August Van Ryn (1890-1982) wrote of his birth, "My arrival in
Haarlem (Netherlands) on May 15, 1890, created no particular sensation
(unless it was one of dismay, for already there were seven Van Ryns
ahead of me--with five more to come after). So my birth was nothing
special to others, though it was to me."
His mother was from Switzerland. On several occasions when J. N.
Darby passed through Switzerland, he visited her parents' home. She
recalled being held on his lap while he told her stories. August's
mother was deeply spiritual. "I can still see her on her knees as I
passed her bedroom, and hearing her pray. She brought us daily before
the throne of grace on her knees; at other times, she brought us to
terms across her knees."
One of the thirteen children died at birth, but the remaining twelve
(nine sons and three daughters) were saved by God's grace. The family
would walk four-and-a-half miles to meetings on the Lord's day. Going
to an evening meeting meant 18 miles.
When still a teenager, August determined to go to America. Settling
in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where his sister and two brothers preceded
him, he attended a Christian assembly there, though he was still in his
sins. "I was just interested in my job, in social doings, but certainly
not in eternal verities," he said.
One Sunday night, after a stirring gospel message, a friend named
George Vandermeulen "buttonholed" him. George was about six feet, seven
inches tall. His big hands held August's coat lapel as he urged him to
receive the Lord Jesus. "I didn't hear a word he said. I wanted to get
away, but I couldn't get away without being rude. Finally he did let me
go and I made my way home. But all of a sudden I stopped. It seemed to
me as if a thunderclap rooted me to the spot. A voice seemed to say,
'Did you notice that all the time that young man was speaking to you,
the tears were rolling down his cheeks? He is no relation to you; he
has no special interest in you, yet he is weeping over you because you
are on the road to hell and you yourself don't care. It's time for you
to wake up!'" That night August's brother, Louis, spoke to him from
John 3:16 . He believed. It was May 1, 1910. He was baptized May 8 and
was received into the assembly May 15.
With young believers, August began by evangelizing in Grand Rapids.
People crowded to hear the street corner orators. On Saturdays, they
went to surrounding towns to preach (often to hundreds) and give out
tracts. In a few years, the brethren told him they felt the Lord was
calling him to full-time preaching.
When August said, "I couldn't even talk," he was being honest. His
thick accent was strange, even to his fellow Dutch immigrants. He
looked awkward. Those ears, balancing themselves on the sides of his
head, seemed to wag at his audience. Besides this, from infancy he had
poor eyesight. He had almost no light in the right eye; the left eye
was "nothing to boast about."
When 24 years of age, he was informed that he might soon lose his
sight altogether. He decided to memorize Scripture so he could continue
in the ministry of God's Word. He used otherwise wasted moments for
eleven years and memorized the New Testament, large portions of the Old
Testament from Genesis, Exodus, and Isaiah, the whole book of Psalms,
as well as the Little Flock Hymnbook. Needless to say, memorization
accelerated his spiritual progress.
With the invitation of Robert Stratton, August saw an open door in
the Bahamas. He sailed from Miami to the Islands in 1916. Brother
Stratton and his wife, Lilah, received August with joy. There he met
Miss Persis Roberts, sister to Lilah. He intended to visit for a couple
of months; instead he married, and stayed for thirteen years. Together
brother Stratton and August carried on itinerant gospel work, using
Evangel, a 52-foot yacht which they built.
The year 1926 had two outstanding events: one a mountaintop; but the
other a dark valley. In March and April, the Lord poured out streams of
blessing. At Cherokee Sound on the island of Abaco--near the Van Ryn
home in Marsh Harbor, the Lord worked.
"We would talk to anxious souls till late at night and again early
in the morning, besides the regular meetings. A number confessed the
Lord. And then, toward the end of two weeks, the fishing fleet came in.
Long before the boats reached shore, the men aboard were waving their
hats and shouting. When we finally heard what they were saying, it was,
'There's been a wonderful revival on our ships; lots of men have been
saved.'" While the Lord moved hearts on their boats, unknown to them,
He had saved children, wives, sweethearts, or parents back home. What
rejoicing! About one hundred were saved in that little town.
Soon they left for Spanish Wells. When those there heard about the
awakening in Abaco, they said, "We hope we'll see something like that
The meetings all that week were full, but there was no remarkable
response. Then on Wednesday night, the other preacher and August were
walking home when they passed a little group. An old Christian lady was
sitting in her wheelchair, while her son was on the curb, with three
young girls. August asked the young man, "What are you sitting here
for--tired of pushing?" Immediately he sobbed, "I just can't walk any
further. I am so troubled about my soul, I have to be saved right now."
All four trusted Christ.
Five o'clock the next morning, someone banged on their bedroom
window, shouting, "You better get up; there are anxious souls all over
town." When they reached the gate, an older sister in Christ walked up
and said, "I couldn't sleep all night. I am so troubled about my
youngest son. I prayed for him all night that the Lord will save him."
While she poured out her predicament, the woman's son came from the
other direction and threw his arms around his mother, crying, "Oh,
mother, the Lord saved me last night!"
By eight o'clock that morning, 35 souls had been saved while alone
in their own homes! The meetings continued and about one hundred were
saved. From Spanish Wells, the work spread, "God working without any
human preparation, or methods or machinery."
This took place, in March and April of 1926. That same year violent
storms struck, two did a lot of damage. It was the third one that hit
the island of Abaco, where the Van Ryns lived. One balmy evening in
October, a report had come that a hurricane was on its way. Awakened at
midnight by a roaring wind, the force increased beyond anything they
had ever felt.
At 7 am, an eerie calm fell. They were in the eye of the hurricane.
The storm was moving ahead at 15 miles per hour. August's father-in-law
informed him that the winds would come again, but from the opposite way.
"Well, if the gale comes from the ocean this time, won't it bring the sea with it?"
"No," he replied, "we've never seen any amount of water." But he had never seen a tidal wave.
In half an hour, the wind drove in a six-foot wall of water. It
smashed against their house, breaking the front door and windows. The
water on the main level was too deep for the children, so they gathered
on the stairs to the second floor. Their children ranged from seven
years to the five-month-old baby. August held the baby. The three
others stood between Persis and August. In minutes, the real tidal wave
rolled in. They heard its deafening roar before they saw it; it was
twenty feet high! Seeing it bear down on their home, they kissed each
other and August said, "Good-bye darling; we'll see each other in the
The wave exploded the house. Evidently thrown through the glass
window on the stairway (for his left leg was badly cut), the next thing
he knew, he was lying on a piece of wreckage. Having been knocked
unconscious, the infant had been swept from his arms. Persis was in the
raging waters further inland, with the three small children clinging to
her. Grasping bits of wreckage, they were unhurt.
When the undertow from the tidal wave came, it carried every bit of
their property back into the Atlantic Ocean. August built the house
himself--and it disappeared in fifteen seconds. This deeply impressed
the Van Ryns. All they had on earth--gone. As if they had not already
made this determination, they renewed their commitment to live with
eternity in view. What a night of weeping that was, having suddenly
lost their dear Pearl Eleanor, but God was with them to comfort. The
town had been decimated, but amazingly few lives were lost. Their
boat--Evangel--was the only vessel which came through without any
damage. Its anchor had held it secure, and so did theirs ( Heb. 6:19 ).
In 1929, they moved to Michigan, but went south again, to the Miami
area in 1933. From that base of operations he ministered the Word in
the U.S. and Canada. When Emmaus Bible School was in Toronto, August
taught there each spring for three years. While teaching those classes,
he began publishing his comments on Ephesians, then the Gospel and
Epistles of John, Proverbs, and the life of Elijah. August also sent
out a monthly letter, Words of Encouragement. Some of these were put
into book form, entitled Words of Encouragement, and Bread Enough and
After 56 happy years serving together, the Lord took Persis home in July of 1974. August was called home eight years later.