New Horizons

Born in the OPC

John R. Hilbelink

My parents were members of Calvary OPC in Cedar Grove, Wisconsin, where my father and grandfather were charter members. I was baptized in Calvary Church by Pastor George Willis.

To visit my grandparents in Oostburg, we would ride past First Presbyterian Church USA on Main Street, where in June 1936 Pastor John DeWaard was removed from the ministry. He left with a large number of members to form a new congregation, Calvary Church—a major event in this small town of one thousand people. Now, wouldn't you think this was something we would have been told about early on? Calvary Church could have, but she did not. She was more concerned that we knew Christ and God's Word, and that the ministry of the gospel be supported at home and abroad.

How grateful I am to the Lord for being raised in a covenant home and in a church that is reverent in worship and sound in teaching—for pastors, but also for elders, deacons, teachers, and others faithfully serving as God has called them.

And serve they did! Zealous that we know the Scriptures and the way of salvation, they provided a full program of instruction, including Sunday school, catechism for elementary through high school, Junior and Senior Machen Leagues, and VBS (through eighth grade) every morning for two weeks.

Looking back, I am amazed at the time and energy our teachers gave for their church. Some who taught us served for many years—even after I had left for college, like Mrs. Frieda Wieberdink, our preschool teacher. And we memorized Scripture – such as Psalm 19 in Evelyn Koning's Sunday school class, catechism with teachers such as Carolyn Neerhof and Irwin Claerbaut, and ABC verses in Henrietta Meinen's Sunday school class: "A. And be ye kind one to another ... (Eph 4:32 KJV); B. But, be ye doers of the word ... (James 1:22 KJV)"—a new link added each week for twenty-six weeks.

If the OPC published something new, we had it in Calvary Church. From VBS a child takes home a large model of the tabernacle, and the parents wonder, "Where do we put this?" But the lessons pointing us to Christ in the sacrifices and the furniture were reinforced by the hands-on building of one's own model tabernacle: carving bronze basins out of soap, twisting pipe cleaners into lampstands, cutting out the patterns for the altar of burnt offering and other furniture and painting them all gold, and then the teacher (sorry, I don't recall her name) bringing personally embroidered cloth squares to serve as curtains before the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies—these are precious lessons a child won't forget. In other years we made model boats to put on a large map of the Mediterranean, marking Paul's missionary journeys. We made harps as we learned about the life of David and memorized psalms. We made a Bible game with tiddlywinks to learn the books of the Bible. It was disappointing when later we were told at General Assembly that Christian Ed would no longer publish these materials. One of the reasons? It was hard to find tiddlywinks. Well, our faithful Committee, through Great Commission Publications, has continued to publish excellent materials for VBS.

And we were taught the importance of missions. The Harvest Home Supper each fall was a special event. Well-appointed tables stretched from one end of the basement to the other. We would enjoy a great meal prepared by the women of the church, hear a pastor or missionary (Glenn Black's World War II bomber story and call to the ministry were riveting to a young boy), and, as a special part of the evening, would take up the Thank Offering. Teachers helped us remember our missionaries with devices like "Hunt hard for the spoon"—for Bruce Hunt, Ted Hard, and Boyce Spooner in South Korea. Missionaries would visit, such as Francis Mahaffy, who reported on his ministry in Eritrea with the Duffs.

Our ruling elders were faithful men who were sound in the Scriptures, such as farmer Herb Prange, store owner Harry Harmelink, and school teacher Wilfred Gesch. Many served as Sunday school teachers. My father's business partner, Ernst Wieberdink, taught church history to our high school class using B. K. Kuiper's The Church in History. The love of these men for their church and the Lord was evident in both service and fellowship.

Eventually the story of Calvary's origins was unfolded to me. Yes, the story revealed a rich heritage, through trial, of God's mercies in Christ to his church. And it revealed God's blessing on the church's prayerful focus on the gospel as our generation grew and moved. The question "Who made you?" once asked of us by our parents, we now hear our grand-children answer, "God." And out of Calvary Church and Bethel Church in Oostburg new churches have been formed in Menomonee Falls (Ben Snodgrass is now their pastor, a son of Calvary OPC), Green Bay, Janesville, Sheboygan, and elsewhere—churches that, like their parent churches, stand firm against the false doctrine that destroys us, because their first love is for their Head and Savior Jesus Christ and the gospel that saves us.

The author is pastor of Providence OPC in Rockford, Ill. New Horizons, June 2011.

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