Amsterdam, June 1533
Striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel…Philippians 1:27
The newlyweds moved to a tiny house in Emden, a seaport town in Lower Saxony, on the river Ems. Because the town had an independent government and was rarely raided by the Council of Holland, Emden was a kind of refuge for the Brethren. There was security enough for new preachers to be trained by those more experienced in the doctrine. When other cities and towns were deprived of their Anabaptist preachers because of execution, they would send to Emden for one of the Brethren to lead their congregation.
For the year after their marriage, Anna frequently accompanied Adriaen to meetings, in comparative safety and openness. She helped him with the female baptisms, removing their caps, replacing the caps after the water had been sprinkled, then offering the Holy Kiss as a welcome to the Gemeente. Her former life seemed far away, and she rarely missed her former church and its traditions and magnificence. Here, she could not remain friendless; the people were just too welcoming for that.
She did often think of Maeyken, and the children, especially Anneken. Maybe she would never hear of the baby again, a thought which tore at her heart. On the other hand, what if one day, she would chance to find her? She had asked around wherever they went, and sympathetic though the Brethren and sisters of the faith were, they could give her no clues. Nobody had seen a couple of Claes and Elizabeth’s description, with two babies, even though there was a continuous trickle of refugees coming from the Netherlands and Germany. Only God knew where they were, and Anna prayed every day that they were safe, and stood strong in their faith.
In Emden, she met Dirk Philips, a former Franciscan, who had left his orders and become a disciple of Melchior Hoffman. He was a well-organized man of strict, unwavering beliefs who set many a man on a sure, straight path. Some of her new friends confided they thought him a little too strict, but his vision for the Gemeente was a pure church, without spot or wrinkle, and he stuck firmly to his principles. Melchior’s favorite topic was the last days, and Dirk’s favorite topic was building this pure church of believers only.
Adriaen spent much of his time reading and studying the Bible and religious tracts written by the Brethren, especially those of Dirk Philips and Melchior Hoffman. Sometimes he got letters from Brethren elsewhere, usually well-handled ones which had been passed from brother to brother across various borders.
One early June evening, Adriaen looked up from reading a letter he had received that day. “Anna, what do you think of this?” he asked, holding up a wrinkled piece of paper. “Jacob van Campen has sent this letter, asking me to return to Amsterdam to help lead the congregations there. Would you be willing to move back to Amsterdam?”
Anna stopped in the middle of chopping onions and stared at her husband. “You mean we can’t stay here, where we are safe?”
“We can say no, but if this is the Lord’s will, I am willing to go, if you don’t object.” He looked at her sympathetically. “I know you have made friends here whom you would miss, but I would introduce you to other women of the faith in Amsterdam, so you wouldn’t be too lonely.”
Anna sighed. “I cannot object if you are called to go there, but you are right. I have felt so welcome here. The women are friendly, and since I do not have the gift of making friends easily, I wonder how it will be back in Amsterdam.”
“Now that you are my wife and baptized, I think they will open up more to you. We will pray about this, and listen to what God puts in our hearts. Do you agree?”
“Yes, you are right.” So much had happened while she lived in Amsterdam previously, and now she might have to go back into the middle of the fray; this time as a baptized member of the Brethren, married to a preacher.
Adriaen and Anna said their good-byes one fine day in June, with visits to all their friends. In these unstable times, any departure of dear friends was worth a tear, and for the newlywed preacher and his wife, there were plenty. Cornelia had moved to Emden to be near Anna and was living with another Anabaptist family. She decided that she would stay there. Cornelia had won the hearts of the congregation, and Anna knew she would be loved and cared for as long as she lived.
They arrived in Amsterdam by boat at the end of June without incident and moved into a sparsely-furnished apartment above a shop which the Brethren had found for them. There was a bed-in-the-wall, a table and a couple of rickety chairs, and not much else.
“The place needs a woman’s touch,” Adriaen said, looking around the single room.
“That may be, but I could live anywhere with you as my husband.” Husband. The word still felt delightful coming from her lips. It was more than she deserved, to have won his love and his heart—except she hadn’t really won him. God had put love in both their hearts as a gift, as a reminder that prayers do come true, even those from inexperienced believers.
Adriaen knelt in front of the fireplace to get a fire started, and Anna found a bucket and headed down the steep stairs to find some water. The apartment needed a good cleaning, but it would be home.
A couple of hours later, with a fire burning cheerfully, and everything scrubbed clean, it began to feel more livable. Adriaen took his New Testament out of his pack and set it on the mantel, and they hung their few extra articles of clothing on some pegs in the wall.
Jacob van Campen had invited them to his house for supper, which took care of food for today. They finished cleaning just in time to straighten themselves up and head out. After a short walk of two blocks, they arrived at a tall, narrow house which backed onto the water. Anna could see a small boat bobbing behind it.
“Welcome in,” Jacob greeted them warmly, “It’s good to have you back with us.” A shadow crossed his face. “So many have been imprisoned now, but the Lord keeps sending new men to help spread His word.”
Jacob’s wife, Aeff, came bustling in from working in her garden to meet them.
“So, you’re the young woman that captured Adriaen’s heart?” she smiled, and clasped Anna’s hand warmly, then Adriaen’s. “I’m sure we shall all become good friends.” She shooed the men to the back room and allowed Anna to help prepare the meal.
Anna immediately felt at home with the friendly, plump little woman. Her house was clean and organized, and fragrant with simmering beef stew. Aeff tossed in the herbs she had brought from the garden, and bent to remove a crusty apple tart from the oven. Anna’s mouth watered. She hadn’t seen such a wonderful dessert for a long time.
While they ate, the conversation soon turned to their church.
“We have a meeting tomorrow night, and I hope you can both come,” Jacob invited them. “We are gaining more followers all the time, some say there are thousands, though I don’t know who is counting. We’re fortunate that the authorities have settled down for the time being. If the officers from the Court of Holland don’t come around, we’re usually unmolested.”
“Do you know where Melchior Hoffman is now?” Adriaen asked.
“He is now travelling throughout the Roman Empire, gathering the 144,000 chosen ones for the return of the Lord.” Jacob said. “An elderly friend of his had a vision that Melchior is a prophet, and he will be the head of these people. He is calling on all believers to meet him in Strasbourg, which is to be the New Jerusalem.”
Anna shivered. She had to remind herself that as a believer, she had nothing to fear at Christ’s return. Only joy awaited those who believed in Him, and suffered for His sake. But still…she dreaded that day, and it wasn’t far distant.
“He says that according to Revelations 14:1 the chosen city will suffer a bloody siege, then recover its strength and destroy the ungodly,” Jacob said.
“Do you believe this?” Anna asked.
“Believe it? The Old Testament foretells this, and it has been revealed to Hoffman that he is the new Elijah, calling sinners to repentance and warning them of the great day to come. I believe this to be true, yes.”
The beautiful apple tart that Aeff had made nearly refused to go down Anna’s throat, and she barely tasted it.
After the meal, Jacob showed them his shop where he sheared cloth, and Anna watched half-heartedly as he demonstrated how he snipped all the fuzz and little bits sticking up in the wool. At Jacob’s urging, she ran her hand over the sheared cloth, and remarked how much smoother the cloth was afterwards.
“It has to be perfect before we ship it out to other lands,” he said. “It serves as a reminder of how our sins have to be perfectly forgiven by God before we can ship out to Heaven. We must trust Him perfectly.”
Later, the men went out to some of the other Diener to discuss business, and Aeff showed Anna her garden, and chattered away until Anna felt completely at ease with this woman.
“I must take you to meet some of the other young women in our congregation. The more you get out and about, the sooner you will get to know more people,” Aeff said. “We’re all one big family in Amsterdam, and there’s lots to do. Refugees come in almost every day from places worse off than us, and you wouldn’t believe how poor most of them are. They’ve had to leave everything behind; their homes, their animals, their friends and family…everything.”
Anna nodded, gulping to prevent the tears from flowing. “I know, I used to live in Germany. I saw so many terrible things there.” Somehow, kindly Aeff seemed like the very person to pour out her grief to. She would understand. Only, Anna had been trying so hard to put it all out of her mind; the burning of her home with her loved ones still inside, and the cruelty of the provost, Aichelen. He had led the other horsemen to Mantelhof where they whooped and shouted as they rounded up human beings as if they were merely wild animals. The insane laughter still poisoned her memories. It all came pouring out into Aeff’s sympathetic ears, like an avalanche that had been held back too long.
“Oh, I feel so badly for you,” Aeff said. “We have had times of severe persecution here in Amsterdam as well, but remember… it is written in the Scriptures that the true church is a suffering church. Men reviled Jesus while He walked on earth, and so shall we also be reviled. Only for a short while longer, my friend. When Christ returns, he will gather those who love Him and take them to Heaven with him. There we shall have our crown at last.”
“Thank you, Aeff, for reminding me. This is something I need to remember and talking about my terrors does seem to lighten the burden.” Anna had never unburdened herself like this to Maeyken, though she had been a loyal friend. Maybe the subtle differences in faith, though not spoken of, had been present then, though hidden from view. Many times, she regretted the harsh words she had said to Maeyken about the Anabaptist faith, and wished she could ask for her forgiveness. Now, she could only pray to Christ to be forgiven, in private, thankfully without kneeling at Father Hendrick’s feet.
Later that night, as they lay in their lumpy bed, Anna turned to Adriaen. “Do you believe in what Hoffman is saying?”
“I cannot do otherwise, since he has had visions and revelations. Don’t worry too much about it,” he said, pulling her close to him. “You, as a believer and beloved of God, have the hope of a crown in Heaven. The ungodly who persecute the chosen ones, are the ones who will suffer eternal damnation.”
“I’m so glad I have you to turn to for advice and comfort, because so often I doubt the strength of my faith, even when I really want to believe.”
“That is natural, my dear wife. We are weak, but the Lord is strong, and He will carry us through.”
The following night, the young couple tidied themselves, descended the steep stairway and let themselves out onto the cobbled street. They lived in a different part of the city than before, but the narrow streets and tall buildings were the same. As they passed the deep doorway of a weaver’s shop, Anna heard a childish voice, and out of the corner of her eye, she caught the flash of a little girl’s skirt.
Anna gasped. “Trijntgen!”
Adriaen looked at her oddly. “Anna, what is wrong? Trijntgen is…” He hesitated, not quite able to say the word.
“Nothing. Just when I saw the little girl in there, something reminded me so much of Trijntgen.” She swiped at her eyes with her sleeve.
Adriaen cleared his throat. “It doesn’t get any easier, does it? I find myself watching out for the children all the time, then I remember that they are gone.”
“I do wonder where their little graves are, and how they died.”
“Who told you about their deaths?”
“Jan went out making inquiries and met a man on the street who told him they’re gone, but he didn’t say more. He also said you were in a dungeon and would be executed. Thank goodness that wasn’t true.”
Adriaen frowned. “Why would he tell you that? Did you know this man?”
“I didn’t see who Jan talked with, because Cornelia and I were hiding behind a tree. We didn’t want anyone on our street to recognize me.”
“Good idea. Well, false information goes around all the time. I had a few narrow escapes, but the Lord has watched over me thus far. We both know my luck will not last forever, so we can only thank God for every day we can be together.”
“Yes, and I do thank God for every hour that you are free. We have been blessed, and maybe you will live to a be an old man with grandchildren.”
A pained look crossed Adriaen’s face. “Even if Melchior is wrong, and the Lord hasn’t returned by then, you must know it will not come to be. It is very unlikely I will escape capture that long and live to see my grandchildren, dear Anna. Much as I would like to have it so.”
Other people were walking in the same direction they were, and as they crossed the bridge, the swish of oars could be heard in the water as several boats slid by.
“Do you know what I would like?” Anna asked.
“Certainly, my husband,” she grinned, “just not in public. I was thinking of riding a boat.” She watched the boats as they swept smoothly along the Amstel river, the passengers manning the oars with muscular arms.
“That might be managed. I know a man or two who owns a boat, and I’m certain they wouldn’t mind us borrowing it. I’ll see what I can arrange.” Adriaen smiled at her as if he were a knight bowing to his lady’s wishes.
“You are too good to me.” Anna loved him more with each passing day, it seemed.
“I can never be too good. There is always room for improvement.”
The meeting was being held in an open space near a tower, which cast its long shadow on the assembly. Several hundred people must be gathered there, something that wouldn’t have been possible a year ago, when the Court officers were lurking about. On a raised platform near the tower wall, Jacob van Campen stood beside a man Anna had never seen before; tall, dressed in a black robe knotted at his waist with a leather rope belt, he looked around with the imperious air of a king. Jacob’s meek and mild demeanor was in sharp contrast to this rather arrogant man.
“Who is that?” Anna whispered to Adriaen, who stood protectively at her side.
Adriaen’s brows drew together in a frown. “That is Jan Matthys of Haarlem. He used to be a baker, but now he is one of the leaders of the Brethren, ever since Melchior has left for Strasbourg. Melchior was going to put a hold on baptizing people for two years, after Trypmaker and the others were executed, just to keep a low profile here in Amsterdam. Matthys would have none of that, and kept on baptizing.”
Anna stared at the gaunt, stooped figure; he was no longer young, perhaps in his fifties, with a huge, nearly bald head, and he looked around with black, piercing eyes. She gripped Adriaen’s sleeve and whispered, “I don’t like him.”