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My Father’s Journey

by Harry Kleyn
2022, 411 pages

A few years ago I was asked to teach a North American church history course at Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College. As part of that, I spent some time teaching about the history of Dutch immigration to Canada. That’s always interested me, especially because of the stories I’d hear from my Opa Bredenhof. While I don’t think he ever regarded Australia as an option, many others did.  I’ve often wondered: what if…?

That’s part of what made Harry Kleyn’s My Father’s Journey such a fascinating read for me. Being familiar with stories of post-war immigration from the Netherlands to Canada, I was really interested to hear what it was like to migrate to Australia. Working with interviews, diaries, and other sources, Kleyn pens a compelling story of the challenges before, during, and after immigration.

Lived through two world wars, a Great Depression, and a Liberation

We hear the story of his father’s life and family background in the Netherlands. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but it’s surprisingly intense. Having been born in 1913, Cornelis Kleijn also lived through the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. All of those world events figure into the story, but especially the last one. Being of working age, and having served in the Dutch army before the invasion in 1940, Cornelis Kleijn was exactly the kind of man the Nazis wanted to send to Germany as slave labour. How did he escape? Read the book to find out.

These were also eventful years in church history. In the middle of the Second World War, a doctrinal and church political dispute was playing out in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. Calls to set the dispute aside until the end of the war were ignored by those in power. This led to the Liberation (Vrijmaking) of 1944. We read of how Cornelis Kleijn and his wife Willempje found themselves with that Liberation.

After the Second World War, the Netherlands was a disaster zone. The economy was in shambles. The Dutch government urged citizens to migrate overseas to reduce the pressure. Countries like Canada and Australia were eager to receive Dutch immigrants.  Canada was out of the question for Cornelis and Willempje Kleijn – too cold!  South Africa was considered, but Australia was for them the best option. Our author relates the story of packing up, saying good-bye, and enduring the long sea voyage to Fremantle, Western Australia.

New country, climate, and language, same faithful God

Having arrived in Australia, there were new challenges to overcome. There was a new culture, a new language, a new work environment, and a new climate. Many families, including the Kleijns, experienced setbacks. There were various difficulties in church life and Harry Kleyn is forthright about them, but in a respectful manner. In later life, the elderly Cornelis and Willempje Kleijn continued to experience various adversities in their family.

The whole story is one of trying times. I remember visiting with an elderly parishioner once who told me he was so thankful because there’d never been any deaths in their family and never any serious illnesses or problems. Everything had gone smoothly in life.  That’s not the Kleijn family as described in this book. This is a family who experienced real hardships. But more than that, what stands out in the story is how God carried them through. With his Holy Spirit, he sustained their trust in him. This is a story of how God lifts up his people in their faith and brings them through the fires.

One final thing I appreciated about My Father’s Journey: even though the focus is on Cornelis Kleijn, his wife Willempje isn’t just in the background. Her diary entries and letters are often quoted (in translation). We hear of her frustrations at trying to master English, something she was never able to do. We hear of how hard it was to give birth in a hospital in a foreign land. We hear of the difficulties in keeping a house and raising children when your husband is gone most of the day trying to earn a living. It’s good to hear more about the experience of women in post-war Dutch immigration, especially via first-hand accounts.

This is a well-written and well-researched family biography. I highly recommend it, not only for those with an interest in the history of Dutch migration, but also for anyone who just wants to read an encouraging story about how God upholds his people through the toughest times. Even though it’s not a short book, I read it in just a couple of days and I’m sure you’ll find it to be just as captivating as I did.

My Father’s Journey is available through most major online retailers.


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Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield

by Jonathon Van Maren 2022 / 256 pages God works in history through people, some of whom have a particularly significant impact. In Canada, one such person was Ted Byfield. Although best known as the founder and editor of Alberta Report magazine, there is much more to his life and accomplishments than that. This book is an impressive biography of Byfield, written by Jonathon Van Maren who is no stranger to readers of Reformed Perspective. The foreword is by Preston Manning, founding leader of the Reform Party of Canada. The book does a wonderful job of outlining the major events of Byfield’s life and explaining the impact he had. Newsprint in his blood Ted Byfield was born and raised in Toronto. One of his uncles, Tommy Church, was mayor of Toronto and later a Conservative MP. His father was a respected newspaper reporter, but also an alcoholic. That vice led to his parents’ divorce, which had a profoundly negative impact on young Ted. Like his father, Ted became a reporter. He moved to Winnipeg in 1952 to work for the Winnipeg Free Press where he was incredibly successful, including winning the National Newspaper Award in 1957. One of his new Winnipeg friends was a devout Anglican who eagerly evangelized him. Through reading books by major Christian apologists, especially C.S. Lewis, Byfield and his wife became committed Christians. Subsequently, he co-founded the Company of the Cross, an Anglican lay organization that would operate three private Christian schools (the St. John’s Schools in Manitoba, Alberta, and Ontario). In 1965, Byfield became something of an apologist himself. That year, legendary Canadian writer Pierre Berton released a book entitled The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment in the New Age criticizing Christianity from a secular, leftist perspective. In response, Byfield wrote a defense of historic Christianity called Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder), published by the Company of the Cross. Van Maren notes that it “easily constituted the most effective response to both liberalization within the Church and those urging liberalization from outside it.” Like Berton’s book, Byfield’s became a bestseller. The man behind that magazine In 1973, Byfield began using the St. John’s School of Alberta as a base for producing a weekly newsmagazine called the St. John’s Edmonton Report. In 1977, a Calgary edition was added and these two magazines combined to become Alberta Report in 1979. Other editions of the magazine (Western Report, BC Report) appeared later in the 1980s. It was through the magazines that Byfield had his greatest impact. The Report magazines were not overtly religious, but their fundamental purpose was to convey the news from an underlying Christian perspective. As Van Maren explains: “The Report magazines became known as championing two primary causes: Christian values and the Canadian West. The primary enemy of both could be found in the personage of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man responsible for decriminalizing abortion, ushering in the sexual revolution, and—at least as Ted and legions of likeminded Canadians saw it—declaring war on the West.” With the magazines as a platform, Byfield played a major role in the formation of the Reform Party of Canada in the late 1980s, which subsequently had a profound impact on Canadian politics. Looking forward to the coming Christian age Ted turned over the major duties of the magazine to his son Link, and spent the next twenty years or more creating two multi-volume history book projects. First was the 12-volume Alberta in the 20th Century series (completed in 2003), and secondly came the 12-volume The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years (completed in 2013). Needless to say, the second set was history from an explicitly pro-Christian perspective. Of course, throughout Byfield’s lifetime, conservative Christianity was losing cultural and political influence in Canada. Nevertheless, he was optimistic about the future, and, as Van Maren explains, he “remained convinced that the post-Christian era was merely a pre-Christian era, and that a new dawn might be just around the corner.” Byfield was, of course, correct to see fighting the culture wars as worthwhile despite the losses, and as his son Link put it, “Think how much worse it would be if we had not fought the fights we fought.” This book is definitely worth getting. For those interested in political and cultural matters in Canada, it is essential. For others, it can be an encouragement to see how one person’s dedication to Christianity made a profound difference in the country. Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield is published by SEARCH (Society to Explore and Record Christian History) and is available from the publisher’s website at TheChristians.com/product/PrairieLion....


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