May & Peter: Resident’s Story

The following was written by Mary S. and features Independent living residents May and Peter B. Head over to our Facebook page for more beautiful photos of this lovely couple.

Peter, was born in 1930 into a family of ultimately seven children in nondescript, predictable Wouterswoude. Then the political climate rudely interjected itself even into the far reaches of rural Friesland. He recalls the droning of allied planes targeting railway lines and even large vehicles: any conveyance useful for enemy appropriation. He recalls the guttural whoosh of the Messerschmitts ferreting out advancing allied activity. One day as Peter stood in the field alongside his father, an allied pilot guided his craft toward a bus to unleash its volley of fire. “Yn’e Sleat’s wâl!” or “hit the ditch,” his father shouted through the roar as debris hailed down and shrapnel pierced their home.

One morning on his way to school, Peter, a tall fourteen-year-old, was approached by a soldier to draft him for enemy work detail. The ‘melk rijder’ who overheard the altercation, interrupted his milk delivery to intercept the order, insisting that Peter was underage.

More repressive was isolation from the world at large, achieved through control of newspapers and confiscation of radios. But the feisty Friesians resisted. With few inexpensive parts, crystal radios connected civilians to the BBC. News of Rommel’s devastating defeat in northern Africa bolstered their spirits–and the Resistance.

Peter’s father assisted the ‘underground’ efforts. Despite precautions, the spectre of danger stalked him to the last day. As resistance fighters surrounded the retreating enemy, a grenade lobbed by an ambushed Nazi found its way to their detail sending them scuttering to a barn for cover.

When the skirmish eased, two injured fighters were recovered, but not Peter’s father. Scouring the area, they found him standing chest-deep in a sleat severely wounded. He died later that night, his lungs shattered. Peter was fifteen.

Maaike, or May as we know her, grew up in Veenwouden, the middle of three sisters and two much younger brothers. Her family sheltered ‘bleek neusjes’, the pale, undernourished children from cities like Rotterdam. After the war, Maaike attended classes becoming proficient in housekeeping skills and subsequently employed in the parsonage of Dominee Vonk, following them to Gelderland. In time, she returned to Veenwouden working at the Talma Hûis, a seniors’ nursing home.

The Venemas lived on deZwette, the road that led to the Christian Reformed Church and the Christian school. One Easter the youth of the church biked to a nearby town for a music festival competition. Riding home together, they recognized a fondness for one another. Peter proudly shows off the ring engraved with their engagement day.

In 1953, after completing his education in architecture, Peter joined his widowed mother in Canada. Finally, in 1954, love won the day and Maaike also emigrated; they married the following year. Two months later, she received word of her father’s sudden death.

After a stint in construction jobs, Peter found work in Burlington as a draftsman, then at Avro Aircraft Ltd in Malton drafting jet fighters. When international design disagreements interrupted, Peter found himself one of three thousand without work; he resorted briefly to selling Fuller Brushes to feed his growing family.

While in Malton, Peter taught Saturday Bible class at his church in Brampton while also participating in a lunchtime Bible study, opening his heart to prepare for ministry. In 1961, with four children, May and Peter left for Grand Rapids to study at Calvin Theological Seminary. After intense scrutiny at the border crossing, they followed the moving van stateside. But the brakes failed and the car careened toward the abyss flipping sideways against the guard rail.

“I think we made the wrong decision,” Peter opined.

“No, we didn’t,” said May. “It’s going to be difficult, but we will make it.” It was and they did.

After six years of study, they were called to Acton Ontario, then to Jarvis for another seven years. In 1979, with two sons and two daughters they made the bold move to the coast and a pastorate in the New Westminster CRC chalking up an impressive record of longevity.

Once more, a Bible study group was the nexus for kingdom building, this time to care for the elderly in a more substantial way. Aligning themselves with a group already registered as a charitable organization they began to explore the mission, the financial investment, the time-line, the location and all other considerations that would evolve into what we now know as Elim.