The conversion of: Leo Houben.
I was born in Holland in 1941, the war was in full swing and I was born into a very strong R.C. family. I had number of Uncles who were priests, and a number of Aunties who were nuns, and to my Mum and Dad, the church was everything. I did all my schooling in RC schools, I was taught by nuns in primary school and by RC Brothers in secondary school. So, it was little wonder that when I was in my teenage years that I considered the priesthood as a vocation. When we came to NZ in 1953, I was 12, and we lived in the bush, way out in the King country, many miles from civilization.
When I left school, at the age of 15, I went dairy farming, in those days there were more jobs than there were workers, and a person could leave a job in the morning and have a new one in the afternoon, and so, 4 years later, I wound up on a farm in Lichfield, just outside Putaruru, in the centre of the North Island. I was also in the NZ Territorial Army at the time and was required to put in certain hours per week.
On one particular Saturday, after work, I went and did my ‘Parade for the army,’ and then went to the local dance in the evening, this was about the only entertainment that there was available in those days, and it was well attended by all the local football and netball players.
When I walked into the hall, still in my army uniform, I saw this fantastic looking girl at the other end of the hall, and was surprised that no-one had asked her for a dance, so I asked her, and she accepted (wow!), and it was not very long before we became ‘an item’.
But, it was also not very long before the subject of ‘religion’ came up. She was a Christadelphian (what on earth was that?), and needless to say, both of us were convinced that we were right. When we started our ‘discussions’, Helen was a ‘Sunday Christadelphian’, but when her faith came under threat, she became very strong for her faith.
Our discussions lasted a very long time. I was of the opinion that: ‘everyone knows that the Catholic teachings are correct, so it should not take to long before Helen came to that understanding’; whereas her view was: ‘Can’t he see how wrong the RC teachings are?’ I had to learn twice – the first time I went through the motions while waiting for Helen to ‘come to her senses and admit that the RC church was ‘the one true’ church’. But, when I came to the realization that I ‘could be’ wrong in my beliefs, I had to start all over again, and really take in what I was being taught.
Helen’s dad was not to keen on the prospect of me as a son-in-law, for two reasons, (1): I was Dutch, and (2) I had no money. But Helen’s mum must have been able to see something worth saving (a diamond in the rough) and she helped teach me in her quiet way. For instance, ‘If satan is real what about this or that verse?’ making me do the work and come against a brick wall.
I would go to all events, Bible Class, Memorial Meeting, Lectures, with the view of finding fault, to help me to ‘prove beyond a shadow of doubt’ that the Christadelphians were wrong in their beliefs. But, the more I tried that, and the more I studied, the more I was shown that in fact it was me that was wrong. But I still would not accept the fact that was staring me in the face. I now said: ‘Just because the RC’s are wrong, this does not make the Christadelphians right’. So I started a ‘crusade’, checking on other churches and their teachings. (This actually did not take me very long as one of the main problems with the RC and all other religions is the subject of the trinity). As our ‘debate’ went on, we broke up and made up many times. It was a very slow process, not because the subject was that hard, but because one of us (me), was too ‘pig-headed’, and too ‘stubborn’ to admit when he is wrong. I should have taken the example of Paul on the road to Damascus, when he saw the bright light: “If you are Jesus, then I’m wrong. What do you want me to do?”
Needless to say my Dad was very upset that I would even consider casting doubt on his church’s teachings, and he asked us to go and talk to a priest. To this we agreed, the only concession that the priest made is that I was allowed to bring one Christadelphian with us, not to be our spokesman, but to help me find things in the Bible. For I was new to the Bible; I knew for instance that the Bible said: “The meek shall inherit the earth”, but I did not know where to find it, and I was allowed to bring Brother Fred Surgenor from the Hamilton Ecclesia. As a novice I was required to discuss matters with this priest, who was a missionary priest and should have been ‘well versed in the Bible’, but we were surprised when he was unable to answer simple questions about the subject of: “Heaven Going”.
The priest was going through the motions mainly for the benefit of my Dad, (he was there just as an observer), and he was getting more and more agitated as the evening went on. Finally my Dad jumped up, banged his fist on the table, and trembling in fear shouted: “You know too much – you know too much”, and then, in absolute fear, stormed out of the room. Please keep in mind, I had only just started to study this wonderful book for myself, so, how much did I know?
We were also amazed when the Priest actually admitted, after my dad had left the room, that he, in fact, believed in evolution, but, he said, he could not teach that as he would lose his job.
Another thing that surprised us was that after my Dad died, his brother, a priest of 53 years, came to visit us and stayed with us for a week. We still did our daily readings, and had our discussions and he would always join in. One day I decided to ‘tackle’ the subject of ‘trinity’ with him. When I brought it up he actually admitted that he did not believe in ‘the doctrine of trinity’.
In 1962 me and my wonderful friend were baptised, and then we were married. Sadly though, the priest forbade all my family from coming to our wedding (except my oldest sister who defied his order and came anyway), so I was required to pick a substitute ‘mother and father’ from my ‘new family in Christ’. I chose Brother and Sister Jack and Daisy McCurdy, to stand up for me.
We have been blessed with 3 wonderful children, two boys and a girl, but sadly, only one has accepted Christ as their saviour. And now we have 6 grand children and 3 great – grand children.
My wonderful wife and I will soon be celebrating 55 years together. And by His Grace, we will be spending eternity together in His Kingdom.
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