Where leather had rustled amid raspy sounds of thick cord pulled through soles, only silence remained. Lourens Janssen made no more shoes.
From Delft in the Netherlands, where he had served Christ and his neighbours with joy, Lourens had travelled to Antwerp. There the authorities caught him in August, 1576, and locked him up in the Het Steen castle dungeon.
High above the Scheldt, where ships of many flags huddled about docks safely in from the North Sea, Het Steen’s ramparts and turrets stood guard. The people of Antwerp felt good about Het Steen. It stood like a rock between them and a hostile world. But what few had seen, or even knew about, were the chambers of horror beneath its graceful walls.
In the misery of Het Steen’s clammy darkness Lourens Janssen lay too injured to move. The authorities had pulled him on the rack until his back, his legs, and arms had given way. Then, on November 4, 1576 the door to the dungeon flew open. “Run prisoners! Run for your lives,” someone shouted. “The soldiers have mutinied. No one is on guard. The Spanish are leaving Antwerp!”
Everyone ran but Lourens. He could not get up. After new troops came, the mutiny was crushed, and the prison doors closed again, he lay in the dark as before.
Sometimes a man brought Lourens food. A wooden bowl of soup—watery soup for prisoners—to eat with a spoon.
A spoon! As if from heaven, an idea came to Lourens and in the weak light of the window above him he painstakingly began to scratch letters into it’s dulled pewter surface with a pin. Were they legible? Lourens hoped, and wrote in careful Flemish:
To all my brothers and sisters for whom I wish much grace from God our Father, and the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ that passes understanding: Let peace rule in your hearts, and the love of God that passes knowledge will increase among you. Your work will be fruitful. You will stand fast and continue in the work of the Lord. Dear friends, watch carefully for your souls! This is my desire for you. Your unworthy prisoner in the Lord, L J. 2 Cor. 1:2, Phil. 4:7, 1 Cor. 15:58, Heb. 10:4
The brothers, through stealthy evasion of the castle guards, recovered Lourens’s spoon. It brought them the joy he wanted for them. They looked up his references and understood the state of his heart: safe in the blood of Christ! Then came another spoon for the one closest to his heart:
Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, my much appreciated sister in the Lord, the one whom I love from the foundation of my heart, in God: Weyndelken and her daughter M. This I desire from the bottom of my heart before God, the one who searches hearts and minds, that you may walk before him unhurt and without obstacle in the way of truth to which he has called you. Always look to Christ and to the pious ones. Good night, in this time, Good night!
They burned Lourens at the stake at Antwerp in Belgium, on January 18, 1577. The shoes he made, the people he loved, the towns he lived in and moved among have disappeared or become totally changed. (Belgium has become a champion of “Human Rights.”) Lourens himself escaped Het Steen’s dungeon for light and glory, but his pin-scratched messages on pewter spoons still speak to the suffering body of Christ.
Main source: van Braght, T. J., Der blutige Schauplatz oder Märtyrer-Spiegel, Mennonitisches Verlagshaus, Scottdale, PA, 1915