When our survival instinct kicks in, it’s often every man and women for themselves. Yet, in the moment of crisis, one courageous young man, Dirk Willems, made a decision that cost him everything. He chose the way of love.
The year was 1569. Holland was under the rule of the Spanish King Philip the Second. The dikes around the village of Asperen had frozen over, for it was the dead of winter. However, the town guard was not keeping warm in the castle, by the fire, but out on the hunt with orders to catch a religious dissident. With considerable trouble, a close call, and an unexpected rescue, he apprehended the wanted young man, Dirk Willems.
According to village records Dirk was 15 to 20 years olds. He had recently been baptised in Rotterdam in the home of Pietr Willems. Then, Dirk had returned to Asperen and began vigorously spreading his new faith in the village, baptising men and women in his home. This had attracted the attention of village authorities, leading to a warrant for his arrest. They were determined to stop the spread of conversions at its source.
Willems was soon safely locked away in Asperen castle, or so the guard thought. He checked in on the cell a little later, and lo and behold, the resourceful young man had fashioned a rope from knotted rags and narrowly escaped out of the window. The guard sounded the alarm and immediately gave chase. Out of the castle walls he ran, and across the flat terrain. He was not far behind Dirk who had begun to run over the iced-over water, slipping and sliding dangerously. The guard was just yards away from laying hold of Dirk, when with his next step he heard a thunderous crack. The ice beneath him giving way, the guard fell and plunged into the waters.
He gasped as the freezing water bit into his skin and attempted to drag him deep into its painful embrace. This was it; death was certain. Willems would get away, and he was doomed. He struggled to pull himself out of the water, to no avail. He shouted, and cried out, but it seemed like no one heard.
But someone did. Dirk heard, and turned around. For a split second his urge to flee was great, but his heart tugged at him and he did not wish to see the guard die in his pursuit. He wished the man saved, in body and in soul. Dirk crossed the ice towards the guard – carefully, for the ice was thin. He reached out his hand and somehow managed to pull the guard out of the water and back onto the ice. In doing so, he lost his own chance to escape.
The guard was saved and in his gratefulness he wished to let Dirk Willems go free, but the burgomaster had arrived and was shouting from the shoreline. Reluctantly, the guard arrested Dirk once again.
Dirk Willems was locked away again and then tried by seven judges. After having saved a man from death by ice, he was sentenced to death by fire. He died in much agony, calling out to God repeatedly as the flames slowly and torturously consumed his body to the horror of the presiding authorities and townspeople. Dirk’s courage was one few will ever rival, his love for those who made himself his enemies and sought his life beyond that of human comprehension.
He took seriously the words of the Apostle Peter,
For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: (1 Peter 2:21)
He was a true disciple of Christ, who commanded,
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; (Matthew 5:44)
May we overcome evil with good, just as this man did in imitation of Christ.