Great-grandfather Gerrit ten Boom was born in Holland in 1760. He grew up to become a gifted gardener and eventually won the place of chief gardener on a large estate in Heemstede, Holland. It was a great honor and a great responsibility. He was dedicated to his work and grew a wide variety of flowers, bushes, trees and even vegetables and fruits. His strawberries, though, were what won him a special place in the owner’s heart; he looked forward to his bowl of fresh strawberries every morning. Little did Gerrit know that his gardening skills and his strawberries would one day save his life.
Gerrit was an ardent lover of liberty, it pulsed in his veins and was passed on to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. When Napoleon attacked and occupied Holland, Gerrit was enraged. One Sunday he had an opportunity to express his discontent when a hymn was chosen that spoke directly against Napoleon. No one had the courage to sing the words, knowing that arrest, imprisonment and possible death would be the penalties—except Gerrit and the minister. They sang out proudly against Napoleon and tyranny.
Of course, within a few days Gerrit was summoned to appear at town hall to speak to the charges against him. When he did so, he addressed the officer in charge with, “What does this Mr. Snot-nose want with me?” His passion for freedom was expressed in these words. As father ten Boom later recounted this story to his children he expressed pride in his great-grandfather stating, “I’m glad he was a real man.”
Well, Gerrit was luckier than most in his position. The owner of the estate on which he worked was too attached to his morning feast of fresh strawberries, so he intervened in Gerrit’s behalf and had him released.
This spirit of defiance in the face of oppression was passed down through future generations and fueled their determination to engage in underground work at the risk of their own lives. Imagine how empowering it must have been to remember: Hadn’t great-grandfather Gerrit faced death for truth and right? Couldn’t we do the same?
Eventually Gerrit married but did not have his first child until 1816 at the age of 56, when he was already an older man. He named his son Willem after all the princes of the House of Orange, whom he loved.
Time passed and the owner of the estate on which Gerrit worked had a daughter. She was spoiled and bad natured. Because she knew what pride Gerrit took in his petunia beds, she intentionally tramped all over them day after day just to spite him. He repeatedly asked her to stop but she refused. Exasperated Gerrit appealed to her father. He encouraged Gerrit to spank the child the next time she disobeyed his request not to walk on the flowers. He did so and it worked but years later, when the daughter had become a young woman, her father died leaving her the estate. She still held a grudge against Gerrit and immediately fired him and asked him to leave.
Now well over 60 years old, Gerrit was forced to move and begin a new career. He went to Haarlem, Holland and started a new business there constructing and renting carriages.
Gerrit’s home was known as a house of prayer and a house of learning. As a man of strong Christian faith, the Bible was the main literature in his home. He loved reading, however, and although books and learning opportunities did not come to him often or easily, he took advantage when he had the chance. On one occasion, he was lucky enough to borrow a book from a friend for one night. Between January 31 and February 1 of 1804, Gerrit laboriously copied every word of the book Life of the Godly and Blessed Petrus van der Velde (1785). Preserved among his belongings were a few small books he owned, some of which were also copied by hand.
One event in Gerrit’s life depicts beautifully his deep faith, commitment to truth and noble character. He was a deacon in the church and a man of prayer and had suffered much from the spiritual coldness of the church. The minister preached very liberal ideas that Gerrit felt were dangerous to the congregation. One morning, Gerrit drove the minister home from the service. He had struggled with the liberal message taught that morning and was already frustrated with the minister. But when the minister spoke highly of Napoleon, Gerrit determined to share his concerns with this pastor.
Corrie ten Boom tells the story, “As they drove past the old houses and green gardens on either side of them, Grandfather took advantage of the long ride, and, as the horses’ hooves kept time, told the minister what he thought about his unfaithfulness to the Bible and to the Prince of Orange, which the minister had clearly demonstrated that morning. He showed the pastor the grave responsibility of putting his own philosophies above the Word of God.
The minister must have been impressed, because when they arrived in Haarlem, he stepped down from the carriage and said, ‘Well, Gerrit, next Sunday I will do better!’
‘If God grants you the time to do so,’ was Grandfather’s reply.
The minister died before the next Sunday arrived.”