Written by: Angela Veldman
Featured Image: Hilke (left); the other two pictures are of deacons that were part of a diaconal training program in Haiti.
Author’s Note: Hilke Wierenga spent his life living for Jesus; he passed away in 2020. We are grateful to his wife, Alice, his son-in-law, Mark Vanderwees, and his good friend, Peter Shaafsma, for sharing Hilke’s story with us.
God moves in amazing ways as we follow Him and serve in His Kingdom. For Hilke Wierenga, he experienced this as he served as a deacon in his congregation. Hilke was a tradesman, working to support his large family. Once retirement came, he was eager to see how this new season would impact his life. ‘My best years are still ahead,’ he is remembered saying.
Hilke was a committed member at CrossPoint Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, ON, for decades, where he served three terms as a deacon. He was wise and thoughtful; a man of few words. One of his fellow church members and close friends, Peter Shaafsma, joined Hilke on council several times. He remembers Hilke knowing exactly what to say when discussions about church matters would become heated. Hilke listened well and would always find a way to settle the conversation and draw them back to the main reason they were gathering as office-bearers: to work for the Lord and bring glory to Him.
Hilke’s work as a deacon eventually led him to become a delegate for the World Renew board in Classis Toronto. This calling in his life gave him an opportunity to work directly with World Renew, traveling to countries that needed assistance, both in physical labour and in teaching about the love of God. Peter reminisces how Hilke’s call to being a deacon impacted his own life as well. Hilke encouraged Peter to volunteer in Nicaragua and attend meetings for World Renew. They worked together on several mission trips, doing manual labour like painting and roofing. Hilke’s strengths in listening and leading really shone during these trips and, as a result, sincere relationships were established with the local people there. Peter recalls he was “energized” by Hilke to speak at engagements for World Renew and continued working with them for several years.
“One of the key tools a deacon has is to be able to listen well. Being heard fills a huge gap in people’s lives. It’s not always about providing material resources.Hilke W.
As Hilke continued to serve in these various capacities, God began to change his outlook towards people who looked and talked differently than him. It inspired him to have compassion for all people and see them as image-bearers of God. “I wish I had known when I was young what I know about life now,” Hilke had once said. This change was meaningful in his life and spurred him on in his calling as a deacon and to continue to work both locally and internationally.
Hilke and his wife, Alice, would visit his son-in-law, Mark Vanderwees, in Haiti where he and his wife and family lived and served. Mark was working to help the locals with their fish farms and teaching them how to work the land well and make a profit from it. Hilke would tag along with Mark on his visits and really loved watching the work being done there. Following these visits, and after his retirement in 1993, Hilke began working closely with World Renew’s Disaster Relief Services in many different states, helping to rebuild areas that had been destroyed by natural disasters. He experienced ‘a spiritual fix’, as he liked to call it, during these visits.
As a five year board member for World Renew, he was given the opportunity to experience trips to Nicaragua, Ecuador, and West Africa, each time learning to embrace a new culture. Alice remembers fondly his stories about eating different food in ways he never had before and how he embraced it so happily. He was a man of very little words, but when he spoke, people would listen to him. During one of the visits with World Renew, he shared a testimony to the trainees of World Renew and those who came to help with the disaster relief, encouraging those around him to do more listening in their daily life. After a visit to Ecuador, he led a children’s message in his home church, sharing with the children about the work the Lord is doing all over the world. At the age of 78, he felt called to organize a short-term mission trip to Nicaragua with twelve other men from his church.
Hilke was a strong leader in his church, always reminding others to focus on the purpose of what God is calling us to do to further his kingdom. “He was a very caring man; Jesus was shining through him and Hilke really wanted to reflect that,” Alice said. God used his talents as a tradesman, but also his talents in listening to the people he interacted with. He was honest and dedicated to serve the Lord. His encouragement to young people is to start embracing God’s calling now, don’t wait. A week before he passed away, he spoke to Alice about eternal life and said he wanted to ensure that everyone around him was granted the same as him.
If he could speak to deacons today, Alice says he would strongly recommend anyone of any age to volunteer with World Renew to witness how much God is moving through the work they are doing. But most importantly, he would encourage them to listen to the people around them. “One of the key tools a deacon has is to be able to listen well,” Hilke often said. “Being heard fills a huge gap in people’s lives. It’s not always about providing material resources.” This is how deacons can fully embrace and carry out the work God has called them to do.
What about you?
Do you have a story to share about your experience as a deacon? Contact our Communications Coordinator, Erin Knight, today! firstname.lastname@example.org