My name is Jo (Josephine) Damme. I was born in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in 1937, the eldest of eight children. I went to a public school and after the war to a “School with the Bible” – not because my parents were religious but because the school was closer to home. The teachers started the day with prayer, a hymn and a Bible reading. I liked the stories, but that was all it was to me, just stories. Every weekend we had to learn a Bible verse. I never did, as we had no Bible at home.
My mother had not had an easy life – first, the depression, in which they lost a lot, and then the war. Her parents and only brother had joined the Nazi party. My parents did not agree with them. My father’s family were all in the resistance against Hitler. They were wary about my mother’s views. In July 1944 my brother was born; he was number 5. In November that year, Hitler took all the men between 18 and 45 away to Germany. Clever move. He needed men to work on the land and factories as all his men were in the armies, and he broke the back of the resistance by taking so many men away. Dad was away for nine months, during what was called the “hunger winter”, the coldest winter for many years. No heating, power or gas, and no food. People were dying in the streets and Mum was left alone with five children.
After the war, things took a long time to get back to a bit more normal. A year after my father got home we gained a little sister; after that, a little brother (baby number 8 wasn’t born until later, when I was 20 years old). My mum was broken. Mentally, physically, and later I learnt spiritually as well. I was often away from school in year 5 to help at home, in year 6 I was sometimes at school.
I went to a youth club for a while where the lady read Bible stories and prayed in the name of the Lord Jesus. I had never heard that before.
I have always believed in A God. ‘Someone must be there’, I thought. My intellect told me it could not just have happened. At that time, a lady next door used to give me a little magazine with Bible stories. I liked to read them but they were just stories to me. Also at that time my mum had to go into a mental home. We all went to different aunties. Mine was a Jehovah’s Witness. She talked with me about God. My other aunty next door used to tell me not to listen to Aunty Jan, as she was wrong. There I also went to the “School with the Bible”.
Looking back now, I see how God was working in my life, even with me not really being interested.
In 1956, I met my future husband Con. Sometimes I used to have dinner at his parents’ place. His father always started the meal with the Lord’s Prayer and read after the meal, closing with another prayer. They were Lutheran. Con’s mother was very interested in the Word of God, and she wanted to know more. Many churches then, like now, were very meagre in their teaching. She went to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who did study the Bible. She asked us a few times to come along, so we did, but I did not feel that it was for me.
Con and I married in December 1959. In May 1961, we travelled to Australia. Con had heard about it and so we went by plane to Sydney, arriving at 6 am. That evening at 8 pm we took a freezing cold train to Albury; then travelled by bus to Bonegilla migrant camp. After two weeks there, someone from Tumbarumba came looking for a mechanic. He liked us and off we went with him on a wild ride into the bush. I was worried we might be kidnapped. We arrived in the dark and he took us to the pub to stay for two weeks. Next morning, looking from the balcony, we were amazed. Just like John Wayne country. People came on horseback and horse-and-cart to town. There were water troughs for the horses at the railing where they tied their horses. Occasionally, a few old cars would rattle by.
Later in the morning, this man introduced us to some other Dutch people – an older man, and his son who was our age. Pop, as we later called him, asked us if we wanted to come home with him to meet his wife, as he was just going home for coffee. We did, and walking in the house, I saw Bible texts all over the wall. Boy, what had I gotten myself into?!? Nanna, as we later called her, was very nice and very nervous (so was I!). Pop gave thanks to the Lord for the coffee and prayed for us. Then he asked us about our views on the Lord. We did not have any.
Two days later they asked if we would like to board with them instead of the pub. I said, ‘No thank you’; Con said, ‘Yes please’. So we went to stay with them. They were really very nice to us. We seemed to be praying and reading the Bible all day long. They always ﬁnished by praying for us, as well.
Eventually, we got our own place, for which I was glad. The lady was very helpful to us, going to the shops buying a few things to set up house. Most of our own things were coming by boat a few weeks later. The house was partly furnished, and we loved it and the town. Pop had given Con a Dutch Bible and Con started to read every night after the meal. It was easy for him as his father had always done that. Soon, we had a lot of questions and we often used to go to Pop and Nanna’s place to talk about it. They had also introduced us to a lot of Christians in town. Our English was still very bad but we tried to understand them. There was a Bible study with about six different denominations. They were all very nice and helpful, and the study was very lively. Everyone contributed, asking and answering questions. The study never ﬁnished before someone would bring the gospel: that all men were sinners, all needed to be saved from their sin and that God so loved the world (which was you) that He gave His Son to die in our place instead of us, to pay the penalty for our (which was my) sins. Hmmm.
It was not long before Con got saved, and asked the Lord Jesus Christ into his heart and to save him. I could not see it, as I was not that bad; however, as time went on I saw that I too was bad. Surely the Lord would not want me. I felt I had to clean up my life ﬁrst.
People used to talk a lot about the soon coming of the Lord – ‘He comes as a thief in the night!’ – and it got me very worried. By now I had become a believer, I believed it all but I was not saved. ‘How do you know if you are saved?’ Con used to say, ‘It is so easy Jo, the Lord has done it all. He paid your debt for your sins.’ ‘Yes, but how do I know he will accept me???’
Weeks later, just at home alone, all of a sudden, I realised, ‘Yes, that was it. He was waiting for me to come to Him. It was all done; my sins were all paid for. How wonderful!’ How I loved the Lord for that. Now we both really could not get enough of the Bible, talking and asking about our precious Lord.
Now we also needed to know why there were so many differences among the Christians we met with. Over time we sorted some things out and decided that a group called the Brethren were the most scriptural, and so started a wonderful time of learning with the local Christians. We were very close and loving. We met so many of God’s dear people, and had so many stay at our house. The believers started a Sunday School, and we held gospel meetings. Con, Pop and our friend Dick went for years to many local shows at the gospel tent, handing out gospel tracts, giving away hundreds and hundreds of glass-framed Bible texts. We also had lots of people – needy people – staying at our house.
One day, about 10 years ago now, one of our most dear brothers in the Lord came to help us clean up the farm to sell. On the Sunday he did not come to the meeting with us. Later we asked him, ‘Why not?’ He told us that he was seeing some things differently now. He asked us, ‘When did the New Testament start?’, and said that “Testament” really should read “Covenant”. ‘Who was the covenant with?’, ‘Where did we read that the church was the bride of Christ?’, and so on. We had always talked to all people from all kinds of denominations. We liked to know and compare Scripture; so it was now, also. This began a new time of learning to read God’s Word.
Now we wonder how we could have missed so much. So many things in the Word began to become so clear. I had always believed that God’s Word was 100% true. If it did not ﬁt, then it was me not getting it right. So for years I had a “too-hard-for-now” basket. All that I did not understand went into that basket. From that time, slowly and surely, things fell into place.
Why was it better not to marry (1 Corinthians 7:8), yet later Paul says it IS better to marry (1 Timothy 5:14)? He said we shall not all die (1 Corinthians 15:51), whereas later he said, ‘I’m now ready to die’ (2 Timothy 4:6). There were now more and more pieces falling into place. Now we saw that the book of Acts was not about us in this time at all. We saw a change in God’s dealings with mankind. In Acts it was the Jew always first, and the Gospel was that Jesus was THE CHRIST. ‘Repent ye therefore, be baptised (wash you), that God may sent THE CHRIST’ (Acts 2:38; 3:19,20). Now we saw why all the letters written during the Acts period all wrote about the coming CHRIST. That time ended about A.D. 65/70. The temple was destroyed, Jerusalem destroyed, and many of the Jewish people taken away again. Now God started a new dispensation, or administration. Now no more Jew ﬁrst, now all are equal in a new calling, assembly, body – the body of Christ of which He is the Head (Ephesians 1:22,23; Colossians 1:18).
We are still learning and enjoying the Word of God. It is more precious than ever and we give thanks to God for opening our eyes, and give all the glory to HIS Name. We are not more holy, not better Christians than all our fellow believers – it is just such a joy to understand the Word and God better. We like to talk to others about it, to show them a more excellent way. Like us they need time and willingness to check it out.
So, that is my story.
Josephine Damme, 2014.