The following story comes from a collection compiled and translated by Gilbert Zekveld. He was a dairy farmer from Lindsay, Ontario. In his later retirement years, this godly widower spent most of his time translating edifying literature from Dutch into English. I was privileged to know him as a friend and helped him with a bit of editing. This story comes from “A Collection of True Life Stories,” most of which were taken from a Dutch book, Honingdroppels (Drops of Honey). It’s a story of God’s grace for a wicked man, a Nazi collaborator whom many of our forefathers at one time feared and yes, even hated.
The name of Ries Jansen was well-known in the Veluwe [a forested region in the middle of the Netherlands] during the winter of 1944-1945. It was a name that inspired hate. He was a hunter of men par excellence.
He was wounded in a shoot-out with the underground in Rotterdam. However, he recovered and continued his lurid business on the Veluwe.
After the liberation of the Netherlands, he faced judgment in a criminal court. His misdeeds were so heinous that he received the death sentence. A subsequent request for pardon was refused.
One of his victims was a leader of the underground in the Alblasserwaard polder [in the province of South Holland]. When the mother of that victim read about Jansen’s sentence, she sent him a Bible and admonished him in a letter to seek refuge with the Lord. What compassion when a mother whose son fell into the hands of that man can do such a thing. It was an act richly blessed by the Lord.
Ries Jansen repented, not to escape punishment, but to be a witness of God’s love before the firing squad. He repented to be a witness for the God who took this murderer home.
A certain Mr. Bomhof was an evangelist from Enschede and he was called upon to assist Ries Jansen in his final hours. He tells the rest of the story:
“Sir, there is a telephone call for you from Arnhem.” It was the director of the chapel. He reported that Jansen would be executed next Friday, because his request for pardon was refused. However, the man wanted to speak with me.
I did not sleep much that night. The next day was difficult for me too. Apart from two letters from the condemned man, he was absolutely unknown to me. And what do you say to a man who only has one more day to live? It did not appeal to me in any way. But I had long known the words: in the hour what you need to speak will be given to you.
After a while, I met Jansen in the waiting room. He was small and now skinny, but still muscular and had dark hair. His white face betrayed four years of waiting with no hope of respite. But his step was sure and he looked me steadfastly in the eye. He did not in any way look like a man about to be executed.
His hands rested on the table folded. He looked me deep in the eye and I reciprocated. Then I took both his hands, pulled towards me and said, “Early tomorrow you will travel to great glory. I envy you. Think of it, tomorrow you will be home with Jesus.”
Then he became glad also, and with a happy face he said, “Yes, sir, I also long much for the time they will lead me to the post. Then, even though I am so unworthy, then I may see him. I experienced that he forgave all my sins, that is now the faith I live by. I have already made my peace with the post. Jesus made it well.”
But then he wept and said, “O, my sins make such a terrible separation between God and my soul. My guilt is great, but I know that the Lord goes a way of justice with me. The punishment is just, I deserve all of it.” It became silent for a while. Then he sighed and said, “Sir…”
I interrupted and said, “Call me brother, for we are one in Jesus.”
“Brother,” he continued, grateful, “but there is one more heavy load that burdens me. I did not do a thing for Jesus, nothing…” and again he wept — “I go to him with empty hands.” I told him, “Brother, take courage. You don’t come with empty hands. Your first letter was a great blessing in the place where I live. Remember the thief on the cross. After almost two thousand years he still speaks. He has been a blessing to many.”
Then, suddenly, he was very happy. His face literally shone. The truth of the Bible verse, “Death, where is your sting? Hell, where is your victory?” was sitting across from me on the other side of the table. I had never before seen such a victory in the face of death.
When his wife arrived, he was composed. He stood calmly. He said, “My wife, be strong. I am not afraid. I am ready. There is no more pain for me. Yes, you will remain behind with the child, but the Lord will be with you.”
That afternoon we spoke some more. His warm meal was getting cold. I told him not to let his food get cold. He ate like a hungry man. Suddenly he said, “But did you eat? Come on, let us share.”
Together we finished the meal of potatoes and beans. Then we discussed Romans 8, his favourite Bible chapter. “Yes,” he said, “the Bible from which you read was given me by a mother whose son I arrested. When she read in the paper that I was sentenced to death, she bought a Bible and a hymnal. She wrote and admonished me to take refuge in Jesus. Her act brought me to Jesus’ feet.” He presented this Bible (with an inscription) and the hymnal to his little daughter.