The Confession of Dirk Willems
What I remember most
is the joy of God’s words on our lips,
in our hearts.
That good news bubbling out,
freely shared with any person we met,
old categories of friend and foe forgotten.
I remember the power of God changing us,
from empty Christians
to disciples full of fire.
I confessed my faith
and chose baptism, freely, consciously,
my prayer as the water trickled over me,
“O my Lord, my God!”
My family and friends,
my neighbours near and far,
they flocked to my house to hear that story.
We read from the Bible,
we prayed together.
And always every meeting,
their words echoing in my ears,
“Can I too be baptized?”
Yes, there was danger.
It was a crime for us to baptize
since we weren’t priests,
and the authorities were out to find us.
But we Brethren were quick,
our feet given godspeed.
So often we escaped
even when escape seemed impossible:
ducking out windows,
fleeing to the fields in the dark,
our pursuers’ lanterns bobbing behind us.
So often God protected us from evil.
The persecution became more severe.
First one brother, and then a sister,
another and another,
arrested, tortured, brought to trial,
made an example.
They were an example to us,
so many, so faithful,
freely bearing their cross, like Jesus.
A witness to God’s glory even in death.
And then it was my turn to be arrested.
They were there waiting for us
hidden in the darkness as we gathered,
no time to run, just a quick whispered prayer,
“O my Lord, my God!”
Into the prison, and there I had time
to sit and think and pray,
to prepare myself for the ordeal to come.
I was more surprised than anyone
when the opportunity arose
for me to escape.
God works in mysterious ways,
and like Paul before me,
the way was open and I took it.
I ran like the wind;
I could hear shouts behind me
and I knew I was being pursued.
Over that wintry river I fled,
the ice creaking ominously below me.
Even as I ran I prayed,
“O my Lord, my God,
let me run on water this day,”
Cracks formed with every step I took,
and like Peter I doubted.
I pictured them fishing
my frozen body with a hook
out of the cold river.
But God be praised,
my feet reached solid land
and running still, I spared a glance behind me.
I saw my pursuer stepping on the ice,
one of the guards sent to catch me.
I doubled my pace along the river
but my eyes were drawn to him
lumbering, lumbering along.
Suddenly there was no figure at all.
My legs kept running
but my whole attention shifted.
I saw the arms and head appear in the watery pit
bobbing and grasping, ice breaking, splashing.
I could hear his frantic call for help.
I stopped, and looked to his friends.
They all hugged the shore,
afraid to venture to him on the ice.
They were not going to help him.
Having just crossed that wide white river,
having feared that icy grave,
my heart went to him.
I turned around.
It was I who would be a fisher of men this day.
Running back toward my pursuer this time,
I reached that treacherous surface,
and when the cracks seemed louder than my heartbeats,
I dropped gently down on my stomach, sliding sideways,
arms spread wide, reaching for him.
Him reaching for me with freezing fingers,
and then our hands locked,
and the slow, slow, pull to safety.
We did it. I saved him.
We both lay on the ice for a long moment.
Me totally spent from the chase and the rescue,
he totally spent from being immersed in fear,
dazed at returning to the land of the living.
The voice of the burgomeister shattered the silence,
calling from the safety of the shore:
“Arrest that man.
Arrest that man right now!
Do your duty.”
I looked at him,
my companion on the ice.
Our eyes held each other,
frozen there on that hard river.
We both watched transfixed
as his hand slowly reached out
and grasped my elbow.
I closed my eyes,
“Oh my Lord, my God.”
And so I am here in the prison again.
They have convicted me,
and today I am to be burned.
In the icy river or in flames of fire,
I am not alone.
Jesus is with me as I take up my cross.
Be with me now,
Oh my Lord, my God