Tag Archives: Wouter van der Wel

The Journey

The Journey (CaD Gen 12) Wayfarer

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-2 (NIV)

In early 1889, a young man from the small town of Piershil, in South Holland, boarded the ship P. Caland of the Holland America Line (featured photo on today’s post) sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in New York on April 20th. He made his way to a Dutch settlement in northwest Iowa. His name was Wouter van der Wel, and he was 22 years old. He promptly found employment and Americanized his name to Walter Vander Well. Four years later he married a daughter of the owner of the local furniture store and funeral parlor.

Walter came to America alone. Family speculation is that he was angry about his widowed mother marrying an older man who had once been her teacher when she was a girl. Walter’s daughter, Kate, told me that later in life Walter wrote his mother and expressed a desire to return home to see her. “If you’re not coming back to stay,” she replied, “then don’t come. I’ve lost my son once in my life. I’m not going to go through that again.” He never made the trip.

Walter was my great-grandfather, and for the rather small, widely spread-out Vander Well clan in America he is our patriarch. He’s the one who made the journey and crossed an ocean and half a continent to start a new life, and the family from which we sprang.

Today’s chapter marks an important shift in the Great Story. The first eleven chapters lay the foundation in establishing humanity’s bent toward disobedience (Adam and Eve), violence (Cain), chaos (the time of Noah), and pride (Tower of Babel). Today’s chapter is an inflection point. The narrative shifts from humanity’s continuous and repetitive descent toward a promise and hope of redemption. It begins with one man named Abram, who will be known throughout history as Abraham.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found followers of Jesus to be largely ignorant of the larger narrative of the Great Story and of the importance of Abraham, the patriarch, from whom the redemptive work of Jesus and the hope of eternity ultimately springs. Abraham was a historical person who is still playing a role in history some 4,000 years after the events of today’s chapter. In August of 2020 the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to a peace accord along with the United States. It was called the Abraham Accords. Abraham, we will learn, is patriarch of both the Jewish and Arab peoples.

Like Walter, Abram’s story begins with a faith journey. God calls him to leave his tribe and follow towards a destination defined loosely as “the land I will show you.” God then makes the first of three covenants with Abram. It is a seven-fold covenant of blessing which begins with God telling Abram that he will be the father of a great nation and ends with the promise that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”

God’s blessing from one person to “all peoples.” Abram is the patriarch.

What is odd about God’s choice of Abram is that his wife, Sarah, was barren and in her sixties. This is yet another instance of God going against the grain of human inclination; Another reminder that “My ways are not your ways.

Abram sets out on his faith journey following God to who knows where based simply on belief in the promise God had given him.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about Walter and what it must have been like to leave everything and everyone behind, to board a ship, and to head west toward a land he didn’t know. I can’t help but think of my own life journey and places to which I have been led. I can’t help but think of the journey of being a follower of Jesus who says to each and every follower, “If you would come after me, then lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow.” Like Abraham, the destination of the faith journey following Jesus is not identified or defined in the call other than the rather audacious clue of bearing the instrument of your own execution.

Which brings me back to being a wayfarer. I am a wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe and simply believing a promise. Just like Abram. Just like Walter. Just like our daughters and sons and our grandson, Milo, who can’t even comprehend it as of yet. We spring from wayfarers who stepped out on a journey in faith. We make our own respective journeys on this earth. We carry the Story forward as we press on one unpromised day at a time.

May the road rise up to greet you today, my friend. Enjoy the journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

TBT: The VW Clan

Vander Well Family Picnic

Speaking of Dutch heritage, for Throwback Thursday let me show you this rare gem of the clan hanging with their homeys on the farm in northwest Iowa circa 1938. The white-haired gentleman under the tree is, I believe, Walter Vander Well Sr. born Wouter van der Wel in Piershil near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He came to the states as a young man by himself. The gentleman just to the right with the stylin’ white shoes and the baby on his lap is my grandfather, Herman Vander Well. The baby is my father, Dean. The other kid standing on the right of the photograph is my Uncle Bud.

My grandpa always had a penchant for ice cream and would often have a bowl before bed. I have to imagine that the fact that they’re all eating ice cream cones in this picture means they’d just made it for the occasion.

An Entire Life Reduced to One Bullet Point

My Great-Grandmother, Daisy Yeater, holding my mother.
My Great-Grandmother, Daisy Yeater, holding my mother.

The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed,his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph). 1 Chronicles 5:1-2 (NIV)

My great-grandfather, born Wouter van der Wel in the Netherlands. Evidence suggests that he became angry when his widowed mother married her former teacher, a man much older than she. He left home by himself, crossed the Atlantic, settled in northwest Iowa and “Americanized” his name to Walter Vander Well.

My grandma Vander Well’s father, Daniel Bloem, was an alcoholic and was difficult to live with. A widower, his three daughters took on the burden of constantly looking after him. When my grandparents secretly got married, they told no one and my grandmother continued to live at home and take care of her father. A man of great temper, he asked my grandmother “When are you going to marry that Herman Vander Well?”

“I already have,” she replied honestly.

Then get the hell out of my house!” he responded.

Very little is known about my grandpa Hendrickson’s father, Perry Hendrickson. He contracted tuberculosis when my grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was just ten years old. Not wanting to be a burden on his family, Perry Hendrickson shot himself at home. It happened to be my grandfather’s birthday when he came home to find his father’s lifeless body. Great grandma, Olive Hendrickson, farmed my grandfather off to be raised by family which likely saved his life. She drug the younger children through several tragic marriages and their lives appear to have continued down tragic paths.

Grandma Hendrickson’s father was William Yeater. As an adult he discovered that he was the illegitimate son of a local Irish immigrant named David McCoy. William sued for his share of the estate and won a large settlement. An alcoholic and philanderer, my great grandmother, Daisy, gave him second chances but eventually divorced him for good and raised five children through the depression through her unshakable faith in God and hard work. When William offered to share part of his settlement with Daisy, she flatly refused to take his money and provided for her children by herself.

I know that reading through the genealogical records isn’t the most exciting of assignments, but I have to admit that there are all sorts of things that resonate with me as I read the chronicles. As an amateur family historian, I’m fascinated by what nuggets of history and information get passed down through the generations. Consider for a moment that when Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob, slept with his father’s concubine the year was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1900 B.C. Tradition holds that the scribe writing the Chronicles was Ezra who would have penned his work somewhere between 400-500 B.C.

For 1500 years, the one thing that gets passed down and remembered about Reuben was the mistake of sleeping with his father’s concubine and losing his birthright to the two sons of Joseph. Talk about tragedy. The tribe of Reuben for generation after generation across centuries and two millennia lived under the curse of being the tribe that could have had it all if great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandpa Reuben had simply kept his dick in his tunic.

Very little of our lives will be remembered. The few nuggets of information I have about my great-grandparents is far more than I know about their parents. I think about my ancestors. There are volumes of their life story that have been lost and their legacy is reduced to a single bullet point that conveys how subsequent generations remember them:

  • He was angry with his mother and ran away to America.
  • He was an alcoholic, temperamental, and a burden to his daughters.
  • He killed himself on his son’s birthday.
  • She lived a hard life and was married five times to different losers.
  • He was an alcoholic, a philanderer, and his wife wanted nothing to do with him.
  • She was a woman of faith and hard work. Her children honored and adored her.

Today, I’m thinking about my legacy. What will be remembered about me? How are my words and actions affecting future generations? What do I want my bullet point to be?