Hans Bouwman, Japan - 4 - Preparation for Full-Time Service

Preparation for Full-Time Service

A few weeks after my baptism I was received into the fellowship of an assembly which had been established in 1925 as a result of Mr. Peter Wilson’s Gospel preaching. A happy and joyful spirit existed among the assemblies in Holland, and I remember how I was especially blessed during the time of conferences. However, after Mr. Peter Wilson went to be with the Lord in 1950, the assemblies were left with only a few brethren capable of ministering the Word of God. As time went by it became more and more evident that there was a great lack of teaching Scriptural principles concerning the truth of gathering unto the Lord’s Name. Increasingly, the assemblies lost their identity and the Christians became restless and unhappy, so that some even left. Unfortunately in some cases whole assemblies became denominational churches. It was a time when conviction became weaker, due to a lack of appeal to earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). As I was still young I did not realize the impact of these developments. I desired to be active for the Lord and participated in all the activities of the assembly. These included regular tract distribution, open-air meetings, Gospel outreach in hospitals, senior citizens homes and a nearby gypsy camp. I always felt happy when I could speak about the great love of the Saviour and what a joy it was to sing together of our blessed Redeemer!

In fellowship with the assemblies in Holland and Belgium, I felt led to organize a Gospel tour through Belgium during the summer of 1952. Being confident of the Lord’s guidance we set out on our long bicycle tour with twenty young people. We carried a good supply of tracts and, after crossing the border, we went from place to place conducting open-air meetings in the market square or at street corners. Thousands of tracts were distributed, and in contacting the people we experienced
wonderful opportunities to testify about the living Saviour. In the evenings we enjoyed the sweet hospitality of the Christians from the Belgian assemblies. On many occasions these Christians joined us in the open-air work to make Christ known to a people bound in the superstition of Roman Catholicism.

It was during this time that I felt the Lord speaking to me. Increasingly my thoughts were occupied with what it could mean to serve the Lord full-time. Not long after, I plucked up courage to speak about my burden to the elders of my home assembly. I was very happy to find a listening ear and to have their understanding. However, since I would be the first missionary from Dutch assemblies, the brethren did not exactly know what to advise me. It was suggested that I should go to a Bible school, preferably to the one run by assemblies in Germany. “Without training you cannot go out as a missionary”, was their reasoning. Being still young, I accepted the advice of the respected elders, but in the course of my life’s experience and with an increasing conviction about the principles of the New Testament, I realized later that the training ground to become a missionary is not a Bible school or a theological seminary, but the local assembly. It is evident that training in an institution can even spoil the simplicity of God’s Plan manifested in Holy Scripture.

bible students

Bible students with teachers: Mr. Erich Sauer, Mr. Ernst Schrupp, Mr. Heinz Kohler

According to Scripture the potential to be used in the Lord’s service lies in proper fellowship with a local assembly, since this is the place where He dwells in the midst of His people. Certainly an assembly is not perfect and it could manifest various weaknesses and imperfections, but if God’s Word is recognized as the only source of authority, all the spiritual resources are available for training a young believer for Christian service. Preparing oneself for His service lies in faithfulness towards the local assembly and participation in all its activities. Training is also essential in one’s private life, which should be characterized by an orderly and disciplined manner. Much time should be spent in private prayer and reading and studying the Bible, for it is vital to get a good grasp of the truth of Scripture. This type of training goes hand-in-hand with being a soul-winner in reaching out to the unsaved. In this whole endeavour, younger Christians in particular should learn with a humble spirit from men of experience in the faith, as seen in the Acts of the Apostles. These are the Scriptural ingredients for becoming a missionary!

In September 1952 I left Holland and lived for three years in Germany. Looking back over these years I received much blessing, as I was privileged to listen to the ministry of godly men like Mr. Erich Sauer, who became well-known because of his books, translated into many languages. What a deep impression this brother made upon my life! Not only because of his ability to expound the Word of God, but even more so, because of his humble Christian character. It was during this time that I prayed to the Lord for guidance as to where to serve Him. Since God’s field is the whole world, which corner of the great vineyard was meant to be my place?

Corrie ten Boom

In practising faith in its simplicity, Corrie ten Boom was an inspiring example to me. Soon after my conversion I got to know her and I was privileged to call her ‘Tante Corrie’. My life was influenced by Aunt Corrie’s simple but powerful testimony. The ten Boom family used to live in Haarlem, a place 20 miles (30 km.) outside of Amsterdam. Mr. ten Boom repaired watches and clocks and owned a nice store in a good location. Corrie also became a watch-maker, the first woman in Holland to be qualified for this kind of work. It was quite noisy in the shop with all the different clocks striking more or less at the same time and ticking the time away. But during the war things changed drastically in these peaceful surroundings. The house of the ten Boom family had become a haven of refuge. Father Casper and his two daughters, Betsie and Corrie, risked their lives, as the clock-repair shop became a centre of underground activity. From their place in town the refugees were smuggled to a safer place in rural areas. In this manner the ten Boom family was instrumental in sparing the lives of hundreds of people! It took tremendous courage to provide a hiding place for Jews. How true were the words of those days: ‘The walls have ears...’, when tragedy hit this family because of treachery. On the last day of February of 1944 German soldiers suddenly forced entry into the house. Four Jews and two resistance fighters were able to reach the secret hiding place in Corrie’s bedroom just in time, and though the Germans searched the whole house thoroughly they did not find them. For the others it was too late, and they were arrested, nearly 30 in all. Also six members of the ten Boom family were put into prison and deported to a concentration camp in Ravensbrueck, Germany. This was a death camp and what a grieving experiencing for Tante Corrie to see so many people die! But at the same time what a blessing to have Tante Corrie there, because she was instrumental in guiding desperate people to the living Saviour. Corrie’s sister Betsie died in this concentration camp, while other members of the family met their death in prison in Holland. What a prayer of Corrie ten Boom, when she came out of Ravensbrueck alive! “Lord, I thank Thee that it was Thy perfect will for me to be there. I know that Thou hast used Betsie and me to lead many people who faced a cruel death to Thee, and that was worth all our sufferings, even Betsie’s death!”

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

Gerda Hengeveld

My fiancee, Gerda Hengeveld

When Corrie ten Boom returned to Holland, she promised herself: “I’ll go anywhere God will send me, but never again to Germany”. But it happened that she was spoken to by the powerful Word of God: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). These were the very words which brought a comple i.e change of mind, and she became an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the Lord called her to witness of the love of God. Her ministry was especially aimed at prisoners, and as she travelled around the world, first of all to Germany(!), she was instrumental in the salvation of many people. Tante Corrie visited 64 countries and keeping to the slogan: “To win souls for Christ is the greatest work which ever could be done here on earth”, she called herself a ‘Tramp for the Lord’. Her message was so simple, but at the same time so powerful: “Jesus is Victor”! When Tante Corrie went to be with the Lord on April 15, 1983, she had accomplished much for the Lord Jesus Christ, leaving behind a powerful testimony by which so many, myself included, were richly blessed and encouraged.
The Lord used Tante Corrie to speak to my heart. While she was giving report meetings about her extensive journeys, God drew my attention to a country in the Far East—Japan. During the war this country fought with Holland over the Dutch East-
Indies. The Dutch fleet was engaged with the Japanese in the Sea of Java where nearly all the Dutch ships were lost. Then to think about the cruelty done to Dutch citizens, especially to those who worked on the Burma railroad project. Every yard of railway cost the lives of so many people. “Is this the country the Lord is leading me to?” Still hesitant as I was, I asked for the Lord’s clear guidance. The Lord spoke to me through His Word in reading Jeremiah 31:10, “Hear the Word of the Lord, 0 ye nations, and declare it in the isles afar off.” These words impressed my heart, since Japan is a country of islands. An additional confirmation of the Lord’s call would be the consent of the elders of the home assembly. It is a Scriptural principle that concerning the Lord’s work the authority remains in the local assembly. Saul and Barnabas, who went out from the assembly at Antioch, were never ‘free-lance’ missionaries, but they went out as servants of the Lord ‘commended to the grace of God for the work to which they were called’.

When I approached the elders of my home assembly I found them very willing to stand behind me. All believers of assemblies in Holland were quite excited about it, since I would be the first missionary going out from Dutch assemblies. In the years after the war it was difficult to transfer money out of the country, and to help in this matter some responsible brethren took the initiative to establish a fund. According to the Scriptural pattern, a fund has a right to exist as long as it fulfills a ministry similar to the ‘Epaphroditus service’ (Phil.4:18). A fund can only serve as an agent to forward gifts as they are received from the donors. Unfortunately, after I had left for Japan, things in Holland did not develop according to this pattern, and it was not long before this fund was changed into a ‘Mission Society’. The whole endeavour was a complete new undertaking for the Dutch assemblies and due to a lack of cdnstructive and convincing teaching of New Testament principles, the influence of human leadership became inevitable.

An Important Matter
Before I left for Japan I prayed for the solution of a very important private and personal matter. I was drawn to a girl from a nearby assembly. I loved her not only because she was attractive, but also for her good Christian character. I wrote her
a short letter, in which I asked her whether she was willing to meet me and have a talk together. I got an affirmative answer and on a beautiful spring day in April 1955 we met and went for a walk in a nearby park. After talking about several things, I took the courage to speak about a most important matter. I told Gerda about my feelings towards her, but I fully realized the consequences of a positive answer. She would have to leave parents, relatives, friends, her job and all that was dear to her. I thought about this far-reaching effect and therefore I did not ask for an answer right away. “Pray about it and give me your answer later, let’s say after six months”, was my wise and thoughtful suggestion, but Gerda assured me that she did not need half a year for prayer. I quickly cut the time in half, but she told me that she did not need three months either. “What about some weeks”, I still dared to utter. “No,” she said, “I have prayed already for a few years for this moment to come and since I love you I am prepared to marry you, as I feel called by the Lord to serve Him in the capacity of a missionary’s wife.” I really was amazed! We thanked the Lord that He had already done the work of preparation, without either party’s knowledge. We felt that this was guidance of the Lord! Happily we strolled back to her house where I left her and returned home on my bicycle—a very happy man indeed! In those days money was very scarce, and it was some time until funds were sufficient for a ticket for one person to Japan.

At that time, travelling by plane was too expensive. Before leaving my native soil there was a farewell meeting, and I was encouraged by the words spoken. I still hear the words of an old brother, saying, “If your going to Japan will result in the salvation of even one soul, it is worthwhile to follow the orders of the Master”. In 1955 I left Holland and said good-bye to my parents, relatives and the believers in the assemblies. Some of them I never met again, but I still do remember them with gratitude in my heart. My father was taken by a sudden heart attack, so I never met him again, but I know that he was thankful to have a son in the Lord’s work. During those sad moments of leaving loved ones behind, I fully realized that the call of the Lord is not just an exciting adventure, but it means to be a living sacrifice laid upon the altar (Rom.12:1). Being assured of the call, the Lord gave me strength to leave all and everything behind for the sake of the Gospel. “So likewise, whosoever he is of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). But what is my devotion to God compared with the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, who gave Himself for me?

Thy life was given for me,
Thy blood, 0 Lord, was shed
That I might ransomed be,
And quickened from the dead;
Thy life was given for me;
What have I given for Thee?
(Believers Hymn Book—No.458)