From time to time, we have the unique opportunity of hearing from visitors who come to the office and share their stories and experiences, and how TWR Canada has been a part of the work that the Lord has done in their lives. We recently had Gerrit and Cathy Van Essen visit us. For many in the office, it was their first time meeting them, even though they have been a part of the ministry of TWR for as long as Sandy and I have.
It was back in the early 80’s that Gerrit and Cathy first heard about TWR at a banquet they attended in Peterborough, Ontario. The Lord had been working on their hearts, and they were considering what a call to missions might look like on their life. Like many, Gerrit wondered how he could be used by God with the skills he had; after all, he was a licenced plumber and business owner, not a pastor or radio announcer! When Phil Seabrook, the speaker at the TWR banquet, shared the different needs for the ministry, the first need he listed was for a plumber. This got their attention!
Shortly after, they applied, were accepted and decided that they would join TWR as missionaries. They went to New Jersey to be accepted and for a brief orientation in November 1985 and became TWR missionaries at the same time as us. This began a life-long friendship. Sandy and I helped them pack up their home in Lakefield, Ontario. Then I drove a rented moving van to Miami with their household items while Gerrit drove his van which was going to be shipped to Bonaire.
Our children were of similar ages, so we spent hundreds of hours enjoying each other’s company over the next few years. In fact, they became such good friends that one night when we were living in Toronto, they came for a visit unannounced with the intention of staying overnight. The house was locked so Gerrit, being resourceful, broke into our house, and they were sleeping soundly in our home by the time we arrived. Not all friendships are that close!
When they were accepted into full-time ministry with TWR, the original plan was for them to go to Swaziland. This was fine until they learned of another couple who was going to Bonaire but whose deep desire was to go to Swaziland. The Van Essen’s were a great fit for Bonaire as Gerrit was born in Holland and spoke Dutch, one of the main languages on Bonaire. When this all came to light, the decision was made that they would switch: Van Essen’s would go to Bonaire and the other couple to Swaziland.
On their first night of orientation, their room flooded. This seemed to be the beginning of a trend: unexpected things happened at the beginning of each new adventure. Their first night on Bonaire, they went to bed in a waterbed that sprung a leak! Things did get easier but always seemed to start out with a bit of challenge, which would often leave Gerrit and Cathy with the question: “Lord, what have you gotten us into?”
With time, things changed. Friendships were made, ministry happened, and God used the entire Van Essen family for his work on Bonaire: work that has touched the hearts and lives of many in the Caribbean and Latin America.
After their first term, the Lord called them back to Canada where they served at a Bible camp for seven years. For the last year of their time at the camp, they knew the Lord was stirring their hearts once again. They sensed he was calling them to serve globally somewhere; they just didn’t know where.
During that time, I called Gerrit and asked if he would consider coming to Swaziland to serve with TWR again. After two weeks of contemplation and prayer, Gerrit built up the courage to speak to his boss, the founder of the camp where they were serving. When he had the conversation with him, the camp founder called to his wife and said, “Wasn’t it just last week that I was standing here looking towards Gerrit and Cathy’s house and didn’t I say that I bet God is calling them to go overseas again?” This confirmation of the call for Gerrit and Cathy to move to Swaziland was the exact encouragement that they needed to follow the Lord’s leading once again. Each time they made a move, their leadership and their board were in agreement with where the Lord was leading, and this was important to them.
After serving in Swaziland for a two-year term, they have since moved back to Ontario and continue to serve in Christian ministry and enjoy the blessing of family. Being parents to four children and grandparents to 15 keeps them busy and filled with joy.
What a privilege to hear from the Van Essen’s about their life of service. It is our prayer that you are encouraged and inspired by this story of listening to the Lord’s prompting and serving him wholeheartedly for a lifetime!