Old things (past) should be considered past

Projections: the beginning of the new and Conclusions

© Gerardo C.C. Oberman


Toward the end of 1910 the teacher A.C. Sonneveldt arrives in Argentina, moved by an article published by Van Lonkhuijzen in 1909 in the Christian weekly De Standaard, which outlined the situation of the Reformed in Argentina. His coming had not been a simple decision, either. The Representatives for South America (especially appointed at the Synod of the GKN of 1908444) took some time in selecting the appropriate man from among the thirteen candidates that had applied in response to the published notice. A time that also wasn't simple for A C. Sonneveldt and his family. A time of anxiety, of doubts, of expectations. Therefore, in a letter that he writes to these new Representatives in response to their confirmation, we read that he exclaims: "In spite of the disappointments that have accompanied us this long year, a definitive resolution finally has been taken. Our wearisome insecurity is finally at an end445. Finally, on December 12, 1910, Sonneveldt would assume his responsibility as Director and he would inaugurate the Hollandsche School of Buenos Aires. For his work he would receive a salary of 2,800 guilders per year, which the commission of the school would pay him monthly "in Argentine legal currency"446. On March 13, 1911, the school would open its doors with 31 pupils.

Sonneveldt school

Afbeelding uit Todo Es Historia, No. 414, 2002, pagina 9

Nederlandse school te Buenos Aires met directeur A. C. Sonneveldt en onderwijzeressen, ongeveer 1910

On January 1, 1911 Sonneveldt is installed as pastor at the head of the congregation in Buenos Aires. He had arrived from Holland on September 24 aboard the Hollandia together with his wife Matje and a six-month-old baby, Cornelia. On the Sunday following his arrival he would celebrate his thirtieth birthday.  Many expectations had been placed in his arrival. Someone wrote to him: "I hope that we will be able to receive from you the necessary strength so as to jolt the congregation from its comfortable stupor"447.

Fortunately the hopes of the Dutch Reformed community in Buenos Aires were fulfilled. Immediately one notes a change within the group, a change that is translated into a greater attendance and participation in the activities of the church448. The decisive character of Pastor Sonneveldt without a doubt played a fundamental role in this new stage of the Argentine Reformed Churches449. Toward the end of 1912 we are told that the congregation was composed of 124 members, 44 of whom were such by confession and the rest, 80, by baptism450.

About the same time, 1911, another man sent from Holland would look after the scattered Dutch in the area of Tres Arroyos. It was Pastor A. Rolloos, who for a little less than a year looked after the flock in Tres Arroyos. He had accepted the call with his whole heart and had much enthusiasm to face the task. He even wanted to work together with the Baptists in the matter of the school451, since he had not been able to obtain a subsidy similar to the one granted to Buenos Aires by Holland. His hasty departure, a consequence of some problems concerning the way he handled the work in Tres Arroyos452, was a disappointment for everybody. His farewell sermon was based on Deuteronomy 30:19 and he left the congregation deeply moved453.

But, soon another person arrived from Holland to occupy the vacant post: first a teacher and then also a pastor, Sj. Rijper, a personal friend of Pastor Sonneveldt, who on March 1, 1913 would inaugurate in that city of the south of Buenos Aires a Dutch School with 36 pupils454. His ordination to the pastoral office took place on August 17 of that same year. He was examined and ordained by Pastor A.C. Sonneveldt455.

H.H. Hogendorp, a teacher from Delft, was appointed to work as a teacher in the Dutch School of Buenos Aires in late 1912456, but would not occupy his post until early 1914457. In 1917 he would replace Pastor Sonneveldt at the head of the church in Buenos Aires, since the latter had accepted in 1914 the call to serve the South African colonists settled in Comodoro Rivadavia which they had extended him at the opportune time458. The Hogendorp period (until 1923) and the following years were obscure years for the churches in Argentina. Much hope had been placed in this teacher-pastor. Pastor Sonneveldt writes in a letter to the consistory of the church in Buenos Aires: "It gave me great happiness, which I translated into thanksgiving to the Lord, to find that brother Hogendorp is exactly the person that we had been looking for"459, and in a letter to Hogendorp himself: "The administration of the School has been very well impressed by what you write in your letters, so much so that it has already decided to appoint you director of our School, and it adds the desire that you, with all sincerity. consider the nomination and decide soon to come to Argentina"460.

But soon the problems started. First friction with the consistory and with his own pastor colleague in Tres Arroyos, Sj. Rijper and the consistory of that sister church461; then the problems with the Classis462; finally the break with the congregation. Toward mid 1922 Hogendorp tried to find "a solution to his problem" by going to Comodoro Rivadavia, which is peremptorily rejected by the consistory of that southern church463.

Irresponsibility with respect to the leadership of the School, mishandling of funds and abuse of alcoholic beverages, were the most serious accusations464. One of the persons interviewed recalled that at the consistory meetings presided over by Hogendorp there were more bottles than members present. The problems were taken to Holland, to a meeting of the Representatives, at which were present Hogendorp himself and also Pastors A.C. Sonneveldt and Sj. Rijper. Conclusion: Hogendorp was declared "defrocked" in 1923. He ended up as a teacher in a small village in the north of Holland. Rijper never returned from Holland because of serious health problems465. Sonneveldt was more than 1500 km away in Chubut. And thus the Reformed in Buenos Aires and Tres Arroyos were again left like lambs without a shepherd.

But by now we are at mid 1920, and the study and analysis of that difficult stage will be the object of a subsequent investigation, since it goes beyond the limits that, opportunely, we fixed for ourselves for this work.

However, there could no longer be any difficult situation that might halt the evolution of this "new" period initiated with the arrival of Pastor Sonneveldt. Like the previous stage, this one was also plagued by problems, controversies, lack of communication. Situations that, nevertheless, could no longer keep the wheel of history from continuing to turn. To Dr. J. van Lonkhuijzen, who was guided by a tireless zeal for the gospel, we owe this merit466. He is today a completely forgotten man.

On the evolution of this new period that starts with the arrival of Pastor Sonneveldt there is quite a lot written and there is quite a bit of archival material467. It would not be superfluous to put it all in an orderly fashion on paper; however, that is a step that we will have to take later.


Men and women of faith were mostly those who boarded the ships of the NASM headed for an unfamiliar country: Argentina. They were escaping the poverty that for several years had overwhelmed them. The crisis in the world market of cereals as well as the economic policy implemented in their country (Holland) by the liberals did not augur a good future for them if somehow they managed to survive the poverty in which they were submerged. Therefore they decided to emigrate. The decision was not easy, but many tomes they had no other options. They hoped to find on the other side of the ocean a place in which to pursue a life of dignity.

However, the situation in Argentina around 1890 did not permit their dreams to become a reality. Domestic struggles for power and a financial crisis with serious social consequences were the causes of the deterioration of the quality of life in what could have been at that time a powerful country. The immigrants had to continue fighting for survival, sometimes in conditions as terrible as those from which they were fleeing. Some disowned their faith, allowing themselves to be dragged down by the torrential waters of vice and the easy life, taking this way of life as an example of freedom. Others decided to integrate themselves with already established churches. Thus wealthy Dutchmen attended religious services celebrated in the German Evangelical Church or the Anglican Church. Also in Rosario, as we already mentioned, Dutchmen who were not so well off played a significant role in other religious groups.

A third group, perhaps the most radical, decided to form a faith community based on Reformed postulates, even though they had to face the jeers and systematic opposition of a great number of their fellow countrymen. Nevertheless, they managed to get ahead and organized the first churches: Rosario in 1893 and Buenos Aires in 1900. In the area of Tres Arroyos there also was a certain religious activity organized toward the end of the century. But a church wouldn't be organized there until 1908.

From early on the support of sister churches in Holland as well as in the United States of North America was sought. The response, as we saw, took some 15 years to arrive. However, the torch of faith continued to burn during all that time. Strong winds, great storms and raging tempests threatened to put out the flame. But, when the flame seemed about to be extinguished, God breathed his grace and the lukewarm embers burst into flame again. Enthusiasm among the faithful was reborn, confidence in a prompt response to their pleas and prayers took on new life and the church stayed on its feet.

The arrival finally of Pastor J. Van Lonkhuijzen as a delegate of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland put an end to this difficult period in the history of the Reformed Churches in Argentina and in the life of each one of the persons who was a part of it. It was a period marked by the confrontation in the first instance with a new culture, with the exigency of having to learn a new language, with a work situation similar in many cases to slavery, and with a total lack of spiritual guidance468. A new world in which faith eventually came to play a role that was for many secondary and for others fundamental. For these latter, the organization of nuclei of faith was a solution, but given the lack of adequate leaders who could help to form a consensus of ideas among the different ideological trends--theologies?--within the community, each new initiative was condemned to failure, not for lack of will but for lack of experience.

It is not the intention of this work to seek scapegoats on whom to lay our own guilt. In the first place, it would make no sense and in the second, we should not judge history but learn the lessons that it teaches us. But bureaucracy, the lack of interest, the lack of missionary vision of the churches of the North, converts them into the principal, though not the only,  ones responsible for these stumblings. According to the Zendingsorde of the GKN, approved by the Synod of 1896 held in Middelburg469, it might have been in the hands of the Synod to declare Argentina "missionary territory." It was not timely on their part to refer the "Argentina issue" to the churches in the United States of North America. The Dutch residing in Argentina were children of Holland and not of that country in the north of the continent. The churches in the United States of North America, in reality, did not have a great deal of interest in assuming a tutelary role almost imposed by the motherland. Fortunately, and not without certain pressure from Pastor Van Lonkhuijzen who had been temporarily appointed superintendent of the Reformed churches of Argentina470, the Dutch at least agreed to send to our country persons who were destined to play a fundamental role in the takeoff of the Reformed Churches, such as Pastor A C. Sonneveldt.

The development of the two Reformed communities to which we have devoted our attention in the present work, that of Rosario and of Buenos Aires, was at first quite similar. Both groups were formed spontaneously, out of need, by sheer lung power. In neither of the two places was it possible to prevent the diversity of ideas among those making up the community from producing divisions, which consequences only resulted in isolation and diminishment. In Rosario the successive waves of conflicts culminated in the self-disintegration of the group. In Buenos Aires the timely arrival of Van Lonkhuijzen prevented this from being repeated. In any case the wounds took a long time to heal.

With the arrival of Van Lonkhuijzen in the country, the evolutionary process in each group follows diametrically opposed paths. Rosario begins to walk toward its death. Not even the reorganization of the church in 1916 could change that course. Buenos Aires, on the contrary, walked toward life. It is this community, benefitted by pastors sent from Holland, that is the harbinger of a new era.

We venture two hypotheses to explain the disappearance of the church in Rosario, leaning more toward the hypothesis of erosion, the fruit of abandonment and marginalization. The lack of attention permitted certain internal conflicts to grow in magnitude (the snowball effect) and resulted in a division that literally meant the disappearance of the church. Some people continued to gather in private homes and there were even worship services. But, as determined by the Classis, there was no longer a church. While the community in Buenos Aires enjoyed the privileges of its strategic position, the one in Rosario was rushing toward the abyss, consumed by domestic rivalries which alone it could not overcome. The lack of adequate leadership, accompanied by unpardonable errors, in fact contributed to the dissolution of the Dutch group of the Reformed tradition in Rosario.

The Reformed community in Rosario perhaps may not have died a natural death, even though its body was weak. It could have been murdered by the negligence of those who ignored its requests for help. We have not found the death certificate of the church in Rosario. Nevertheless, the material to which we have had access permits us to date with sufficient precision the disappearance of the church. This event occurred between the last meeting of members held in that place (August 16, 1919) and the Classis meeting of February, 1923.

We have tried to present in a chronological and systematic manner all the data to which we have had access referring to the communities in Rosario and Buenos Aires. Probably not everything has been written. Without a doubt there are blank pages still to be filled. And it is all right that it is that way. Those pages invite one to continue investigating and they leave a window open to other possible histories that yet wait to be written.

We believe that the objective of the present work has been fulfilled. An obscure and forgotten period of our history has been brought to light. We did not want to detain ourselves with too many hermeneutic assessments, but only to bring before the eyes of the reader the events just as they happened. It is the reader then, in light of the facts mentioned and taking into account the baggage with which these men and women arrived from Holland as well as the situation in Argentina at the moment of their arrival (topics to which we have devoted two chapters), who will have to reach his or her own judgment and draw from here lessons for his or her own daily struggle to keep firmly to the ways of the faith.

A sad chapter of history has closed. But God always gives us the blessing, which is at the same time a challenge, of being able to begin a new stage. And, as in any life history, new things are built on past experiences. Such as happens in the vision of Ezekiel 37: even dry bones, without life, can be transformed into living beings for the glory of God (vs 14b).

As Van Lonkhuijzen scribbled at some time when closing the old minutes book of the Church in Buenos Aires: "Antiquum peractum sit, Dominus Deus det nova"471. And God permitted again the forging of an illusion, a hope. "And the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet"472.


444 Cf. Minute of the Synod of the GKN, 1908. pp. 265-267.

445 Brouwershaven, March 21, 1910.

446 Cf. "Contract tussen den kerkeraad der Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerk te Buenos Aires en de Commissie bedoeld in Art. 6 der Statuten van de Hollandsche School te Buenos Aires ter eene, en den heer A.C. Sonneveldt, hoofd der Hollandsche School te Buenos Aires, Barracas, ter andere zijde", Buenos Aires, December of 1910. The contract is inspired by Van Lonkhuijzen.

447 Letter from Arn. Francken to Pastor A C. Sonneveldt, Avellaneda, without date.

448 Cf. letter from the consistory of the Nederlandsche Geref. Kerk of Buenos Aires to the General Synod of the Geref. Kerken in Nederland, Buenos Aires, May 24, 1911. Taken in the Minute of the Synod of the GKN held in Zwolle in 1911, pp. 201-202.

449 So special was his way of being that once during a worship service, seeing one of the parishioners asleep he threw a Bible at him to jolt him from his sleepiness. Anecdote that was reported to us by one of his grandchildren.

450 De Hollandsche Stem, p. 76.

451 Letter from A. Rolloos to Pastor A.C. Sonneveldt, Ter Apel, April 19, 1911.

452 Cf. letter from Van Lonkhuijzen to A.C. Sonneveldt, Grand Rapids, July 8, 1912. See also the anonymous piece titled "Kort overzicht der Ger. Kerk en School te Tres Arroyos, vanaf 1889 tot op heden", Tres Arroyos, (1922), pp. 4-5.

453 Cf. the anonymous piece cited in the preceding note, p. 5.

454 Concerning the person of Sj. Rijper, see the minute of the consistory meeting of the Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerk of Tres Arroyos of April 24, 1913 (26 pages!). From there we deduce that the interest of Rijper in going to serve the Church in Tres Arroyos dates from as early as 1910/11. But the Dutch Representatives, under pressure from the Representatives of the United States of North America -who would only provide a subsidy for "an ordained pastor"-, decided finally to send Pastor Rolloos. After he returned to Holland they realized that the indicated person was, as a matter of fact, Sj. Rijper.

455 Cf. minute of the consistory meeting of the Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerk of Tres Arroyos of August 14, 1913.

456 Cf. letter from Pastor A.C. Sonneveldt to H.H. Hogendorp, Buenos Aires, November, 1912. In it he confirms to him that the Commission of the school has appointed him to the position and that they hope he will accept it. His salary would be 50 pesos per month, besides housing.

457 De Hollandsche Stem, p. 79.

458 See articles of separation conceded to Pr. Sonneveldt by the consistory of the Church of Buenos Aires and Classis Buenos Aires, signed by H. Hogendorp and Sj. Rijper, respectively, in the month of October of 1914.

459 Comodoro Rivadavia, March 27, 1914.

460 Buenos Aires, November of 1912. The letter has seven pages filled with advice and analysis of the situation of the church in Argentina.

461 See the correspondence between Sj. Rijper and H. Hogendorp. Also the minute of the meeting of the consistory of the Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerk of Tres Arroyos of June 2, 1919 (8 pages on the topic).

462 See, for example, the minute of the classical meeting carried out on February 15 and 16, 1923. There it is decided to suspend Pr. Hogendorp from his position for a 1-month period. The decision is taken in accordance with articles 79 and 80 of the Church Order. Cf. point 6 of the minute.

463 Cf. cables sent by the consistory of the Reformed Church of Chubut to Pastor Hogendorp ("His coming is not desirable and against our will. Letter will follow") and to F. Benning, secretary of the consistory of the Reformed Church of Buenos Aires, in similar terms. Comodoro Rivadavia, August 10, 1922.Correspondentie Deputaten en Kerken, General Archives of the IRA. In the letter mentioned in the cable, Sonneveldt recriminates severely the attitude of Hogendorp.

See also the letter which on February 19, 1923 the Classis Buenos Aires sends to the Representatives. There all the particulars of the bothersome Hogendorp question are detailed. Apparently Hogendorp had intentions of supplanting Pastor Sonneveldt in the Church in Chubut, adducing having received from there a call, by means of elder Van der Walt, of the Nederd. Geref. Kerk.

464 See letter from the consistory of the church of Buenos Aires to the General Consul of the Kingdom of the Low Countries in the Argentina, J. Barendrecht, Buenos Aires, June 7, 1923. In it they explain the motives that caused them to suspend Pr. Hogendorp. The suspicions about strange attitudes of Hogendorp went back several years. Cf., for example and among others, the letter sent to him by the consistory of the church of Tres Arroyos, Tres Arroyos, May 17, 1919; or the one which his colleague Rijper causes to be sent to him, Tres Arroyos, August 19, 1919.

465 Sj. Rijper was retired in 1929 and died in 1944. Cf.Gemeenten en predikanten van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, p. 355.

466 Pastor J. van Lonkhuijzen died on December 29, 1942 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Cf.De Wachter, January 12, 1943, p. 23.

467 Concerning the person of Pastor A.C. Sonneveldt we recommend a careful reading of the articles written by Rooy, Mae, "Dr. A. Sonneveldt. Patagonian Preacher". Series of articles, in: The Banner, no. 4-11. Jul-Sept 1971. There is a Spanish translation titled: El maestro de la Patagonia.

468 As opposed to the Dutch emigration to United States of North America, who mostly came in groups and accompanied -if not led- by a pastor: H.P. Scholte, A C. van Raalte, and where church life is quickly organized. Cf. the very complete, and already cited, work of J. van Hinte.

469 Cf. Minute of the Synod of the GKN, held in Middelburg in 1896, pp. 125-128. The ideological author of this work is Dr. A. Kuyper.

470 Cf. Minute of the Synod of the GKN of 1911, pp. 199-204. It is precisely in this Synod that that power is "revoked".

471 Book of minutes of the Holl. Christl. Gereform. Kerk of Buenos Aires, February of 1908. The last consistory meeting officially recorded in said book of minutes was held on December 12, 1905. From that date and until the arrival of Van Lonkhuijzen there are no minutes of other meetings held. Cf. also J.A.C. Rullman, op.cit., p. 24. This phrase in Latin can be translated in the following way: "Old things (past) should be considered past. God, the Lord, will give us new ones.

472 Ezekiel 37: 10b.