The Skipper’s Son

(Based on experiences of the author’s grandfather)
Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee (Matt. 19:27).

Feike jumped from the edge of the canal onto the deck of the boat where his family lived. His wooden shoes clunked loudly as he raced toward the white cabin at the back of the boat.

“Today is the day,” the 12-year-old boy thought excitedly. “Today Father will give the missionaries his answer.”

Latter-day Saint missionaries had begun preaching in the Netherlands a few years earlier, in the 1860s. Feike had seen them and brought them home, hoping they would teach him English. He soon learned, however, that the elders had greater things to teach him and his family.

At the door of the small cabin, Feike removed his wooden shoes, turning them upside down to keep out water. His classroom at school was larger than the small cabin that was his home, but Feike loved the tiny kitchen with its wood-burning stove. His parents and younger brothers and sisters slept on wall beds that folded up behind the cupboard doors at the back of the kitchen. Feike, the oldest, slept in the storage compartment at the front of the boat.

He slipped into the living room and sat down quietly. Elder Swensen was speaking, carefully reviewing the teachings he and Elder Lofgren had shared on so many winter nights in this very room. Feike had felt the warmth of the Spirit each time and wanted to be baptized right away. He thought his mother did, too, because she spoke often of going to the temple. But Father would not commit to something unless he knew he could do it, and so he wouldn’t be baptized until he was sure he could keep his baptismal promises. Today was the day Father would tell the missionaries his decision. Feike had been praying so sincerely for weeks that he was certain his father’s answer would be yes.

“Brother Wolthuis,” Elder Lofgren said to Father, “I feel you know the gospel is true.”

Father, looking at the floor, nodded his head.

“Are you willing to be baptized?” Elder Lofgren asked. “Can you make the necessary sacrifices?”

The room was silent. Even Feike’s younger brothers and sisters didn’t wiggle. Everyone stared at Father. Slowly he raised his weatherworn face.

“Yes, I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I will be baptized.”

Feike beamed. Heavenly Father had heard his prayers. Mother was smiling through the tears streaming down her cheeks.

“We will be ready to sail to America within the month,” Father promised.

“Sail to America?” Feike blurted out.

“Yes, Feike,” Father said. “Church leaders have asked all the Saints to come to Salt Lake City.” He paused. “Uncle Geert has agreed to buy our boat.”

“But the boat was to become mine one day! I was to become the skipper!” Feike desperately reminded his father.

“I know. I have not forgotten my promise,” Father said. “Uncle Geert has agreed to keep you on as his hired man if you choose not to go to America. Then when you are old enough, he will sell the boat to you.”

Anger washed over Feike’s whole body, erasing all the joy he’d felt about his father’s baptism.

“I thought this Church was true,” Feike exploded, “but to choose between the Church and your country, your relatives, and your boat—it is too much to ask!”

Feike stormed to his small room in the bow of the boat. Out of habit he banged on the side of the boat with a small hammer to signal he’d made it without falling overboard. Tonight he pounded again and again.

A long time passed as Feike lay on his mattress. He thought of the mules pulling the boat through the canals of the Dutch provinces. He thought of the small grocery boats that pulled up alongside their boat so Mother could do her shopping. But mostly Feike thought of the wind filling the tall sails of their boat as they crossed the open waters of the sea. One day he would sail on open waters as the skipper … if he said good-bye to his family when they went to America.

Just then he heard a knock at his door.

“Come in,” Feike mumbled.

His father sat on the end of the bed. “I’m sorry, Feike. I thought you understood that if we were baptized we would go to America.”

“I knew others were going, but I didn’t think you would ever leave the boat. I thought you loved being a skipper.”

Father’s eyes filled with tears. “I do—more than you’ll ever know.”

“What will you do in America?”

“I don’t know. Sailing has been my life. But the Lord has called His people to Salt Lake City, and your mother and I have decided to go.”

“But to give up my dream of being skipper—to leave the boat?”

“It is a difficult decision that only you can make,” his father agreed. “A couple of nights ago as I struggled with the same questions, I found a scripture that helped me. When Jesus called James and John, they were fishermen. But the Bible says that ‘they immediately left the ship … and followed him’ (Matt. 4:22).”

The skipper and his son sat in silence for a long time. Feike looked into his father’s clear blue eyes. He sensed his father’s faith and courage, and he knew what he needed to do. Finally he spoke.

“Can we take the boat out once more before we sail to America together?”

The skipper pulled his son into a hug.

“Yes, I’d like that very much.”

[Our Commitment]

Elder M. Russell Ballard

“Our commitment to the kingdom should match that of our faithful ancestors even though our sacrifices are different.” Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “The Law of Sacrifice,” Ensign, Oct. 1998, 11.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Fumi Kosaka Davis

Lisa Fernelius is a member of the Chambersburg First Ward, York Pennsylvania Stake.