January 07, 2013
Bentheim and Bethlehem
John Byker – Hamilton CRC
December 2008 Hamilton Herald
So small! That’s what struck me most about
the County (Grafschaft) Bentheim during our Germany tour this
past October with thirty-four members of our local International
Bentheim Society. All 14-miles-wide by 25-miles-long of Grafschaft
Bentheim can snuggle nicely into just nine of our 24 NW Allegan
County Bentheim in Germany, juts like a sore right thumb into the
belly of the Netherlands, between Drenthe and Overissel provinces.
Bentheim County Germany numbers about 133,000 people living on 350
square miles. Our Allegan County is home to 113,000 people spread
across 827 square miles.
Nevertheless, through the years, Grafschaft Bentheim immigrants have
greatly impacted our land. The Bouws descendants from the village
Emlichheim formed Russ’ Restaurants and from the descendants of the
Meijers clan, in little Lage, so it has been said, came our
huge midwest Meijers chain.
Immigrant ancestors from Emlichheim produced an early Calvin College
President Henry Schultz. Other theological giants were
immigrants descended from Veldhausen (Geerhardus Vos), Uelsen
(Wm. Masselink), and Hoogstede (Wm. Rutgers).
My great grandfather Steven Snieders came from Georgsdorf, my
great, great grandfather Geert Deiters came from Nordhorn,
and my great, great, great grandfather Evert Zagers left
Emlichheim in October 1846 with Rev. Van Raalte aboard the
Traveling south from Emlichheim to the Bentheim City Castle takes
less than an hour – like a drive south from Holland to Pullman.
Grafschaft Bentheim’s widest spot is less than a drive from the Lake
Michigan shore straight east to our Bentheim, Michigan. With room
to spare, County Bentheim easily fits into the nine Allegan County
townships of Laketown, Fillmore, Overisel, Manlius, Heath, Clyde,
Valley, Lee and Cheshire.
In 1847, just one month after Van Raalte founded Holland, MI, the
ship Antoinette Marie carried 70 members from two entire
Bentheim congregations – Emlichheim and Hoogstede - with all their
elders and deacons. They had family names still heard around here
like Bouws, Klomparens, Lemmen, Lucas, Rutgers, Zalmink.
They settled on the southern edge of Van Raalte’s “De Kolonie,”
in a place they named Graafschap, after their beloved Grafschaft
Bentheim. “Wy bin’t Graafschappers!” Near Emlichheim, I had
the privilege to see inside the “Holtgeerts Barn” where many,
including my own kinfolk Zagers and Poppens, had worshipped in
secret during intense religious persecution at that time.
Ten years later in 1857, this Graafschap church was the largest of
five West Michigan churches to give birth to a new denomination, the
Christian Reformed Church, which today numbers over a quarter
million members spread across North America.
In 1869, when Graafschap church birthed her first daughter
congregation at East Saugatuck, most charter members had Bentheim
names like Broene, Laarman, Lohuis, Piers, Vos from Uelsen
and Deiters, Dobben, Harmsen, Kotman, Menken from Nordhorn
and many others. I’m told of spirited discussions over the new
church’s name being either Uelsen or Collendoorn, the latter a
region just over the border from Laar. Collendoorn was picked.
With the help of Swenne Harger, a founder of our local International
Bentheimer’s Society, here is a sampling of Grafschaft Bentheim
names, still well known in our area, and the hamlets from which
their forefathers came:
Laar - Borgman,
Genzink, Klingenberg, Langejans, Lemmen
Emlichheim -Jansen, Lucas,
Poll, Schierbeek, Wesselink, Zagers
Hoogstede - Brouwer,
Kalmink, Klomparens, Miskotten, Rotman
Georgsdorf - Ahuis, Berens,
Moss, Schippers, Walkotten, Yonker
Wilsum – Arens, Beckman,
Breuker, Geerds, Kempker, Peters
Veldhausen - Gemmen,
Haverdink, Hinken, Morsink, Wolters
Itterbeck-Ratzel - Brink,
Hemmeke, Jurries, Nyboer, Slenk
Bergman, Eding, Jurries,
Oetman, Tubbergen, Vollink
Bolker, Meijers, Morsman,
TenBrink, TerStege, Veldhoff
Nordhorn, the largest of the Bentheim towns, sent many
immigrants during the 1870’s when their cottage weaving industry was
undone by new industrial weaving machines across the border in the
Netherlands. Just a sampling of these
Nordhorn families (Becksvoort, Busscher,
Deiters, Deters, Essink, Klokkerts, Lampen, Looman, Lugten, Meiste,
Menken, Rigterink, Reimink, Sal, Sandschulten, Schreur, Schievink,
Smoos, Tien, Tucker, Wedeveen, Volkers, Zoerhof) still thrive
everywhere throughout our NW Allegan townships.
So, what does Bentheim have to do with Bethlehem?
Little Town of Bethlehem!
Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel...,”
Micah declared seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth. God
chose to birth His Only Son, clothed in human skin, in little
Bethlehem. The Son of God would be parented by “little people,”
mere teenagers. And, the first to greet God’s grace wonder,
announced gloriously from the heavens, would be “little people”
– smelly shepherds actually, whom God expected could spot a worthy
Lamb when they saw one.
loves the “kleine luyden,” the little people, as Abraham
Kuyper used to call them.
“We are God’s
workmanship,” Paul urges us, “created in Christ Jesus to do
good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do!” (Eph 2:10)
And Jesus himself said that His people would bring a Kingdom
message “…like a mustard seed…though it is the smallest of all
your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants
and becomes a tree…” (Mt 13:31f)
Many reading these words are “Graafschapper”
offspring from little Bentheim. All of us who believe in this
Bethlehem Baby are children of a miracle born at God’s chosen little
Are we surrendering fully to the Most High’s amazing plans and
purposes for each of us? God desires yet to do incredible things
through us, His yielded vessels – seemingly so small and weak – but
designed so that, as Paul learned, “…in weaknesses…Christ's power
may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
In this good place we have enjoyed so much fruit
from those who preceded us – most of them children of both Bentheim
and Bethlehem. For us now living within these Hamilton School
District boundaries, only slightly smaller than all Grafschaft
Bentheim, what amazing possibilities our big God can birth through
each of us working in unity with a “mustard seed” mentality
of His Kingdom growing among us – children of little Bentheim and
If you would like a copy of this in Word,
Bentheimers International Homepage