered the service, I was convinced that it was only by that instruction that the Lord used to equip me to be a faithful servant of his in those treacherous times of the war, when it would be so easy to take a eighteen-year-old young man and (because this is exactly what they did) say, “Hey, come on. Go with us to town. Have a good time.” Well, that going to town was drinking and women. And I said, “No. I have all I desire. I have my Bible here, I have my letters to write to my loved ones, I have my church periodicals. That’s where I find my joy.” That isn’t because of me; that’s because of the work of Christ’s Spirit within my heart. That I experienced, and I was so thankful for the foundation which I had to build on.
So that education had continued with Rev. Vermeer. I think it was in ’38 that Rev. DeBoer accepted another call and then Rev. Vermeer came. We continued our catechetical instruction with him. I can remember that sad history when we ran into problems with Rev. Vermeer.
MHH: I’d like you to talk about that.
RB: My father was in the consistory as a deacon at that time. But there was so much turmoil. The elders had gone in the other direction than my father. He spoke up and later on he was ticked on his fingers by the Classis, because he didn’t have the right, being a deacon. But he felt, because of the fact of the desertion of the elders at that time, that he had to speak something.
He was actually siding with Rev. Vermeer. Rev. Vermeer was a likable person. I can remember that as a child. But he appeared to have a problem with his own personal life, and there were those who had knowledge of this. That’s when the trouble all began with Rev. Vermeer. And it all went to Classis.
MHH: What were the issues?
RB: The issue was tipping the bottle too much. Tena’s [Ray’s wife] father brought her to catechism one night, and as he was sitting there waiting for Tena he saw Rev. Vermeer come out outside of the church building, and he was tipping the bottle. I heard this too. Nevertheless, he was upheld, and he continued to be our pastor.
That’s why many of our members that left at that time. Some of them have come back, but sad to say, they lost some of their families, because they never came back with them. This is the thing that always bothered some of these members, because they realized their obligation as a parent. You set the precedent for your children and your children go wrong, it falls within your responsibility because you have misled them by leaving the church.
Nevertheless, those are all sins God will forgive us when we repent of them. There were those who finally came back to the church. One of them made this remark: “I don’t know why it took me so long.” But he couldn’t get over that self-pride and humble himself to the point where he would have returned sooner. This was all in connection with that Rev. Vermeer problem, and they were on the side that was trying to get him to repent of his sins. Apparently he had a way of covering it up because he was upheld by the Classis, if my memory is correct. I remember my father pacing the floor at home after these meetings. He just couldn’t go to sleep.
So after that, we got Rev. Schipper. I loved that man. He was a good preacher.
TB [Tena Bruinsma]: He married us.
RB: And that’s when we got away from the Dutch service. We were still holding one Dutch service when Rev. Vermeer was there. But then we got Rev. Schipper. He said he knew his Dutch, but after he preached a couple of sermons, the elders said, “Nah. Listen, we’re going to have to go to English services,” because he didn’t know his Dutch well enough to preach a good sermon. So that’s when we got the English-speaking preacher, and from then on we had English.
We had good years with Rev. Schipper. We got that whole business [with Vermeer] calmed down.
MHH: Because those people had left?
RB: Those people had left. And they didn’t come back then yet.
MHH: I heard it said that they were probably right in their contentions but they lacked objective proof.
Is that a fair statement?
RB: That’s a fair statement. If they would only handled it differently, they probably would have been successful in proving what they were trying to say.
MHH: But you were saying that during the tenure of Rev. Schipper that things smoothed out.
RB: Yes, right. I don’t remember of any big issues where we had to have it settled by the Classis.
After Rev. Schipper, Homer C. Hoeksema came to us in 1955, and he stayed until 1959. He was there right at the time we were having that difficulties with 1953—the controversy our churches were going through with this conditional theology of those men that had traipsed out to the old country and tried to sell our churches down the stream by saying that was no problem, and these emigrants could easy become members of the PR Churches with no problem at all. That was not an issue. Well, it turned out to be quite a big issue because we don’t believe in the conditional theology as far as the covenant is concerned.
And that is so beautiful too. How our churches have developed that concept of the covenant! We can rejoice in that fact, because how would any believing child of God in his own strength in any way try to make something that he could do in order to attain unto salvation? That is an impossibility—if it isn’t a gift of God. For God is so plain in his word. “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourself; it is a gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship in Christ Jesus.” That’s how those good works flow forth from the child of God.
These are all things that caused a lot of difficulties in our churches. It was a big mistake in our churches, I think, at the time that Schilder came to this country. I know that your grandfather thought a lot of Schilder. But we opened our pulpits to that man, and I think that was a big mistake as far as our churches were concerned. We should never have done that, beause that gave him a little stronghold. Those men that left us thought, “Oh, boy, we got something to really build on now.” Schilder didn’t believe in the same covenant that we did. No way. We’re all human and we’re subject to making human errors. But I think that was a detriment to our churches.
In our churches even today we still have the truth of the word of God preached to us faithfully from Sabbath to Sabbath. I have no doubt about that. Our ministers are well endowed by the Spirit of Christ to bring to us the word, and we hear Christ speaking to us in and through the preached word.
But I fear that our younger generation is losing that antithetical walk that we are to walk—a straight line. ‘Cause, you know, it’s kinda been a bother to me. As I was a child growing up, we were told we may not attend movies. We had to stay away from the carnivals. Today you’ll see an announcement in the bulletin that young people are going to go to Great America for the day. Or they may be going to go out to the Sox game or the Cubs’ game. [If you oppose putting this in the bulletin] people say, “Oh, you’re too old-fashioned. I like baseball, but I watch it on TV. I don’t think that we should be leading our young people in that direction because they are the future church. If they’re not able to distinguish now between what they may do and not do, what’s going to happen when they become leaders in the church? They’re going to run into a difficulty that they aren’t going to see the evils of the world. You know as well as I do the world is pressing so in upon us from every side. Let us beware of it, because we can easily be turned away. The world is powerful, and the devil is going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
I think he’s working overtime in our churches. From time to time, difficulties that arise in the church—I understand that the last Synod had quite an agenda that they had to cope with because of this here business of home-schooling. I fear for those things. If we’re going to allow our people to home-school their children, we’re going lose our schools. I know from Scripture that it’s the parents’ duty to train their children in the fear of the Lord. That’s our calling. No doubt about it. But the fact of the matter is, when you have a school of your own, that doesn’t mean that the parents no longer teach their children in the fear of the Lord. They surely do. In fact, your schools are not going to be any better than what our homes are. If our children aren’t getting it in the home, they surely aren’t going to get it in the school.
If we live in the consciousness that we are so prone by nature to hate God and the neighbor, that we are incapable of doing any good, but for the grace of God, where would you and I go? We’d go just like the world. But God’s grace is sufficient to gird us with strength to keep us on that straight and narrow way. There are a lot of difficulties that arise in your life, and you have to fight them. [I have here redacted a fair amount of material of a personal and family nature. While Ray successfully uses this information to support his point, it is not appropriate to include his comments.] To be continued…