My Father's Journey
One of a pastor’s privileges is getting to listen to the stories of God’s children.
They’re not always happy stories, tales of undiminished good and satisfactory endings. Neither do we expect that. The privilege is hearing these personal accounts, often inclusive of much sin and struggle and heartache, yet ever tempered with the conviction that God is faithful and works all things for the benefit of those who love him.
To the many colourful testimonies of God’s care as told by elderly parishioners I’ve responded not a few times with the suggestion, “You should write a book!” For even a seemingly ordinary life can present a compelling picture of God’s extraordinary mercy. These are valuable stories worth sharing. Perhaps not many will have either the opportunity or the ability to write such an account. And it’s regrettable to think that if they’re not recorded, these stories will soon disappear.
This book, My Father’s Journey, is not a first-hand account. Harry Kleyn doesn’t tell his own story here (though he makes a cameo appearance now and again), but he has endeavoured to narrate the story of his father, Cornelis Kleijn, together with that of his wife Willempje. Kleyn is to be credited for this worthwhile contribution to our migrant history.
It is a lively tale that grips the reader for many of its 400 pages. What quickly becomes clear is that Kleyn has thoroughly researched his father’s life story. The narrative is punctuated with extracts from sources as diverse as personal letters, church bulletins, mental asylum records, newspaper articles, and interviews—all woven together to give a cohesive account of a dearly loved father and mother.
Within the first few chapters we learn about a shocking event, one that rips apart a young family and has enduring repercussions. Dramatic events mark the Kleijns’ subsequent years too, including a world war and foreign occupation, many months spent in hiding, and then the difficult decision to migrate to a strange new country.
Cornelis and Willempje chose to move to Australia in the early 1950s. It was a time when many other Dutch folks were weighing up which country could become a new home. The general contours of the Kleijns’ experiences are probably relatable to many in that generation, whether they sailed to South Africa, Canada, the United States, Australia, or elsewhere. The story is a vivid account of the gut-wrenching decisions and acute challenges faced by many of our grandparents and great-grandparents as they settled in unfamiliar lands and pioneered new ways of life.
Together with the inadequacies of early tin-clad homes, the challenges of learning to speak English/Australian, and adjusting to blazing heat in summer and flooding in winter, the Kleijns had to contend with strife in the newly founded congregation, trade union conflict, and family stresses. There are trials recounted here that nobody would choose for themselves or their children, yet My Father’s Journey has the constant undertone of hope in the Lord and his unfailing grace.
Such is the delight of hearing the stories of an older generation, one that makes so worthwhile their retelling—and their recording. It is the Father’s care that always shines through in My Father’s Journey, which might be the chief benefit to gain from such a book: an encouragement in our time too, to trust in God and hold fast to him.
411 pages, softcover