Spirit Quest — Miracles


A woman on her death bed at 46 recovered to die at 96

Spirit alive in Dutch couple who survived nazis to thrive here
By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

Miracles might happen, or so it seems. Who am I to doubt it?

On a Sunday morning in 1961 as I approached my church in downtown Kingston, I saw a man sitting on the church steps. He rose as I approached and then introduced himself as a farmer from near Perth, Ontario. His accent informed me that he hailed from Holland and his rugged looks told me that he was a man of the soil. He explained that his wife was in the hospital across the street and very ill, would I go to see her and pray for her.

So it was that after the service I dropped in at the hospital  and visited a very ill woman. She looked terrible and I did not think that I would see her very often nor did the staff seem very positive. She was slated for surgery and I saw her once more before she was taken to the operating room. Cornelis, her husband, was not optimistic about the outcome but had placed his hope for his beloved Niesje in the hands of God. Nevertheless, over the four months in hospital she visibly improved each time I saw her. The staff including doctors regarded her as a bit of a miracle.

Her husband made the trek  down the winding Old Perth Road, nothing to what it is today, on a regular basis. Often after his visit he would drop by our place leaving fresh eggs, cheese and even bacon as well as other produce from his farm.  

Over the years Niesje’s health had numerous set backs. There was cancer and two hip replacement, nevertheless after recuperating from her first condition she returned to an active life as a farmers wife. She never learned to drive a car but could handle a tractor, no problem.

Their son Richard and daughter Mary grew up on the farm. Richard eventually took over the farming while Mary became a home ec teacher.

Niesje and Cornelis grew up in Holland and endured the difficult war years under German occupation. Her family were one of those brave people that hid jews, a very dangerous undertaking that carried a prison sentence or even summary execution.

In spite of being deprived many of their tools and produce by the alien army they made do. The German soldiers on one occasion took away their butter making equipment and then wondered how it was that they managed to continue their production. Nor did the occupation army prevent Cornelis and Niesje from marrying.

When liberated by the Canadian army in 1945 the couple started to make plans to immigrate to Canada where Cornelis’ brother had gone before the war. He sponsored them and so it was that in 1948 the Leeflangs arrived in Canada and began farming in the Balderson area just north of Perth.

Having moved from Kingston I lost track of them until one day recently I saw Niesje’s picture in the obituary column of the Ottawa Citizen. She had died at almost 96 years of age, 50 years after I had first met her. She was predeceased by her husband in 1979.

My wife and I immediately left for the 1 1/2 hour drive to attend the funeral. Before departing I packed up a red stole that I wear on occasion over a suit when I do not wear a robe. It was my first break from the traditional black clerical attire. What made that stole so special was that Mary, an excellent seamstress, as her mother had been, had embroidered it with the Chi Roh and the Ichthus insignia. I decided that I would bring it along not to wear but to remind her of our relationship to the family so long ago.

While Canadian soldiers occupy a very warm spot in the hearts of Dutch people, Canada has benefitted greatly by those immigrants from the Netherlands who were able to make “deserts bloom.” Being small plot farmers and used to hard labour and with imagination of the possible, they changed areas of this country such as Prince Edward County, south of Belleville. Our country is dotted with their neat and prosperous farms.

As my wife and I sat in the congregation at Balderson United Church along with many of their non Dutch neighbours and of course their children and grandchildren, and heard the minister, Jeff deJonge, a Canadian born Hollander, speak about the Leeflang family I recalled that first encounter with Cornelis on the steps of Cooke’s United Church in Kingston when it seemed that Niesje’s life hung in the balance, and my subsequent visits to her and her arduous journey from death’s door to full health. A miracle? Maybe.

Regular readers of this column and others who have heard my sermons know that I am no pietist. I like to think of myself as a “progressive Christian” who has a profound sense of the activity of the Spirit.  In that church in front of a wooden casket that contained the body of Niesje I felt the presence of that Spirit as a dynamic force in life.

The Hebrew word for spirit is Ruach. The first book of Moses generally called Genesis tells the story of creation. God took clay and with it formed a human likeness and then he breathed his own Ruach into it and it became a Nephesh Chayyah, a living being endowed with the Spirit. And while I certainly do not take this story as historic fact I am nevertheless aware of its powerful message  In Niesje and Cornelis as in many others I had seen the Spirit come alive.

The Spirit lives, and who knows, lives beyond the bounds of time and space. I personally find it harder to disbelieve that story.      

Hanns F Skoutajan  SQ 30/09/011

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