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Stories from Martyrs' Mirror | 11. Dirk Turns Back

11. Dirk Turns Back

As the weeks passed, the day came when the judge's servant stood in the windy courtyard before the town hall, and read these words:

Whereas, Dirk Willems, born at Asperen, at present a prisoner, has, before the bailiff and us judges, confessed,

that at the age of fifteen, eighteen or twenty years, he was re-baptized in Rotterdam, at the house of one Peter Willems, and that he, further, in Meenen, at his house, at various hours, harboured and allowed secret meetings and forbidden doctrines, and that he also has permitted several persons to be re-baptized in his aforesaid house;

all of which is against our holy laws and the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others.

Therefore, we the aforesaid judges, having maturely examined and considered all that was to be considered in this matter,

have condemned and do condemn the aforesaid Dirk Willems, prisoner, persisting stubbornly in his opinion, that he shall be executed; and declare all his property to be taken for the benefit of his royal majesty, as Count of Holland.

So done this 16th of December, in presence of the judges.

So now Dirk knew they planned to remove him from this earth in the morning. Yet somehow he still had no peace about God's will for him.

That night, as Dirk looked into the darkness through the window, he idly pushed on the latch. To his amazement, it opened.

Carefully, Dirk moved the window on its hinges and satisfied himself that he could get through it. But then what? How could he reach the ground?

The prison was silent, and Dirk was sure most of the guards were asleep. But he had to work quickly. His eyes landed on his sheet under which he slept, and his heart beat faster. Tearing the sheet into strips and tying them together, he made it into something like a rope.

He looked again out the window, the faint moonlight glistening on the frost. He held the homemade rope in his hands and decided that it would reach.

Tying one end of the sheet to a hook on the wall, Dirk cautiously opened the window wide for the first time and threw the rope down. It almost touched the snow and he swiftly climbed down to freedom. Without looking back at the prison, he began running toward the nearby woods.

But a lone officer was on watch that night. When he saw Dirk escaping, he ran after him. Dirk had lost much weight in prison, and his only advantage was his head start.

Plunging through the woods, he saw the pond had begun to freeze. He hoped that the ice would hold him. He had no other choice. "If I fall through the ice, I die, and if he catches me, I die," Dirk thought.

Leaping onto the pond, Dirk heard the ice crack beneath his feet, but only slightly, and he kept running with determination. Judging from the crunching of twigs, the guard was far behind him.

The ice was cracking more loudly now, and Dirk hoped his pursuer would turn back. Instead, he heard the officer running onto the ice as well. The two men ran alone.

Dirk ran harder, and he still felt he had a good chance of escaping if he could reach the other side of the wide pond.

Then he heard the sound he had dreaded. A loud crack, a splash, and a man crying out in terror. The guard had broken through the ice into the freezing pond below. In minutes, he would die.

But in the instant Dirk heard the ice break through, something broke through within his heart. He felt himself flooded by the white-hot power of the Spirit of God. Faith as he had never known it poured through him.

And in that instant, Dirk turned back and ran toward his pursuer. With each step, the love of God in his heart swelled. He stretched his hand toward the officer and urged him to latch on to it. Then he pulled the man out of the water and to his feet.

But once he was back on top of the ice, the guard's grip never loosened. Shivering, his eyes never meeting Dirk's, he led him back to prison. The wind blew tears of joy from Dirk's eyes.