I didn’t appreciate it much when I was younger, but looking back now, I realize the influence my father’s faith in God has had on me. I have fond memories of standing next to his (at the time) towering 6-foot frame, listening to him wholeheartedly singing hymns in church.
My family was from Holland, and my father’s favorite songs were in Dutch. After leaving home and striking out on my own, one particular song would come back to me, especially when I was feeling discouraged or worried. Roughly translated, it goes like this:
A little ship under Jesus’ care
With the emblem of the cross flying there.
It rescues all in need,
Even though the sea stands tall and high
And the storms do threaten nigh.
We have God’s Son on board,
And safety in His ward.
This song connects to memories of an adventure from my childhood:
It was 1953, and my parents had decided to emigrate from the Netherlands to the United States. We crossed the Atlantic on an old ocean freighter that had been converted to carry passengers.
My two brothers and I loved the thrill of being on board a big ship. We spent our days exploring and in no time made friends with all the crew members. I was only four years old, but I can remember the ship’s smell of oil and tar mixed with a sea breeze, and it still fills me with the same feelings of adventure and excitement I felt the day we boarded the freighter in Rotterdam.
Just how much of an adventure we were in for, we had no idea. After several days, our ship was caught in a storm near the Sargasso Sea, at the center of the infamous Bermuda Triangle. The stormy turbulence churned up the abundant floating mats of an alga called sargassum, which then got tangled around our ship’s propellers. The ship suddenly lurched to one side, knocking over passengers and furniture. Thankfully, no one in my family was injured, but with the propellers rendered useless, our ship bobbed helplessly in the stormy ocean.
My father took the three of us children to our cabin and tucked us into bed. I can better understand now what thoughts must have been going through his mind, as he thought of his young family getting caught in these treacherous waters where so many ships and crew members have been lost. Instead of caving in to fear, though, my father prayed with us and sang that particular hymn. Even though the waves were tossing our ship, and we were lost and directionless in the stormy night, I never felt frightened.
In the morning, the sea was calm once again, and the crew was able to make radio contact with the nearest port. We soon welcomed the sight of a sturdy black tugboat chugging in our direction. The tug pulled our huge but helpless freighter to the harbor at Newport News, Virginia, where it stayed in dry dock for two weeks for repairs.
My four-year-old mind retained some memories of the event, such as the ship’s sudden lurch that made me lose my balance and roll under some furniture, and especially the secure feeling I felt as my father prayed and sang so reassuringly.
My father taught us faith by his example of trusting God no matter what circumstances looked like. Whenever life’s problems have seemed large and threatening like the waves of that stormy sea, I’ve sung that little song and have never failed to feel encouraged and reminded of my father’s faith in the midst of the storm.
A Child’s Faith
“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.”
Little children ask no more,
For love is all they’re looking for,
And in a small child’s shining eyes
The Faith of all the ages lies.
And tiny hands and tousled heads
That kneel in prayer by little beds
Are closer to the dear Lord’s heart
And of His kingdom more a part
Than we who search, and never find
The answer to our questioning mind.
For Faith in things we cannot see
Requires a child’s simplicity
For, lost in life’s complexities,
We drift upon uncharted seas
And slowly Faith disintegrates
While wealth and power accumulate.
And the more man learns, the less he knows,
And the more involved his thinking grows
And, in his arrogance and pride,
No longer is man satisfied
To place his confidence and love
With childlike Faith in God above.
Oh, Father grant once more to men
A simple childlike Faith again.
And, with a small child’s trusting eyes
May all men come to realize
That Faith alone can save man’s soul
And lead him to a Higher Goal.
—Helen Steiner Rice (1900–1981)