Loving Our Enemies

Posted by Marcus Yoder on 8th Jan 2018

Heinz Gaugel, the man who painted Behalt, did much of his research in the Martyr’s Mirror. In his reading, he came across an account that he felt deserved a prominent place on the canvas, and in the story of our people. In fact, he requested, that this story is one that we never leave out when people take a tour of the Mural. It is the story of Dirk Willems, an Anabaptist from Holland.

We know little of Dirk except for the one act in which he supremely exemplified how practically one can love their enemy. Dirk was arrested and imprisoned for his beliefs in the prison in the Dutch village of Asperen in 1569. He managed to escape and was fleeing to where his wife and children were in hiding. He was seen by some Taufer Jauger (Anabaptist bounty-hunters) and pursued. Rather than leading his pursuers to his family he fled across the open countryside. He was a short, thin man who had suffered hunger while in prison. He crossed a river on ice that was precarious but held under his weight. His pursuers, however, were heavier, and one of them broke through the ice.

Hearing the cries for help from his enemy, Dirk turned back and helped the man to safety. In so doing he was held until soldiers arrived and arrested and chained Dirk and returned him to a more secure cell in the church bell tower .Dirk was condemned to death and burned at the stake on May 16, 1569.

While Dirk was human, with all the problems of humanity, his one act of love exemplifies very well Christ’s words to us today from Luke 6:27, “Love your enemies and do good to those who misuse you.” While we know little about Dirk’s theology or life prior to this one tragic day in his life; we do know he was willing to live what Christ taught in a practical way that cost him his life. One wonders what emotions and feelings were present when word was received by his wife and children at the ultimate price that Dirk paid for being loving and kind.

In our world today, we may never have the opportunity to save the life of our pursuers and enemies, but every one of us has the opportunity to be kind and loving to those who mistreat us. Mistreatment may not be physical torture and death; rather, it more often gossip, slander or hurtful words and deeds. What will we do in such a situation? Will we “return” and offer them a hand, or will they die in the icy river of their own making.

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