“Ebenezer, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.”
(1 Samuel 7:12b)
A brief history of the Bethel Netherlands Reformed Congregation of Chilliwack, BC.
To emigrate is “to leave behind a world, a life, a culture.” To immigrate is to “enter a new country as an alien, to settle there, and to work.” After World War II, many Dutch people immigrated to Canada. The Netherlands was economically devastated. Homes, towns, and cities had been bombed; half of Rotterdam lay in ruins. As the Germans fled Holland, they broke dykes, causing the destruction of many farms. The future was bleak for many people - young couples could not find homes to buy and jobs were scarce. They began to consider where they could go to rebuild their lives. Canada was a place that offered freedom and opportunity. Although pained with the realization that they may never see their families again, many young families, couples and individuals made the decision to set off across the ocean. These immigrants carried new hope of a future for their families.
Arriving in BC in the late 1940’s, there was no Reformed Church that reflected the beliefs of many of the immigrants. Yet families came with the hope and belief that God would send more like-minded believers. Their desire was to start a church where future generations could worship in freedom. These hopes and prayers were answered in 1949, when 5 families began to meet in fellowship. (Matthew 18:20)
The gathering of the five families soon made apparent the need for more organization and church order. As the group grew to 30 people, meeting in a house was no longer practical. They found a place in Pumptown, Sardis. The families met on Sundays, and sermons were read; Sunday worship was a priority. Despite the lack of vehicles, carpooling was organized.
Soon the congregation encountered a new problem. Infants were born, and there was no minister to administer baptism. When Rev. Van Zweden of Rock Valley, Iowa, heard of this need, he willingly drove to Chilliwack and officiated the service. This first special baptismal service was administered in May 1950.
In 1951, the small but growing congregation managed to purchase the Pumptown building for $1000. Even the poorest of the congregants were, by the goodness of the Lord, able to contribute. In 1952, the Chilliwack Congregation was officially instituted as a congregation within the Netherlands Reformed denomination.
In 1953, the Netherlands experienced one of the most devastating floods in its history. The dykes broke, and many lives were lost. Much of South Holland was under water. With the loss of families and homes, a new wave of Dutch immigrants came to British Columbia. Immigrants continued to arrive and families grew, and membership increased. Thus, in 1954, the small Chilliwack NRC congregation was once again in need of a larger church facility.
As in the past, God continued to remember the needs of this small congregation and funds were raised to construct a new building. A church building was constructed on Yates Avenue in Chilliwack. At this same time, Elder M. Romeyn was accepted as a ministerial student by the NRC Classis, the church governing body. After Elder Romeyn ended his studies in 1957, God led him to the Chilliwack Church. He was installed by Rev. A. Vergunst and served faithfully as pastor until illness prevented him in 1970. He passed into glory on December 20, 1971.
The Lord, Who is all gracious and merciful, in 1972 sent a new shepherd for the flock. On August 29, Rev. A. W. Verhoef was installed as minister by Rev. W.C. Lamain. He served faithfully until returning to the Netherlands in 1989. During his service, Rev. Verhoef felt a special burden for the souls of the youth. Others in the congregation shared this burden. Through much prayer, a way was opened to have a school where the truths of Scripture could be taught. In 1975, God answered these prayers and Timothy Christian School (TCS) was constructed and officially opened.
As the congregation continued to grow, renovation of the church was again necessary. In 1981, major renovations were made to the Yates Avenue church. The members also began to recognize the need, not only to take care of the youth, but also the elderly. Blessed by the generosity of the members, the congregation was able to buy property on Broadway Street for a senior’s home. In 1987 Sunset Manor was completed.
As the pulpit was vacant in 1989, God once again remembered the church. In 1990, the congregation was blessed with the arrival of emeritus missionary minister Rev. Kuijt. As he settled in Chilliwack after many years of service on the mission field, he agreed to preach the Word. At this time, a new church building was being constructed on the Broadway Street property. During the construction period, the congregation worshipped together in the TCS auditorium. On February 12, 1991, there was a dedication service of the new church building. The congregation became the Bethel Netherlands Reformed Congregation (BNRC).
In God’s mercy, the BNRC received a new pastor in 1991. Rev. H. Hofman accepted the call to “come over and help us.” He faithfully served the Chilliwack congregation for five years before leaving for the Netherlands. It was only a few months after he left when Chilliwack once again received a new minister. The Lord led Rev. P. Van Ruitenburg to accept the call to the BNRC. He arrived in December of 1996 and still serves as minister today.
The BNRC has been actively involved in the Chilliwack community for years. They have an active men’s and women’s prison ministry. Every Sunday afternoon a meditation is given in Spanish for Mexican laborers in the community. The elders periodically give a meditation in various care homes, and some church members attend and lead the singing. As well, funds are regularly raised to assist local charities such as the Ruth and Naomi Mission as well as the Salvation Army. Contributions are made to the NRC National Disaster Fund to help distressed communities around the world. Within the church, there is an active group of women who meet regularly to raise funds for missions. BNRC is involved in supporting mission work that serves the people of Bolivia.There is a weekly choir, Bible Study, and Catechism classes, as well as planned youth activities. The Trinitarian Bible Society (TBS) is also supported.
Along with the Sunset Manor home, the Chilliwack congregation has been able to expand their senior care to include an assisted living wing. This has been a wonderful gift of the Lord. BNRC may now care for our elderly friends in a familiar home environment. In all things, God has been gracious.