A Spiritual Legacy—Part 1

Crônicas do Cotidiano > A Spiritual Legacy—Part 1

The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off.

—Acts 2.39a

An Album full of Memories (1941)


(I have translated the previous blog posting in order to share thoughts and memories of our spiritual legacy with the non-Portuguese-speaking members of my family (and any others who may be interested). Please feel free to comment at the end. Other postings in English can be found through the link “English” on the right-hand side.)

Ever since we moved (over a year ago) to our current apartment in São Paulo, Brazil, I have been occasionally intent on examining and re-organizing the contents of dozens of boxes that are the fruit of the accumulation of 35 years of marriage, four children, documents for companies where my husband worked, bills paid since 1974, etc., etc. So much stuff! I rarely have time to dedicate to this task but now and then I enjoy the pleasure of filling a garbage bag with paper items that are no longer relevant to our lives.

I bought some pretty (and smaller) boxes to substitute the old, mouldy or ugly ones which have stored the special memories of our lives as children and adolescents, of our siblings and children, of our parents and grandparents….  The memories of births, marriages and burials of the persons that were, or are, part of our family, both here and around the world, are being moved into these, as I discover the treasures in the middle of the “stuff”. And it is about one of these that I want to write this time.

The object of interest is one of the few keepsakes that I have left of my mother. She went to be with our Lord in July 1988, when she had just turned fifty-eight.

It’s a little book, covered with a velvety light-blue cloth, printed with small flowers and figures. She called it her poesie-album. I still recall sitting in our living room, she and I, when I was about ten years old. It was on a spring-cleaning day and we had dusted, washed and scrubbed all the corners and objects around us. Now we were examining the contents of the large drawer that was at the bottom of a cabinet with glass doors, behind which she kept her “good dishes”. We were not allowed to mess with that drawer—a lot of precious things were stored there, like passports and certificates, as well as family memories of the past—photos, letters, clippings, report cards…


That tiny book fascinated me because, even though it was faded and unattractive on the outside, it contained “stickers” that were more beautiful than any I had seen sold in shops in my childhood. I secretly thought it would be much more logical for that booklet, with its brightly coloured children, dolls, angels, butterflies, birds and flowers, to be given to me than to remain in that drawer. But on that day we looked at the pages together and talked about her life in Holland and about the girl friends whose names appeared under elaborate or playful verses. Friends whose handwriting was much better than mine, even though they were my age when they wrote….

Listening to her words and looking at the photos she had, I could imagine her—a tall, skinny girl, cheerful and curious, with a big ribbon in her straight blonde hair—gently sliding her fingers over the velvety cover of her recently acquired poesie-album. Choosing and gluing each little picture, here and there, and thinking—Whom shall I invite to write in my album? Picking up a pencil and scribbling, on the top corner of the pages (some still visible), “heit” (father), “mem” (mother) and, in sequence, the names of each of her eight brothers and sisters—five older and three younger than her. Then “beppe Hiske” (grandma), Pake Pieter (Grampa)… Followed by the names of her friends. And they did as she asked… All in the form of poetry. Some from memory, some copied, some invented…


The value of this book for me no longer lies in the “stickers” (even though they are still beautiful and the vivid colours remain, and despite their seeming quite advanced for the time in which they were printed). Its worth is now in the words that were written in it—most of them within the period of one month—when my mother was only 10-years-old. Words that were reread dozens, perhaps hundreds of times, while she was a child and then an adult—every year during spring cleaning or when she opened the drawer to see or seek something else. How I would love to be able to chat with her again, and ask her all the questions that did not occur to me while she was alive!

I don’t remember all the details of what we talked about on that day, but I was left with the impression that, within those few pages, was enclosed an immense longing (heimwee in Dutch or saudade in Portuguese) for a precious past that would never be recovered. That tiny volume, despite its childish appearance, contained something of the essence of my mother, something that she desired to keep and cherish. She never allowed me or my siblings to take that booklet outside of the living room. It always remained in or near the drawer, until she died. Now it is here with me, finally resting in a pretty and special place—as a reminder and a legacy to the generations that will follow me/us—in an intellectual and spiritual continuum.

An intellectual heritage
I have added some photos from the pages of my mother’s book and I want you to perceive the difference that the Christian faith made (and makes) in the lives of God’s servants. Look at my mother’s handwriting on the opening page. She was ten years old! She lived on a dairy farm, where the children helped their parents with all the house, barn and fieldwork.  So she was learning how to cook, iron, wash… How to take care of animals… How to plant, prune, pull weeds, harvest, can fruits and vegetables… Like any child born and raised in a rural area, in any part of the world, she was being prepared to do what we might call menial tasks.


But she and the generations before her also studied in Christian schools. She read and wrote, memorized, thought, expressed herself well… She had notions of geography, history, mathematics… She appreciated literature, art, music, culture… She knew what citizenship meant…

She was an “educated rustic”, as were her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents… This was still an effect of the 16th Century Reformation, taking the people out of their ignorance and misery and democratizing the possibility, the pleasure and the power of knowledge—an effect that would reach Brazil only with the first Protestant missionaries at the end of the 19th century.

A spiritual legacy
I confess that I have no lingering interest in the pages that contain the words of her friends. But the others fascinate me. Preserved here, I have proof of the presence and the importance of God in the lives of my ancestors: of my mother Geertje and her siblings, of my grandmother Elizabeth and my grandfather Sijmen Pieter, and of my great-grandfather Pieter. Recorded here, I have evidence of the testimony of three generations. My siblings and I are the fourth. My children are the fifth. Still walking with God… And now we are getting ready to receive and guide the sixth… (And I am only referring to the booklet and to my own life—because I believe that my great-grandparents were also children of believers and perhaps grand and great-grandchildren… Our family recollections do not go back to a time in which my ancestors did not honour God.)

Life was not easy in 1941. Born during the first year of the Great Depression (1930), my mother had already survived a decade of economic disturbances that had seriously diminished the possessions and possibilities of her family. The media is currently reminding us of the desolation of that period, as fears have arisen due to the economic crisis that is presently distressing the United States and that is threatening to affect the whole world.


Prior to this, my grandparents had already spent their youth suffering through the hardships caused by the First World War. I can’t imagine the doubts that must have attacked their minds and their hearts, when they would wonder how they would be able to feed, dress and protect their nine children. For, in that February of 1941, it had been only a few months since Holland had been occupied by neighbouring Germany. For four more years, the Buma family would be suffering the continually worsening effects of the Second World War. Times were uncertain and frightening but my ancestors dipped their pens into their inkwells and, pondering seriously about what they might say, they wrote in my mother’s little book, the words that they thought would be best for her.

Thus, my mother was able to feel secure in the love of her family, of her friends and of the God of her fathers. Notice how the importance and the beauty of their relationship with God permeate the thoughts of her relatives, even of her adolescent and childish brothers and sisters… In their reaction to that world full of great uncertainties and fears, we see nothing of the nihilism, hedonism and agnosticism that has dominated the minds of post-war generations… No rebellion, bitterness or revolt… No one tells her —Geertje, go eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you will die.


Each one was sure that Jesus had lived, died and then been resurrected in his/her place, and that it was essential to serve Him no matter what happened, no matter how hard it was, no matter how long it took. Many write of the path to be followed and the choices that have to be made, and how to go about doing that: beginning with God, walking with God, ending with God (several speak of the reality of death and of eternity). Their words transmit the need for trust, surrender, contentment, perseverance…. And they did what they said, faithfully, until the end of their lives….

I want to share with you the text of my heritage—the legacy that I received from my ancestors, registered on these pages that have survived almost all that wrote on them. My (less poetic) translation follows of some of the recommendations and counsel of my predecessors. (They lived in north Holland and spoke “fries”—a dialect very different from Dutch). But the official language was Dutch and everything written in the album was in that language—except for those names written in pencil by my mother which, for some reason, she never erased.)


Ylst, February 17, 1941
Dear Geertje
May the Lord be your helper, support and comfort
On the path of life.
May He always be your faithful guide
Wherever you may go.
From your father.
S. P. Buma (Sijmen Pieter)


Ylst, February 17, 1941
Dear Geertje
Walk contentedly
On the path here below.
Sometimes struggling, sometimes enjoying
Whatever this world may grant you.
Know that the best life
Really always begins with God.
From your mother,
Elizabeth Buma-Attema

Ylst, February 23, 1941
Dear Geertje:
Let your light shine
Brightly around you.
Let it shine with affection
Where you find sadness.
Let it flicker gladly
Clearly, visibly and purely.
Then you will be a blessing
To other people.
From your sister, Hiske (oldest of the nine siblings)


Ylst, February 17, 1941
Dear Geertje:
In this earthly vale that we tread upon
There are two paths, says the Lord.
Orpah chose the broad path,
Ruth followed the narrow one, honouring God.
May our Lord find you
On the same path that Ruth took.
And so you will travel, loved by God,
To the holy, heavenly city.
From your sister, Romkje


Ylst, February 17, 1941
Dear Geertje:
She who when young
Dedicates her heart to Jesus
Will store up a treasure
That will last for eternity.
From your brother, Pieter.

Ylst, February 17, 1941
Dear Geertje:
Don’t worry about tomorrow.
Trust in God.
Be content today
And thank him for whatever comes your way.
From your brother, Wybrand


Ylst, February 18, 1941

Dear Geertje:
She who loves God
Will be His child.
She will receive
God’s grace.
From your sister, Tjitske

Ylst, January 01, 1942

Dear Geertje:
(Psalm 121 adapted and rhymed)
Lift your eyes to the hills
From where you can expect help
Day and night.
Your help comes only from the Lord
Who created the heavens and the earth,
And maintains them ever since.

Tante (Aunt) Sjikke (she and Uncle Bertus must have spent New Year’s Day with their relatives and my mom probably remembered to get them to “sign” her book.)


Ylst, January 01, 1942
Dear Geertje:
What shall I write on this page?
That’s what I wondered, when I received it.
I think that since it’s your album,
I should write something memorable.
Your life—may it be dedicated to God.
Your death—may you then find joy in Him.
Your fight—may it be like that of a courageous heroine.
And that is what I wish for you.
Try to make my wish come true.
Your Oom (Uncle) Bertus


Ylst, December 22 1941
Dear Geertje:
Show with words and show with deeds
That you are a child of God.
You were baptized in God’s names.
Love Him above all else.
Bend your knees often.
He is always paying attention to you.
And he hears every word
Of a child’s prayer.
Pake (Grampa) Pieter

And thus I close for today, with the words of the great-grandfather whom I never knew, but who was used by God as a channel of transmission of his message. My desire is that you may transmit to the children in your life—nephews, children, grandchildren, pupils or Sunday School students—how they may show with their words and their deeds that they are certain, now and forever, that they are God’s children, that He sees them and that He hears them.

If I find time, I hope to share some more of the special things that make up the spiritual heritage of my family—things that I am finding again in the re-organization that I am still far from completing…

From someone who is also a “child of the promise”,

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Crônicas do Cotidiano > A Spiritual Legacy—Part 1