8 January 1945 to 9 June 2009
Dirk was a man who was comfortable in his own skin and secure in his own personhood.
This tribute is taken from the funeral address given by Revd David Hughes at Dirk’s funeral at St James church.
Dirk was born in Rijnsburg, Holland, the second son of Pete and Sian van Zuylen. His older brother, Peter, who lives in America, has sent the lovely floral tribute you see on the Lord’s Table. Dirk was followed by his sister Mary, then Wilma, who donated one of her kidneys to him over fifteen years ago and gave him a new lease of life, and last but not least his younger brother Jan.
Dirk and Sandra were married on 7 June 1969 and began their married life in Groningen. Dirk discovered that he had some kidney damage after their return from honeymoon and they have lived with this renal problem all their married life. Mandy was born in April 1970 in Groningen and they came to the UK in December of that year to seek medical help. Mark and Stephen, their two sons, were born in Manchester in 1972 and Sheffield in 1976 respectively.
John Wimber, an American Pastor, used to say, “Never trust a leader who doesn’t have a limp.” I don’t pretend to understand the mystery of suffering – I know that suffering, sickness and death is an aberration of God’s plan and that they will have no part in the Kingdom that is to come. But in this fallen world suffering is a reality that strikes randomly. I know that Jesus has entered into our suffering at the deepest level and that he can bring good out of suffering for those who love him and have the courage to put their lives in His hands.
Those of us who have been close to Dirk, Sandra and the family, or colleagues in the Navigators or in his network of friends here and all over the world, have seen that God has placed Dirk and Sandra and their children in what must often have felt like a crucible of affliction. At times their journey has been hard, frightening and overwhelming and it has marked them all. Yet Dirk and Sandra have never lost their love of life, their enjoyment of the simple pleasures of family, friends, creation or their work with people. They have remained hope-filled people with the gift of humour, colour and laughter.
The Lord has honed their character on what has been an accompanied journey through suffering. Rather than giving in to bitterness and resentment, Dirk and Sandra have become more whole people through their experience. I first met them in Sheffield in the early 1970s, but my wife Claire and I have got to know them well in our nineteen years in Didsbury and we count them as dear friends. It is difficult to give a pen picture of Dirk without thinking also of Sandra, because their marriage has modelled a ‘oneness of flesh and spirit’ and I think through the giving and receiving of marriage they undoubtedly made each other greater and more whole persons. Sandra has brought to their lives and service glamour, colour, flair, humanity and a lovely pastoral gift with an intuitive insight into people.
Dirk, as I saw him, was a man who was comfortable in his own skin and secure in his own personhood. That meant he was not defensive, he would listen well and was able to reflect on criticism he received and discern what was true and what was not true. He had the directness of a Dutchman and tenacity and courage. It is significant that he called his biography of living with kidney failure, “Dutch Courage”. As a leader he was courageous in addressing issues, in taking initiatives, he was generous to others and so a great team builder.
It was a great joy on 16 January 2005 to host the Commissioning service of Dirk as the National Director of the Navigators UK here in St James. One of the questions I asked him was this, “Dirk, will you continually seek the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit to serve your colleagues and oversee the mission and ministry of the Navigators with skilful hands and integrity of heart?” To which he replied, “with the help of God I will.” Sandra also promised to co-labour with her husband in the task God had called them both to. The congregation then responded, “And now we give you thanks for Dirk and Sandra’s response to your call and we commission them in your name, to share in the service of facilitating the ministry of the Navigators, in bringing young men and women to Christ and in forming their lives as effective disciples of Christ to their own generation, and in enabling and supporting those who share with them in this ministry.”
I think God has honoured and answered that prayer abundantly and He has impacted the culture of the Navigators through a leader with a limp, who with his wife Sandra has invested so much in relationships. God has used a man’s weakness to become strength and honed Dirk as a father who was able to draw on great reserves of wisdom and compassion. In the years I have known him, I have witnessed a profound journey. I guess Dirk started his ministry with a passion for truth, but I think we have seen him now as a man with a passion for love and yet he has not lost his love of truth which he has applied with love.
There is a story of the aged Apostle John being wheeled out to preach. He said to his disciples, “Love one another! Love one another! Love one another!” “Is that all you have to say?” his young disciples replied. He said, “Love one another! – it is enough.” Dirk would concur with John. Stephen has told us that his last act was a moving expression of love – giving Sandra an eternity ring of rubies and diamonds to celebrate their Ruby Wedding on the same Saturday on which they were married.
I want to close with the verses I read from 2 Corinthians 5, as they speak so pertinently to Dirk’s situation. Last Saturday, at ten past twelve, Dirk’s earthly tent was taken down and he left his body behind which he has exchanged for home in heaven – an eternal body made for him by God and not human hands. For a long time Dirk has grown weary in his earthly body and yet he never lost his sense of the sweetness of life, the joy of his family and a delight in creation. Paul says, “Our dying bodies make us groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and have no bodies at all. We want to slip into our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by everlasting life. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee He has given us his Holy Spirit.”
I don’t pretend to know how this will all work out, because we live in space and time and Heaven isn’t limited by these. The scriptures speak of believers who have died as ‘asleep in Christ’. Their next moment of consciousness will be of waking up on the resurrection morning and having slipped into their new bodies so that they are swallowed up by everlasting life. Those of us who are alive with Christ at the time of His return will join them as we too slip into our heavenly bodies and are swallowed up by life. That will be the reunion of all reunions.
Dirk’s son, Stephen, also shared this on behalf of the family:
Over the last week or so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it is that I might say about my dad… What I’d like to remember, acknowledge and share.
I had loads of ideas running around my head but when I put the words on paper they seemed so small and insignificant.
On Monday my mum showed me an article written by dad that completely blew me away. It defined so clearly and precisely who dad was, that I felt that there was no better way to honour his life than by reading some of his own words.
The text was written to accompany a photographic study done last year by a family friend. Dad was photographed for an exhibition, which aimed to help draw attention to the real stories of those living day to day with chronic diseases. The photo on the first page of your order of service is from this study.
The text goes as follows:
“I would like to define my identity in terms of my relationships, my work and my passions.
My family mean everything to me. I think it fair to say that when I did not feel life was worth living it was their love for me and my love for them that kept me going. I remember particularly being helped to survive bleak periods by the joy of playing with a child, once a child of our own and many years later a grandchild. The greatest help has come from my lovely wife Sandra, my companion, my soul mate. She is part of me and helps define who I am because without her I could not be the person I am.
In the film ‘Chariots of Fire’, Eric Liddell says “God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
God made me creative and when I am helping people or plants to flourish, I feel his pleasure!
During my lifetime of living with renal failure I have always been able to enjoy my work. I love sitting down with people and talking with them about what is going on in our lives, engaging with them in a meaningful way and somehow enabling them to flourish in spite of life’s many obstacles.
The same is true about working in my garden or allotment. I derive great pleasure from seeing plants grow, blossom and bear fruit. There is nothing quite like picking fresh strawberries or bringing beautiful cut flowers into the house.
I have many passions. As a young man I grew up in an environment where good thinking was highly valued but I was deemed as someone who was emotionally labile. A great liberation for me came when someone said “to think well is a great gift but also to feel deeply.”
I’m interested in so many things and my wife says, I’m a great source of useless information. I love art, music and nature. Taking time to enjoy Rachmaninov’s piano concerto or viewing a grand landscape of the Lake District have all had their part in helping to live with chronic illness. I found that music gave release to deep unexpressed emotion and being outdoors energised the soul in a mysterious way.
My greatest passion, God, is perhaps the hardest to describe because he is so much greater then I can imagine and yet is closer than a family member. I see him as the source of who I am, indeed as my creator who has created me in his image, sharing with me some of his creative gifts and giving me the relationships that define my life.”
As I reflected on dad’s influence on those around him, I realised how relevant and consistent the themes of family and passion were.
When it comes to family, I’ve always felt unbelievably privileged to have grown up with such an amazing role model as a father, and now as a husband. An example in his actions and a trusted guide, always happy to listen and provide wise advice and the freedom to find our own way. In recent times however, I’ve begun to realise the depth and breadth of his influence. In talking with friends and family it’s been incredible to hear that dad’s life has been for many people, the best example of fatherhood that they’ve ever witnessed. I think I speak for Mandy and Mark when I say that if that’s what people say about our dad, we feel pretty lucky!
His commitment to and love for his family were clear right to the end. As many of you are probably aware, in his final few moments of his life, he summoned up the strength to give my mum a ruby eternity ring in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary. The old romantic to the end!
Dad shared his passions with all the family and truly loved life despite his years of suffering. Mark in particular shared his sense of humour, bringing side-splitting laughter and fun to the house even during the most difficult times. With Mandy he shared art and gardening, bringing beauty and new life to our home. With me, it was music. Dad loved keeping up to date with new bands and we both find music particularly emotive. We’d spend hours talking about songs we loved and reminiscing about the moments in life they reminded us of. With each of us he entered in to our worlds and shared something unique and special that connected us as friends, as well as sons and daughters.
Dad truly was an inspirational, sensitive and compassionate father, husband and grandad. In his quiet, mild mannered way he left his mark with so many by simply living his life as an example.
We’ll miss you forever.