A simple monument sits next to a small canal in an authentic old-world farm setting in the northern part of Friesland in the Netherlands. An old man bicycles by and stops to tell the story of being a seven-year-old when this monument was first dedicated by T. Edgar Lyon, the mission president of the Netherlands Mission 75 years ago.
Down the road, an old woman sits at a table on the tea house lawn and recounts the story of her ancestors who were the first to be baptized in that small canal. Although she is not a member, she claims a sincere kinship with them and regularly brings notes and flowers to the monument as a token of respect and remembering.
The scene is quiet and serene, complete with a windmill in the background. This unassuming monument in a picturesque backdrop marks the beginning of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Netherlands 150 years ago.
It began when Anne Wiegers van der Woude, a master Dutch ship builder, joined the Church in Wales in 1852, immigrated to the United States in 1853, and from there was called to go back to his native Netherlands to preach the gospel. He and his companion, Paul August Schettler, arrived August 5, 1861. After no success in Amsterdam, they separated to visit family members and try to share the gospel with them. Van der Woude traveled to Friesland and on October 1, 1861, baptized the first members of the Church in the Netherlands in a small canal located between Broeksterwoude and Damwoude: Gerrit A. van der Woude, Bouwdina van der Woude-Potgieters, and Elizabeth Wolters. That humble beginning of the Church gained many strong members, many of whom immigrated to America. By 1930, more than 5,000 Dutch members lived in Utah.
These events were celebrated by the Saints in the Netherlands throughout the months of August and September this year, culminating with a large celebration on September 24, 2011. On this day, the people of the Netherlands came together to celebrate this event. The group included every age of members, townspeople, investigators, and passersby. They came by car, bicycle, and on foot.
The initial gathering place was an outdoor tea house on a corner of the Broeksterwoude farmlands. Displays of the Church from the early days until now were arranged in an antiquated farm outbuilding, adding to the ambience.
The feeling of stepping back in history continued as the crowd walked the 750 meters to the monument. This monument was commissioned 75 years ago by then–mission president T. Edgar Lyon to be placed next to the canal where the first baptisms took place. He funded the project with donations from Dutch immigrants in the United States and former Dutch missionaries.
More than 325 people congregated, both sitting and standing to hear short talks by Elder Robert Van Komen, branch president and full time missionary; Burgermeester Arie Aalberts; and newly appointed area seventy Hans Boom. Mr. Aalberts was presented his genealogy dating to the 1600s by Thies de Jonge, organizer of the event. Music was provided by a youth choir and the full-time missionaries. Balloons with messages of the gospel and an invitation to receive a free Book of Mormon were released at the conclusion of the program.
On Saturday the people from the present celebrated the people of the past, and together they looked toward the future success of the people of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Netherlands.