It was a dark and stormy night…! A lot of stories begin with those words. Well, my life began exactly in that way. A blizzard raged throughout Northwest Iowa in November of 1935. The power went out on the 22nd, so that I was greeted by a few flickering candles in the parsonage of the Orange City Protestant Reformed Church. My father was Rev. H. H. Kuiper, and Orange City was his first pastorate. He died at the age of 56 in Loveland, Colorado. My mother (whom the doctor had assured would not give birth for some time yet, so he was elsewhere) passed away in 1998 at the age of 91.
Where did I grow up? There’s no easy, brief answer to that since my father was a minister, and PKs grow up all over. Let’s just say that I lived in six states as a boy and young man. The upside of that was the travel; how fascinating to explore the new parsonage and town! The downside was that friendships were always very brief. I envy, for that reason, those that have lived their lives in one county or state. Also, my five siblings and I were always the new kids on the block, always on the outside looking in but seldom really a part of things. It was difficult also because changing schools was always a rather constant thing. At times we had to attend the public schools; at other times we were sent to the local Christian schools. I am thankful that we were able to attend the then new Hope School for my last three years of grade school. Because my father took a call to our Randolph congregation, I boarded out with people in Grand Rapids so I could attend Christian High for three years.
I began college at the University of Redlands, a beautiful campus that many of you have visited when conventions were hosted by our Redlands young people. I finished college with a degree in Chemistry, and then taught for four years in Edgerton, Minnesota, and at Hope School. Looking back, I see how God used those four years of teaching in two positive ways. First, because I had always been rather quiet and withdrawn, teaching forced me to be more out-going, to develop speaking abilities, and how to deal with people, both students and parents. Secondly, those years of teaching were used by God to equip me for thirty-five years of catechism teaching, an important aspect of the covenant life of the church and a work that I still enjoy immensely. Occasionally, people will say to me, “We can tell that you’ve been a teacher.” I’m not sure what that means exactly, but there it is.
I entered the Protestant Reformed Seminary in 1964. One regret that I have often reflected upon is that my father never knew that I entered the seminary and gospel ministry; he died during my senior year in college. I did inherit his library which was a great help to me during the past thirty-eight years. Seminary life has impressed many memories upon all who entered there. Classes were conducted in a room in the basement of First Church (Fuller at Franklin), a room usually too hot or too cold. We had Rev. H. Hoeksema for one semester, his last teaching before he had to retire. The work required in seminary was the most difficult I ever attempted, both as to the quantity and quality required. The first sermon text assigned to me for practice preaching was Hebrews 11:17-19, and I upchucked my breakfast before I went to school to (try to) preach it. A certain nervousness still overtakes me in the hours before I go on the pulpit.
God enabled me to persevere during those three years of training, so that I was ordained into the Ministry of the Word and Sacraments on October 1, 1967. Jesus Christ called and sent me to the following congregations: Randolph, Pella, Skowhegan, Maine as a missionary, Lynden, Isabel, Lacombe, and Southeast. After thirty-five years of service, twenty-five of them in the West, I became emeritus on January 1 of this year. I still perform some labors at Southeast until they receive a new minister, and plan to keep busy helping other churches as well, as God gives me strength.
Teaching little children has always been a delight for me, as it is to most pastors. I recall teaching a class of nine or ten year old children about Jacob and Esau. After stating that God loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born or had done good or evil, a young fellow immediately burst out, “That ain’t fair!” How true what Paul teaches in Romans 9:20 about natural man’s reaction to God’s sovereignty! I trust we got things straightened out for the lad. Another time I was teaching a lesson on the suffering and death of Jesus. A little girl began to cry. After class she came up to me to apologize, saying, “I’m sorry for crying, but it made me so sad.” What a lovely response to the gospel!
Our churches need ministers and missionaries. Our churches need young men to study for four years beyond college to prepare themselves for a lifetime of preaching and teaching. Have you, young male reader, considered this need and your suitability for filling this need? Is Christ calling you to be one of His ambassadors? Often times this great question is very difficult to answer. Perhaps the following questions, and your thoughtful answers to them, will assist you in coming to the right answer. You must pray about this matter often. You must talk with your parents, teachers, and officebearers as to what they think of your suitability and gifts for this kind of work. But in addition, consider such things as these: 1) Do you love the church? Are you concerned for her welfare, her peace, her prosperity as the ground and foundation of the truth? 2) Do you like books, and do you love to read? Do you enjoy studying languages and grammar? Do you have an appreciation for history past, and especially for church history? Books, grammars, lexicons, commentaries, orthodox and heterodox writing of all kinds…these will be your tools as you labor in the Word of God according to the Hebrew and Greek. 3) Do you love God’s people, and especially old people? I ask this not only because ministers must serve and assist a growing number of elderly in the churches, but especially because love for the aged and infirm reveals the presence of a tender, pastor’s heart! 4) Are you committed to the Reformed faith of Holy Scripture, so committed that you are “resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine, and to reject all heresies repugnant thereto….” Yes, those words come from the second question for Public Confession of Faith. But as a minister you will be at the very forefront of that battle of contending for the faith! For the glorious truth of the Reformed faith, are you ready to suffer all, and lose all, even life itself?
I have been asked to comment on the question, have I seen any significant changes in the lives of our young people during the last forty years? That’s a nice question to consider in our young people’s magazine; a question that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no.
The past four decades of Protestant Reformed church history reveals very clearly that God is saving His children out of our generations by bringing our young people to faith in Jesus Christ, to confession of His great Name before God and men, and to a godly walk in the footsteps of Him Who has gone before us. I am thrilled and encouraged by the faithfulness that our young folks demonstrate, by the grace of God, to the Reformed faith that we hold, and to the way of life that we espouse. There are always those that disappoint in these matters, that cast away from themselves all that is precious and holy (permanently, we do not know), even as the church always brings forth a two-fold seed. But God is faithful in providing us with good members of the church militant as one generation after another joins the church triumphant above, with leaders of the church of future years, and with fathers and mothers who will train up their children in the ways of the covenant. Surely we must recognize the work of our schools as a major means in these fruits. And let me add one more item of a positive nature; the young people on the whole are being faithful in church attendance, being present at both worship services. What a joy to behold!
Have I observed any trends that may be potential causes of concern? Of course I have. The age at which our youth are marrying has decreased significantly. Please don’t ask me to prove this with scientific data, but a while back the average age was around 25-27, and at present it seems to be closer to 19–21. With marriage come children, heavy responsibilities, and often times heavy debt loads. Let us marry in the Lord, and look before we leap.
There have been some changes, I believe, in a couple of areas of Christian life that are of concern to many officebearers. This has come to my attention through being a church visitor in both Classes for many years. Proper Sabbath observance is a concern. More and more activities are being allowed of a recreational, earthly nature on the day of rest. Secondly, there is a growing emphasis on leisure. Sports take up so much of our time; sports (active and passive) gobble up so much of our resources; vacations often times take us away from our churches and place us in very worldly environments. And thirdly, a definite decrease in respect for authority can be observed: parents in the home, elders in the church, magistrates of the state, and those who employ us at our work. We officebearers have many opportunities to address this issue in preaching and teaching, but the erosion goes on. We urge you to think through this issue in the light of Holy Scripture, and to hold fast the traditions you have received.
But on the whole, there is little change from the past and good hope for the future. To God alone be the praise!
Would you be interested in hearing some high points of my rather ordinary life? God gave me a faithful wife on August 20, 1965, when Velerie Miersma became my bride. The Lord then gave us nine healthy children: David, Bradley, Christopher, Bethany, Philip, Victor, Dwight, Lois, and Dana. I have had the privilege of baptizing most of our thirteen grandchildren. I recall meeting Dr. Klaus Schilder at my grandfather’s house in Doon way back in 1946 or so. After being released from a German prison, he came to the United States to meet with Rev. Hoeksema and speak in our churches. I also visited Rev. Hoeksema, with my father after “HH” had a stroke and was recuperating in the Sioux Falls, South Dakota, hospital. A statement that my father made fairly often, which made a deep impression on me was this: “I would rather be a minister of the Gospel than be President of the United States.” He firmly believed his was the more important office, and the work he performed of everlasting importance.
Above all, the outstanding feature of my life has been God’s faithfulness and grace to an unworthy, earthen vessel which enabled me to continue in the ministry all these years. Only by His powerful grace was I able to fight the good fight, finish my course, and keep the faith (II Timothy 4:7).
*V.D.M. is an old-time abbreviation for the Latin Verbi Dei Minister, or Minister of the Word of God.