Salvation Stories: Gerrit Schakelaar

May 5, 2018
Gerrit Schakelaar

Peace in War Time: My Testimony of God’s Faithfulness

In the fall of 1944, the people of The Netherlands were in their fifth year of German occupation. Our hopes to be liberated were shattered when the Allied operation “Market Garden” failed. This is well documented in the film “A Bridge Too Far.” The bridge was in Arnhem, 30 kms. south of Apeldoorn, where I lived with my parents and sister. While in my high school class, the Germans came and picked young men up to work for them. We were not willing workers and the effort did not last. I volunteered with the Air Raid Wardens and watched for allied airplanes on top of a big church building called “Grote Kerk.” One evening the sirens alerted us of allied planes planning to bomb the railroad station; however, they missed and hit the residential area. We spent the rest of the night transporting bodies to the morgue which left an indelible impression upon me. Holding a flashlight, I guided the truck driver while sitting on the front fender, since blacked-out headlights were not allowed. Suddenly we were in water, and I signalled the driver to stop. The next morning, we saw that it was a big bomb crater, and I knew the Lord had spared me.

On October 2nd, the Germans called all men between sixteen and fifty-five to report for work in Germany. They killed underground workers, captured pilots, and church ministers, laying their bodies at street corners with the message, “if you don’t come we have more.” But they were not satisfied with their catch. On December 2nd, they hauled the men out of their homes. I was only sixteen. They marched us to the trains, and before reaching the German border, some tried to jump but were met with machine gun salvo. The train stopped and they ordered us to stay inside because Allied planes were in the air. The Red Cross gave us a sandwich. After that, we resumed our train ride. The mood was ugly and cursing was heard. A member of our church asked permission to read from the Bible and pray. He read a psalm and prayed for the women and children, for courage, strength and deliverance. It was quiet for a long time.

Knowing the way of salvation, I felt ashamed. Through that reading and prayer I realized that a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ was necessary to see God. I asked for forgiveness and committed my life to Him. I asked Him to care for my mother and sister and that my father (who was also captured) and I might return home. After that, I was at peace. At two o’clock in the morning, with the full moon, we noticed Dutch houses. Immediately my prayer for deliverance came to mind. The train stopped and we were put up in an abandoned factory. After some sleep my friend and I woke at daybreak. We got up, walked down the stairs from the second floor, and arrived in a courtyard with a corridor leading to an open gate. We gave each other the “let’s go” signal. Half way through the corridor the German guard passed by us. He did not even look in. He went to our left and we went out and to the right! I anticipated being shot at, but was completely at peace. Nothing happened and we kept walking. We stopped at a farm and found out that the road led to our destination, Arnhem.

We came to a river that had overflowed the dike. A man in a rowboat came over and offered to take us across. Before we reached the other side, we saw Germans arriving on the shore from where we had just left. We walked on, arriving in Arnhem after curfew. There was not a soul on the road. The danger of being re-arrested was real. Not knowing what to do we decided to take the risk of going to the police station. When the staff sergeant heard our story, he ordered a police officer to find lodging for us, and to lock the station just in case collaborators or Germans came in with captives. When a knock came on the station’s door, the sergeant told us to hide behind the pedestals of his desk while he held a revolver in his hand. It was the police officer who came back with an overnight hiding place address. Welcomed by an elderly couple, we had a good night’s rest. The following morning, we walked the last 30 kms. to Apeldoorn. My return created quite a stir; everyone asked if I knew something about their husbands or sons. On the day of our escape, others were registered and taken to Germany to work, including my father who did not return until March 1945, one month before the liberation.

My mother reminded me to never forget that the Lord had blinded the eyes of the German guard. From my return in December to liberation day, April 17,1945 was the worst. Electricity was cut off, and only available to Germans. We cut down two big trees in our garden for fuel. The pea soup from the central kitchen was watered down. Eating raw turnips and carrots was my survival. My mother was not well and her doctor arranged with a farmer to get a bottle of milk once a week. One afternoon, on my bike to pick up the milk I saw a column of German trucks go by.

Churches were packed as we prayed for liberation. After a fierce battle at the canal, Apeldoorn was liberated by the Canadians. They were received as friends and treated with love and kindness. An assembly of believers started a fellowship house for our liberators, along with other interested Christians who held Gospel services, and enjoyed times of fellowship. Other evenings, we had many come to our home including girls serving with CWAC, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. One of them was Marjory Jay, who later married Cyril Shontoff and served the Lord in Quebec. One of the soldiers said to let him know when I wanted to come to Canada.

I did that five years later and my Canadian liberator made all the arrangements through the services of Canadian Pacific Railway. To leave the country, I needed a job offer, so I was assigned a job at a farm in the Holland Marsh, north of Toronto. Being a milking farm, I was to work seven days a week. Just before boarding the boat to England, a man handed me a letter with the instructions not to open it until I had departed. It informed me that I did not have a job because the farmer’s wife was sick and could not manage a boarder. I arrived in Halifax and went by train to Toronto, where I met my sponsor. He took me home where I met his wife and two children. After a week, I learned my new assignment was a beef cattle farm, northeast of Toronto. Most Sundays I went with my sponsor to Danforth Gospel Hall where I met my future wife, Grace Woodward. We were married in April 1953. The Woodward family was very active in the missionary aspect of the assembly. In 1969, I was invited to serve on the board of the Missionary Service Committee in Canada (MSC) and served with them for forty-two years.

Praise the Lord for His love, care, faithfulness, and protection during those years. Psalms 116:1 expresses my feelings and gratitude: “I love the Lord, because He has heard my voice and my supplications.” My favorite hymn is “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”