Last week (to be precise: on June 6) the Adventist Church in Leeuwarden concluded its celebration of the centennial of Adventism in Friesland. Chapeau for how the Frisian Adventists used this celebration to underline their presence in the city and the province. The media noted it on more than one occasion, and rightly so.
During last week’s reunion of current and former members of the Frisian Adventist Church special emphasis was on the history of the Adventist Church in the Netherlands, with particular attention to the pioneers of the first hour who played an important role in the Northern part of the country: the pastors Wibbens, Klingbeil and Schilstra. Pastor Henk van Rijn had been invited to give two presentations. We (for I had he privilege to also be invited for that day together with my wife) were able to enjoy the way in which van Rijn presents his programs. At such occasions he is a combination of an excellent entertainer and a good historian. It takes little effort to keep listening to him with fascination, and one goes away with a treasure of information.
Of course, in the context of this special day it was impossible to deal with the entire period of about 120 years of Dutch Adventist history in full detail. What follows in this blog is, therefore, not a criticism of the program of June 6, nor of van Rijn’s part in it. It simply serves as an incentive to make a few remarks about something I have often noticed (and that has at times disturbed me) when we hear the story of Dutch Adventism. Usually it is mainly about the ‘pioneers’, as e.g. the persons named above, and aJoseph Wintzen and his son-in-law F.J. Voorthuis. However, that is where the story usually stops. Even Voorthuis, in my view, frequently does not get the attention he deserves. In spite of his rather authoritarian leadership style (what he had in common with several of his predecessors and contemporaries), he was the person who has helped change the status of Dutch Adventism from a strange American sect into a ‘normal’ Dutch Protestant denomination. And, in my opinion, it is about time to also mention the name of K.C. van Oossanen a bit more often. To many of the younger generation and to many who have recently joined the church, he is totally unknown. Yet, he served the Dutch church for some two decades as leader and also had a major role in European Adventism. It may be too early to look with some objectivity at some of the leaders who came after him, but K.C. van Oossanen is among the leaders who deserve to be mentioned when Dutch Adventist history is discussed!
It should, however, be stressed that a survey of the personalities and initiatives of the leaders is not enough to get a balanced picture of how the church in the Netherlands has grown from a very small beginning to what it is today. For those leaders did not work in a void. They were supported by fellow-leaders and colleagues and other employees, who are, unfortunately, seldom mentioned. And there has always been an extensive network of men and women in local churches and at other levels who invested an enormous amount of energy and time in their church and played thereby an important part in its development.They must also have a prime place in the story of Dutch Adventism.
I hope that pastor Henk van Rijn (for he is no doubt the most appropriate person to do so) will decide, some time soon, to write that kind of a history of Dutch Adventism. I believe that, if we do not know where we have come from, we will find it difficult to perceive how far we have come, and perhaps also cannot develop a bold enough vision for the future direction for the church!