Music in the Woods (2)

The forest rang with the crack of axes and the zip-zeep of saws. It was the sound of hard work. Several log buildings joined the site of the tiny Indian settlement on Black Lake, and as more Dutch immigrants continuously arrived, more and more dwellings were needed. Amidst all the chop-chop-chopping in the woods, the birds sang with clear, sweet melodies of praise to their Maker—but that was not the only praise heard in the forest. The men sang too. Freely, without persecution, they sang aloud the songs of Zion as they worked. They sang the Psalms that expressed every joy and sorrow, every fear and hope they ever felt as children of God. It truly was a concert of finest music in the woods.

They had reason to sing. After a perilous journey across the Atlantic to arrive in the woods of West Michigan, they had scrambled to build log cabins—cabins with little protection against cold and rain. The journey had been difficult, but this wilderness was worse. Lack of proper food and shelter, along with mosquito-born disease brought much sickness and death. In the summer of 1847 Rev. Van Raalte preached words of comfort and hope to his immigrant flock, but it was a difficult time for him, too. At one point he exclaimed, “Lord, must we all perish then?” They clung to the Word. They continued to sing. In the Psalms were the comfort and courage they sought. In the Psalms they gave thanks in all things.

Yet in all their problems and set-backs, the building progressed and more immigrants came. Other settlements were established in surrounding areas with several Reformed churches and ministers moving in. Though not without troubles, the area was fast becoming what Rev. Van Raalte had hoped. It was, for the most part, a colony of Dutch Reformed people. Graafschap, Noordeloos, Drenthe, and Zeeland were among the settlements that joined the “city” of Holland near Black Lake. They were a colony of Dutch immigrants who had learned poverty and persecution in the Netherlands, but who had learned something else too—the truth. Though they were still gravely poor in this new land, here they could freely preach and teach the truths of God’s sovereignty in salvation, of election and reprobation, and of grace alone for God’s people. And here they could sing of these truths in the Psalms.

In May of 1848 one new arrival to the area had this to say about these Dutch folk:

The first thing which attracted my attention on the morning of my arrival was the singing in all the little houses near us. I soon learned that my neighbors sang psalms after every meal. (Anna Post, 1848)

These Dutchmen would need to keep singing such words of courage and truth. Their trials were by no means over.