Editor’s Notes: These seven years saw Rev. Hanko do a great deal of traveling on behalf of the churches. The denomination also celebrated its fiftieth anniversary during these years. While Rev. Hanko does not mention the occasion in his memoirs, it must have been a joyful one for him. But his joy was surely tempered by the grief of losing his dear wife, whose death is recounted in this chapter.
Thys and Jeanette Feenstra rode with us from Redlands to Hudsonville, giving us the advantage of not having to travel alone, and giving them the opportunity to visit their family in Michigan.
Not long after we came, our furniture also arrived. So it was a matter of unpacking and getting settled. Once more the whole family was together in the Grand Rapids area, including Herm and Fred and their families.
It was especially nice for Mother to be near the grandchildren and to see them again. She knew that she would not have many years with us any more and was glad to have this short time. No noise was too great for her, as long as the grandchildren were having a good time.
Shortly after coming to Hudsonville, two young men of the congregation were killed in separate accidents. I took both funerals.
I also was called back to Redlands for two funerals there. I had very few funerals during my stay in Redlands, but Mrs. Ade Van Meeteren, mother of Chuck Van Meeteren and grandmother of Mrs. Don De Vries, died and I went to take her funeral. It was interesting to stay in the home of the deceased and see how the most intimate acquaintances came to the home to meet the family. It seems to me that this is so much nicer than going through the difficult period of endless visitors at the funeral home, often those who are virtual strangers to the family. What also appealed to me was the fact that the whole congregation, including the men, came out for the funeral service, which was at 11 o’clock in the morning. Afterward, lunch was served at the home of the deceased, and everyone was expected to be there.
A lot of our people were moving into the Hudsonville and Jenison area so the congregation grew steadily. The work was enjoyable here and the consistory most cooperative. One could never escape the fact that Rev. Vos had spent some years in this congregation and had definitely put a lasting stamp upon it. Throughout the years, even to this day, the older people liked to speak of something that Rev. Vos said or did.
In 1972 I was given permission to go to Jamaica to encourage and help Rev. Lubbers in his labors there. On my way out there, I intended to take the Jamaica plane from Chicago to Montego Bay. In fact, the plane did start out about 10 AM, but we were hardly airborne before an engine gave out. The pilot re-landed rather abruptly. The man sitting next to me said, “They almost killed us.” I answered, “It wasn’t that bad.” In the terminal this man stayed close to me, possibly thinking that, “in unity there is strength.” When I went for lunch he went along. At about two o’clock a call came over the intercom that the Jamaica passengers should go to the Delta desk. Soon after we arrived there, we were informed that there would be no room for us on that flight. The man responded, “That’s twice.”
Between three and four o’clock we boarded a flight to Jamaica. But we were no more than airborne and the announcement came over the intercom, “This plane will not stop in Atlanta, as intended, but at Jacksonville.” My new friend responded, “That’s three times. I’m going back to Chicago.” I asked him whether he did not have a God in whom he put his trust. I told him that if God wanted me to go to Jamaica, I would get there, no matter what. He said, “Never mind. Don’t start that kind of talk.” From that time on he was silent, but at Jacksonville he disappeared, and I continued on my way without him.
Rev. Lubbers was looking forward to my coming and was sadly disappointed when I did not arrive as scheduled, without an explanation of my delay. In fact, I had requested that he be paged at the airport, but he never heard it. Since I did not know my exact destination I was not allowed to leave the airport. But I called a taxi driver who agreed that he would take me to a hotel in the city. The next morning, I visited the post office to get the Lubbers’ address. They only knew the general direction. We headed that way and, when we got close, we stopped at a store. I walked in and called, “Does anybody here know Rev. Lubbers?” A lady in the store, who was also a neighbor of the Lubbers, told the taxi driver how to find their residence. How surprised they were to see me! If I had suddenly dropped out of the sky, they could not have been more elated. Rena was raking the lawn, and she dropped the rake, did not even greet me, but ran into the house crying, “George, George, Case is here!” Soon we were busy visiting the various churches, as well as teaching his students.
One Sunday evening we were coming home from a church service when the engine of our car began sputtering. Every time we climbed a hill the sputtering increased. Down hill we had no trouble. This part of the island was not very safe, especially not for white folk who might have money on them. So we sputtered along, breathing a prayer that we might make the next grade. We were thankful when we arrived home again.
I should tell about an interesting experience in one of Rev. Eliot’s churches.1 This church was on the eastern section of the island. To get there we had to get off the main road and ride five miles along an almost impassable road, full of deep ruts. Every time we dropped into a rut we wondered whether we would pull out. After that there was a forty-five minute climb to the church. A young woman, eight months pregnant, a Miss Hill, took it upon herself to lead us to our destination. She climbed easily along those rocks. When we arrived, the church mother set out two chairs for us, and told the women to keep away from us. When all was arranged in the tabernacle, the mother came out and said to the women, “Cume, Cume.” So the women went in. It was evident that this mother was going to be sure that she had charge of the situation. So I told Rev. Lubbers to go to the pulpit at once and conduct this as a formal service.
The reason we had come was that Rev. Eliot had complained that this group did not want him to preach for them any more. So we were here to investigate what the problem really was. A thunderstorm came up out of the sea. Immediately the mother ordered me away from the open window and moved my briefcase closer in as well. She wanted to remain in authority in her church. She also requested that we ordain two men, who in her estimation had come to “the state of grace.” This we refused to do.
It took a lot of questioning. We even called aside Rev. Eliot with some of the men of the group. Finally the information seeped out that Rev. Eliot was chasing away the young people of the church. It took a bit for Rev. Eliot to admit why this charge was brought against him. But finally it came out that this group would have their love feasts at which curried chicken was enjoyed and everyone joined in a lot of singing. Emotions rose as the tempo increased, until two of the opposite sex would wander off to the tabernacle, or to the manse, or to the woods, to engage in sexual improprieties.
This we strongly condemned, agreeing with Rev. Eliot that these things ought not be. We insisted that either they would be willing to have Rev. Lubbers come there at regular intervals, or we would shake their dust from our feet. After a few days we were informed that they preferred the latter. No more was heard from them.
On the last Sunday I was there, we both preached in the Waterworks congregation, Rev. Lubbers in the morning and I in the afternoon. There was a couple with three children who had walked three miles to church in the morning and three miles back home. We told them that we would pick them up for the afternoon service, but by the time we arrived at their home they had long ago left for church.
During the service we had a severe electrical storm, so that I had to quit preaching for awhile. We all huddled in the center of the building and sang Psalter numbers. When the storm was over, the elder reminded the congregation of what I had already said, repeating it almost verbatim, and even adding parts of Rev. Lubbers’ sermon of the morning. After the service we offered to take this family home, but we had water in our gas tank, so they were forced to walk home again.
Some of the older folk in Jamaica were taught the five points of Calvinism. When one woman was asked what Calvinism meant to her, she was able to respond, though she had little or no formal education, “I am nothing but a poor, lost sinner. God always loved me as one of his sheep. Christ died for his sheep, so also for me. He gave me faith, so that now I believe in Him. He will always care for me, protect and watch over me as one of his sheep.” In her own way she did include all five points. Not a bad way to know Calvinism.
Two and a half years Mom enjoyed her new surroundings in Hudsonville, but gradually the full reality dawned on her, that no amount of exercise could change her condition. More and more she became discouraged with the effort, but we felt that as long as she was trying she would not give up completely.
Going to church was difficult for her, especially because the crowds bothered her, and she could not communicate. She did attend the Adult Bible Class even until the very last. On the last evening that she attended she suggested that we sing Psalter number 17.
One of the last two Sundays that she attended church, coming in by the back way with the least steps, she complained, “I can hardly do it anymore.” We also realized that it was getting very hard for her, but did not want to discourage her from going.
On Thursday evening, March 6, 1973, she complained that she was sick, terribly sick. I tried to get a local doctor, but none was available. It became evident that she might soon lose consciousness, so we called the ambulance, which took her to Blodgett Hospital. Dr. Avery was there, waiting for her. He gave a complete report of her case history to the resident doctor without any notes before him. I was amazed how detailed he reported on all that had happened since he first saw her in 1948. Afterward he said to me, “I made one mistake. I said that you had gone to Wisconsin. I meant California.”
On Friday evening he told me that Mom’s heart was so severely damaged that she could not possibly recover. A year before that, he had called me into his office to show me x-rays of her heart. At that time he said, “Have you ever seen a heart as large as that? That is going to give us trouble.”
I urged Dr. Avery, if there was no possibility of recovery, to make the end as easy for her as possible. I did not want him to hook her up with all kinds of artificial means of survival, if it was hopeless anyway. During the night from Friday to Saturday the nurses did start her heart again. Again I urged the doctor not to add any unnecessary suffering. He gave the order to the nurses to let her rest as quietly as possible. That same evening she left us to enter her heavenly home. The next few days were almost like a nightmare. It is nice that people come and express their condolences, but this was so wearisome that I gave a sigh of relief when it was all over. What I did appreciate was that the night Mom died, the family went to Fred and Ruth’s house where we sang Psalter numbers. I also appreciated the fact that on Sunday morning Prof. Hoeksema preached on Hebrews 4:15-16, which was very comforting. I also was glad that after the funeral we could be together as a family in the basement of Hudsonville church, where the ladies served us supper.
Mom was sixty years old when she died. She had a hard life behind her. Since she was twelve years old, she had had a weak heart, but she was still required to do much of the work in caring for a family of thirteen. Married life was not always easy either. There was not only our growing family, but also the near poverty conditions in the early years of our marriage. Besides, a certain extra responsibility rests on the shoulders of a “Juffrouw,” or minister’s wife.
So Allie and I were left with just the two of us. But the Lord has always provided, even in an amazing way.
For a few years, Ann Griffioen came in one day a week to clean the house.2 Allie had a job of babysitting in a home where the mother had died and left the husband with three children. Later she worked a year and a half in the kitchen of Brookcrest Nursing Home washing dishes. And after that she had another job of babysitting for a lady who worked and needed someone to watch the little ones.
In the summer of 1974, I was asked to make another trip to Jamaica, this time with Rev. John Heys. Because this was so soon after Mother’s death, Allie accompanied me.
When we left, I picked up my tickets, assuming that Allie’s was included with mine. When we arrived at Kent County Airport, I had no tickets for Allie. They would furnish me with tickets to Chicago, but not beyond. When we took our seats in the plane, a man came to sit across from us, who said that he overheard us at the airport. He wanted to pay for her ticket to Jamaica. I told him that this would not be necessary, since I was meeting Rev. and Mrs. Heys in Chicago, who would help me pay for the ticket, if I lacked the money. Upon arrival in Chicago, the man accompanied us out of the plane and down the concourse insisting that he was going to buy a ticket for Allie. Since I did not know what he was up to, nor why he would be willing to do this, I insisted that this was not necessary. But he kept coming along. Finally I stopped and told him that we were not going on until he left us. Rev. Heys helped us buy a ticket for the rest of the trip.
We met Rev. and Mrs. Heys in Chicago, since they had gone earlier to Chicago to see her mother. Rev. Heys requested and received from the airlines a pass to sit in the cockpit of the plane on the trip to the island. So he sat in the cockpit from Chicago to the Bahamas, and I sat in the cockpit from the Bahamas to Jamaica. The captain kindly explained the various instruments to me while in flight, and told me to watch when we were making our descent.
We rented a motel room at Montego Bay and rented a car. We were supplied with two maids who made the meals and cleaned the rooms. Soon we were under way visiting the churches.
One task that was entrusted to us was the ordination of Kenneth Brown and Leonard Williams as ministers in the Jamaican churches. Rev. Heys made a trip to Shewsberry to pick up five women, relatives of Brown, who was to be ordained in Fort Williams. Rev. Frame read the Form for Ordination. At the close of the service, various people stepped forward to make a speech of congratulations. Especially the women from Shewsberry became very emotional and began singing and swaying. In fact, they almost pushed Mrs. Heys and Allie out of the tabernacle, so that Allie grabbed hold of Mrs. Heys. We decided that this was enough, so we told Rev. Frame to end with the benediction. He called them to order, pronounced the benediction, and then Rev. Heys and I left. How long the ceremony lasted in the tabernacle, we will never know.
One Sunday, Rev. Heys and I decided to join a service that was being conducted by Alvin Beckford. We quietly took our places in the back seat. He was preaching on the same text that I had used for the installation of Rev. Brown. We both were amazed how well he had remembered my sermon, and did not mind at all that he was repeating it. It just shows that the Jamaicans for the most part could not read well, but that they have learned to listen and retain what they hear.
Rev. Heys and I also supervised the ordination of Leonard Williams in Belmont by the sea. This congregation had a very poor tabernacle consisting of nothing more than a few posts with palm branches for covering. Since it was raining, the water was dripping down our backs. I suggested to an elder that we have another meeting place, so he offered his home. As we walked to his home, we walked through the weeds getting our suits wet and muddy. There the living room was set up for the service. Rev. Eliot requested that Leonard get down on his knees next to the table. Throughout the reading of the Form, Leonard was there behind the table. When Rev. Eliot came to the point of asking the questions he leaned over to Leonard, who lifted his head to answer. This went on with all the questions. Finally, he was allowed to get up and sit on a chair.
Later, Alvin Beckford was ordained in Cave Mountain, and Trevor Nish in Lacovia. But we did not participate in those ordinations.
During our stay on the island we had two funerals. One day we were informed that the sister of Kenneth Brown, who lived in the States, had been beheaded, and that her body was being shipped to her mother’s home. The funeral was planned for a Sunday, so Rev. Heys and I agreed to take the service if they could have it at 7 o’clock in the morning. They agreed to this. After the service, the casket was placed on a pickup truck and taken somewhere to the hills where it was buried.
One Sunday morning while Rev. Heys was preaching in Waterworks, a man was called out. He came back, took his seat, and sat through the service. After the service, he asked if Rev. Heys would take the funeral for his seven-year-old boy. Rev. Heys looked at him in amazement. “Yes,” he said, “I was informed during the service that my boy, who was in the hospital, had died.” The next day Rev. Heys and I went to conduct the funeral. We found that the casket was not yet ready. The ladies in the church had washed the body, and others were making the casket. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon they were ready for the service. We went up an incline, set the casket on a chair and the father stood by the casket. Rev. Heys preached the funeral sermon. This man’s wife was with the women who stood to the side, availing themselves of every opportunity to sing. Then we went to the top of the hill where a grave had been dug. I conducted the committal service. The father wanted to say a few words, but the neighbors thought it was growing late and started shoveling in the dirt. I took the man by the arm and walked down the hill with him. I said to him, “You have not cried since your boy died, have you?” He shook his head. I asked him, “Why didn’t your wife stand by the casket with you?” He answered “It’s not her boy.” Then I suggested to him that he go off somewhere by himself and have a good cry. “And,” I added, “tell God how you feel. He will understand.” A few days later he came to me and whispered that he had cried. Strange! These people were often so emotional, and yet at funerals they seemed to hide their feelings.
The time had come to return home. The air was very turbulent on the way home, so that we had quite a bumpy ride. Most of the way it was like riding on a rough road.
This same year I went to Lynden to spend a few weeks there. Since I was alone in Lynden’s parsonage, the daughters of Ralph and Etta Vander Meulen called every day to inquire about my welfare. Many of congregation either brought in food or invited me over, so that my main meals were usually supplied.
Hudsonville PRC continued to grow. Every week it became increasingly difficult to find seats in the auditorium. We were soon compelled to place some of the people in the basement. Later, we installed a closed circuit TV for those who sat downstairs. But this could be only a temporary measure. Almost everybody talked about building a new church.
We looked for a piece of land at our present site off 32nd Street, but the farmer who owned that entire section and raised corn on it demanded an exorbitant price. So we bought land by the water tower on 36th Street. No one was happy with that, especially because New Holland did not yet run through and the people coming from the south had to go way around to get there. Then someone bought the entire cornfield off 32nd Street for condos. He was interested in having people move into these condos, so he offered us the top of the hill, exactly the piece of land we had been wanting to buy.
A ground breaking ceremony was held and the work begun. We had opportunity to sell our old building, so we rented the public high school auditorium and met there until the church was ready. On Thanksgiving Day of 1977 the cornerstone was laid with a short ceremony.
At first there was some objection to building a new church. Some of the older members were attached to the church edifice where they had worshipped for so many years. The architect suggested that we acquire as much help from the members of the congregation as possible. This had a very favorable result, for even those who had been opposed felt that this new building belonged to them, because they had done some of the work on it.
In every congregation, there are quiet unassuming members of the church, who are virtually unnoticed among us, yet are a real blessing to others. These are often wives who are submissive to their husbands, yet in a kindly way do guide their mates with spiritual wisdom. As mothers in the home they teach both by word and example. They often have a word for the weary, encouragement for the distressed, a pot of soup or some baked goods for the sick and aged.
One of these saints had seen her children grow up and leave the shelter of the home. She had experienced the loss of her husband and was now in a home for the aged.
One morning I found her poring over her Psalter. To my inquiry, she answered that she was reading the Lord’s Day on which the minister was to preach the following Sunday. She said that her memory was so bad that if she did not read the Lord’s Day every day she would not be prepared to listen properly on Sunday.
I often saw her in the audience, listening so intently that, unawares to herself, she was sitting on the very edge of her seat. That alone is an inspiration for any minister. Besides, what an untold blessing these women are for their children and grandchildren as well as for others. These saints may far exceed us in glory.
1 Rev. Eliot was a minister in the Jamaican churches.
2 Ann is the wife of Arie Griffioen, a nephew of Rev. and Mrs. Hanko.