How God Prepared me to Trust Him

The Problem
As a Dutch boy, I was proud of being Dutch and our dike-building engineering abilities. By the time I was in Grade Nine in Canada, the Dutch had turned 6,800 square miles (4.5 million acres) of sea-bottom into farmland. Here’s a comparison with Canada: Each homesteader was granted 160 acres of land. The amount reclaimed from the sea by the Dutch would have been enough for 27,200 pioneer families’ homesteads. I should have had plenty of that high self-esteem for which the Dutch are famous. But I didn’t. My classmates often called me Dummy, and I felt that they were right.

I was always the last to be chosen on a sports team. I sucked at carpentry-shop, and was worse in arithmetic. I especially hated being called to the blackboard to solve an arithmetic problem in front of everyone. I always made mistakes, and everyone laughed at me.

I believed in God in a general way. But I had no close relationship with Him. I always felt guilty, either for things I should have done and didn’t do or for something I had done that I shouldn’t have done. So, even when I occasionally prayed that I would feel better about myself, I didn’t expect Him to do much for me. And then, one day, He did.

What I Didn’t Know
I knew all the things I wasn’t good at. But I didn’t realize that God had been preparing me for years to be good at something. He had helped me to develop a valuable skill with words—and I didn’t know it.

Growing up in Holland, I biked to the library every Wednesday to borrow two or three books to read that week. I was twelve years old when we left Holland, and I had probably read 500 books. In the two years in Canada, I read library books in the way fire reads kindling.

The Story
Then came the day in Grade Nine English class when the teacher taught us how to write a letter. I listened with half an ear because I had written lots of letters to friends in Holland, and besides, I had a book open on my lap and was engrossed in a gripping story. The teacher said, “Alright, everyone, take a sheet of paper and write a one-page letter to a friend. You have forty-five minutes.”

I thought of a funny idea for my letter, then looked up from my book. The whole class was scribbling, erasing, thinking, and scribbling some more. I kept reading my book. Suddenly the teacher warned us, “You have twenty minutes to finish.”

I closed my book and wrote a letter to an imaginary friend telling him about my weekend visit to some make-believe cousins who lived on a farm.  I wrote about climbing up the windmill tower. I wrote about chasing pigs that had escaped and about a bull that chased us.

To make the letter unique and easy to read, I quickly drew a little cartoon picture to replace every noun. I filled my whole letter with tiny sketches of fat pigs, flapping chickens, skinny cousins, an angry bull, a windmill, apples, a glass of milk, etc. Then the teacher said, “Time’s up. Hand in your letter.” I signed my letter and took it to her desk.

The Solution
The next day, the teacher said, “I am happy to say that many of you wrote excellent letters. But one of your letters was outstanding. It was one of the most original and best letters anyone has ever turned in during this class. I am putting it up in the school hallway for everyone to read and enjoy. Jack, congratulations on writing the best letter!”

Wow! I hadn’t expected that! What a surprise! It had been so simple, taking only twenty minutes. Even though I stank at many school activities, it was good to know I rocked at writing.  And best of all, nobody ever called me Dummy again.

The Best Lesson
In the last month of Grade Nine, I attended an evangelistic crusade meeting, where I heard that Jesus would forgive all my sins and be my Friend. I gladly accepted this great gift. No more feeling guilty! Yea!

It was then I realized that it was God’s Spirit who had motivated me to read so many books and to love words and that it was He who had given me the idea of using cartoon pictures to make my letter unique. I knew then I could trust Him forever.

 

You Cannot Learn Another Language Unless You Have This Ability.

The following language-learning story is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of my upcoming book of memoirs, The Adventures Begin. This event happened in October 1950, three months after our family arrived in Canada.
As a twelve-year-old, who had been an avid reader since age five, I was fluent in Dutch and had learned to understand Frisian, which my parents spoke to each other when they were talking about things I wasn’t supposed to know. English was my second language.

The Problem
We were about to drive into town for our Saturday shopping trip when Papa discovered our old car wouldn’t start. He needed to siphon some gas from the tank into a container so that he could pour it directly into the carburetor. He looked everywhere for a piece of hose.

Finally, he called me and said, “Run out to the Osten place and ask for a piece of hose.” Papa told me this in Dutch and used the Dutch word for hose, slang.

“Yes, Papa,” I said, “I already know the English word for slang.”

The Confusion
Many languages have words that could be the name of two different things. In English, for instance, a pipe can mean a small hand-held device to fill with tobacco and smoke from, or it can mean a ten-inch wide conduit to drain sewage. A bat is both a night-flying animal and an implement to hit a ball. The Dutch language has the same types of words. The Dutch word slang means both “hose” and “snake.” But I didn’t know that.

Twenty minutes later, I told Mr. Osten, “My father needs a snake.” When he looked confused and surprised, I explained, “He is fixing the car.” That didn’t seem to help.

So, I walked over to his pickup truck and pretended to shove a hose down the gas tank and suck on it to drain out some gas; I even made a horrible face and spat on the ground as if I had tasted some gas.

The Solution
Mr. Osten laughed so long and hard that I laughed with him. He went into his garage and got me a piece of rubber tubing that was exactly right. “This is a hose,” he explained, “not a snake.” I thanked him, and he clapped me on the back and said, “Thanks for the good laugh.”

As I walked back home, I was happy to have learned another English word. Mr. Osten had laughed at my mistake, and that was fine since I now had a new word to teach Papa and Mama. Supper time was when Papa always asked me, in his best English, “What new word did you learn today? Teach us. Or do I need to spank you?” That last part was just in fun, at least I hoped so. But I always made sure I learned at least one new word, just to be safe.

The Ability
I didn’t know it then, but long after I had mastered English, I would learn and become fluent in two more languages, each more difficult than the previous one. Learning to speak these languages required the ability to laugh with those who laughed at my mistakes. Oh, and it also helps to have healthy self-esteem—not a problem for most Dutchmen.