Brother Dirk and Other Stories

Chapter Eight: Dirk Leaps

Chapter 8"How did you come to believe, Brother Dirk?" asked Elisabeth.

"How indeed!" smiled Dirk. "When I think of what I was without Him, it hardly seems possible. I still have far to go before I finish the race. But the abundant power of God is stronger than our sin. Let me tell you what happened to me."

"What have you done to this shoe? It's not even close to fitting!" As he heard the angry shout from his master Evert Peters, young Dirk Willems felt the thump of a large shoe on his back.

"How long have I been trying to teach you the right way to make shoes? How old are you, boy?" the man asked, waving the shoe in Dirk's face.

Dirk knew he was in trouble, and he tried to seem as sorry as he could. "I don't remember how old I am, sir. My mother never bothered to tell me. She had many children and not all of them lived."

"But you've been with me for a year. And you're certainly old enough to know better than to make the left shoe larger than the right," his master sputtered. "Feel this! You haven't even finished the sole under the toe."

Dirk remembered now that he had been working on that shoe the day before, when Evert Peters was gone on an errand to the market square of their town of Meenen. Then the baker's apprentice from across the lane slipped into the shop. The baker was gone too, and with no master watching them, Dirk challenged the other teenaged boy to see who could leap the farthest down the lane without slipping in the snow. Dirk won almost every time. As he prepared to make one last wild jump, he saw his master returning down the main street, a bundle under his arm. Before his master could catch him loafing, Dirk smoothly ducked back into the shop, and went back to his work as if he had never left it. Then, ordered to chop some firewood for the evening meal, Dirk forgot about the unfinished left shoe.

"I'm bad," thought Dirk as he pounded a nail into the sole. "I'm bad." He tried to feel proud about it, but this time it didn't work. "I can't stop being bad," he realized, and in spite of what his admiring friends might say, that was nothing to be proud about. He looked out the window as the priest of his church bounced down the frosty street on his long legs, a jug of wine over his shoulder, his eyes wandering vacantly into the shop windows. "He gets drunk every Saturday night, he talks about the blood of Jesus every Sunday morning," Dirk mused. Somehow church had never meant much to Dirk, and as he thought about it, maybe that was one reason why. "Did Jesus shed his blood so we could be like everyone else? Can't he do any better?" The thought made him shiver. He rubbed his heel where his own shoe fit poorly. He had made it himself.

A few weeks later, Evert brought a journeyman shoemaker to work with them at the shop. Walter had a pretty wife and a newborn daughter, and he had learned his trade from his father in Amsterdam. Dirk wanted to ask him why he had come to Meenen, instead of staying in his home town, but Walter didn't talk much about himself. Some things didn't need saying: Walter knew how to make excellent shoes, maybe better than Evert did at his age. He worked hard, he was polite, and he didn't seem ruffled by Evert Peters's frequent temper tantrums. He received Mrs. Peters's overcooked turnip soup with apparent gratitude, and he bowed his head to silently thank God for it. In fact, Dirk had never met anyone like him.

One strange thing: though Evert and his family often skipped church, Dirk never saw Walter in church at all, not even on All Saint's Day, Easter or Christmas. The one person I know who acts like a Christian, thought Dirk, and he doesn't try very hard to convince anyone that he is a Christian. When Dirk tried to joke with Walter about his church attendance, the journeyman became serious and quiet, and made no answer. Dirk felt ashamed for asking

The longer Dirk worked with Walter, and watched him, the more convinced he became that Walter was the kind of man Dirk wanted to be, but couldn't. He didn't pursue any of the amusements that Dirk hoped would make himself happy, yet he was happy. Sometimes when Walter took a quick break from his shoemaker's bench, he would sit on a stool in the corner, reading a little book covered with soft leather, but he never let anyone else see it. Dirk, and even Mr. Peters, began to realize that Walter must be an Anabaptist.

A few weeks later, Dirk dared to break the ice with Walter. "I wish I were as good as you," he commented, hoping it sounded like a joke. But Walter stopped cutting out the boot he was working on, and looked at Dirk for a moment.

"God can help you," he said. Then he went back to his boot.

Dirk felt himself blushing, but he forced out the next question, "How?"

Walter smiled. "Do you want God to help you?"

Dirk thought about that. He knew the answer he would have given before he met Walter. He wanted to be good, but not too good, and not quite yet. But this time, to his surprise, he made a different decision.

"Yes," he answered, and his eyes met Walter's.

"Let's talk some more later," said the journeyman as he finished his last cut.

That day marked the beginning of a friendship between the two young men. And as he learned what God required and what He had done to make it possible, it marked a change in Dirk. A few weeks later, when their workday was over, Walter took Dirk aside.

"Do you want to join us tonight for dinner?" he asked. Dirk was pleased to accept the invitation.

"And after dinner... a teacher is in Meenen," he added in a lower voice. "Will you come?"

A secret Anabaptist meeting. Dirk knew he was stepping into danger, but he wanted eternal life even more. "Do you trust me?" asked Dirk, knowing the answer.

Walter smiled a little, and they walked down the street to the house where Walter lived.

Five years later, many things had changed. Walter was now a master shoemaker himself, and surprisingly, so was Dirk. Though only the brothers and sisters knew it, he had been baptized a year after that first meeting. He now had a home of his own, where the believers sometimes met. And his shoes fit much better.

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