God gave Gordon and June Van Overloop a baby boy on February 13, 1949. I was baptized by the Rev. Gerrit Vos as a member of Hudsonville Protestant Reformed Church.
For the first four and half years of my life I lived on 84th Street in Byron Center, Michigan (just a block away from the present location of the Protestant Reformed Church in Byron). At that time the efforts to establish a Protestant Reformed Church in Byron Center had ceased, and those in this community who desired to be Protestant Reformed traveled to the northwest about ten miles to attend the Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville. Love for God and His Church overcame any obstacles created by distance.
When it was time for my elementary education to begin my parents saw the need for a move. There were no bus routes from Byron Center to Hope Protestant Reformed Christian School in Walker. For them this move was necessitated by their love for God and for their children. As well, they were very conscious of the vows they had made at baptism, namely, to see their child “instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine…to the utmost of their power.” They would do whatever it took to have their child properly educated. So my parents moved to Hudsonville, to a house on 32nd Avenue (just two blocks from the present location of the Protestant Reformed church in Hudsonville). There was a long bus ride to Hope School on a route which included stops as far west as Beaverdam, but that would not stand in the way. An interesting note is that the bus driver during my eighth and ninth grades was a young man who was in his last two years in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. His name was David Engelsma.
When I began attending Hope, there were only four classrooms. During my years at Hope God blessed the school with good growth, so that the school expanded a couple of times. My first teacher was Miss Jessie Dykstra. Teachers who later had to put up with me were Miss Delores Mensch, Mr. Jim Jonker, Mr. John Buiter, Mr. Lamm Lubbers, and Miss Agatha Lubbers. Strong memories exist of a solid education, with a Protestant Reformed basis. This education was also a part of the means God used to prepare me for the ministry.
After graduating from Hope School in 1963 I attended Unity Christian High School in Hudsonville, from which I graduated in 1966. Then it was on to Calvin College, where I enrolled in a pre-seminary course of study. Studies at Calvin ended after only two years there. At that time there was much concern about the education received in the colleges. So the Synod and the Theological School Committee of the Protestant Reformed Churches urged the men who were taking pre-sem courses in college to come to the Seminary. The seminary professors, Prof. Homer Hoeksema and Prof. Herman Hanko, agreed to teach the remainder of the pre-sem requirements for these collegians, as well as all of the regular seminary subjects. As a result of this plea, in September of 1968 I began attending classes at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The seminary was situated in the basement of old First Church, located at the corner of Fuller and Franklin in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The four years spent in the Protestant Reformed Theological School were good years, filled with activity. First, there was the hard work required by the professors. They worked hard, and they expected the seminarians to work hard. The love the professors had for God, for His truth, for the church, and for the Protestant Reformed Churches was a love they sought to instill into their students. A great education was given, which fully equipped one for the ministry in our churches.
In addition to getting an education, I got a wife. During the first of those four years, I courted Susan Swart, the oldest daughter of Bill and Ruth Swart, who were members of First PRC in Grand Rapids. In the summer of 1969 we were married by Rev. Gise Van Baren. The marriage was another powerful means the King of the Church used to equip me for the ministry. Before graduating, the Lord blessed our marriage with two healthy children—still another means in God’s all-wise hands to equip and develop one to be His servant.
How did it happen that I thought to become a minister? At first, I did not think it likely, nor possible. My earliest memory came through brief comments made by Rev. Vos during catechism classes. Not often and not a lot, but a seed sown. I remember that my reaction was to blush and say, “Never.” But the seed of the possibility of the ministry was sown, and God watered that seed. Maybe having a seminarian for a bus driver was a way God reminded me of the seminary and ministry every day for almost two years. My parents encouraged all of their six sons to consider the ministry or teaching. They saw the great need in the churches and schools they loved—a love they sought to instill into their sons. The churches and schools were frequently in their prayers, so it was natural that they urged their sons to consider whether the Lord would call them to serve Him in these ways. And Rev. Vos continued, in his inimitable way, quietly to sow various seeds in my mind and soul that maybe the Lord wanted me to serve in the gospel ministry. In the ninth grade a profile had to be filled out, which profile was to be used in the Hope Echoes, the school’s annual. In response to the question about an intended career, I remember thinking about becoming a preacher, but I felt it would be too bold to say this. So instead of putting down “preacher,” I wrote “teacher” (though that too was written with trepidation). I can remember that when some of my classmates discovered what I had put down, a couple of them expressed themselves in agreement and one said what I had not dared to write, “What about becoming a preacher?” This was a God-given encouragement needed by one so hesitant. This was positive peer pressure. (To be continued in the next issue.)