A Yankee at the Court of King Antwerp

Joe W. Johnson

Some weeks ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore in Florida, I thought I would fly about a little and see that which lies east of the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation[1].

With singleness of mind I departed from Paxton, Florida having bags packed and passport in hand. From Fort Walton Beach I would fly Delta Airlines to Atlanta connecting on to London where I would change to British Airways and fly to Brussels, Belgium. From Brussels I would enjoy a nice half hour journey by taxi to my hotel in Antwerp where I was determined to attend the International Tyndale Society Conference and ‘Tyndale’s Testament’ exhibition. This would be my first visit to Europe and I had steadfastly purposed to go there.

My advice to you, don’t ever fly international with electronic tickets. At Fort Walton Beach I was told there was no record of me in the computer. It is humbling to be told in no uncertain terms you don’t exist. Delta finally determined my existence, but could not locate me on British Airways. Minutes zoomed by and ultimately I found myself against the time window of not being able to check baggage thirty minutes before departure. I reminded the gent of the approaching thirty minutes and he said there was nothing he could do. Since September 11 all bags must be checked thirty minutes before departure or they don’t get checked!

“We can get you to London, but can’t get you beyond there. Anyway we can’t check your bags now,” remarked the dude. I finally persuaded him to call British Airways so he could give them the locator number I had been holding in front of his face. After much effort he finally got the record straight. Fortunately, I had only two bags. Both bags would go on board with me: one as a personal item, and the other as my carry-on item. Although I would not lose my luggage in flight, it would now become my burden to lug over two continents and hemispheres.

With bags and boarding pass I charged toward the gate only to find a long and slow moving line to clear security. Once cleared by security and uncomfortably squeezed into a seat that fitted a small child in early youth, I departed for Atlanta, late of course. Upon arrival in there I had to run from one end of Atlanta to the other in a southerly direction, travel across all concourses eastwardly, back across Atlanta in a northerly direction, and with bags in hand I barely made my connection. I was off to London.

I arrived with ample connection time to Brussels. Twenty minutes before departure the gate number was posted on the monitor. Once at the gate I was told I would have to get a paper ticket. This would require going all the way back to the very front of the airport. I pleaded with the young lady that I was travelling electronically. As I continued to sow my seeds of pleading: some fell by the wayside, and it was trodden under feet, and the fowls of the air devoured it up. And some fell on stone, and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moistness. And some fell among the thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And I cried: She that hath ears to hear let her hear![2]

And I heard a voice saying: unto her it is given not, that when she see, she should not see; and when she hear, she should not hear, and the devil hath cometh and taken the words out of her heart, least she should understand. She also hath no root, and is choked with cares and with riches, and voluptuous living.[3]

Discerning the gate attendant to be densely compacted, stone-headed, and a thorn-bush, I begged for the plane not to leave, all-the-while quoting General Douglas MacArthur, “I shall return!” With my burden of luggage I began the run through the endless corridors until I came to an escalator going up, turned off of course. Looking up toward heaven I could barely see the top step through the clouds. Having scaled what seemed like Mt. Everest my heart sank when I noted there was yet another non-working escalator equally as high yet to be conquered. “Tush, yee shall not die!”[4] I shouted to myself conquering one step at a time upward.

Feeling like I had just completed two marathon races back-to-back, I tried to find my way to the front, but got lost. Asking for directions, I was told the way was not marked well and that I would have to go through doors marked “Do Not Enter.” Having asked for directions a second time I finally tried a door not marked and it led to other doors that were marked “DO NOT ENTER.” Passing through I came to another set of doors marked “SECURITY AREA DO NOT ENTER.” I could see myself being arrested post September 11 for breaching security. Indeed, I found myself face to face with security giving me an odd look. Hesitating not I shouted, “I have to get to the British Airways ticket counter for a paper ticket!” The Spirit of the Lord moved upon them and the security “parted” allowing me to pass out of bondage into the promised land of paper tickets!

With paper ticket in hand I began the marathon back to the gate having to clear security with my burden of baggage. After another exhausting run I finally reached Mt. Everest. You guessed it! This time, turned off going down. Emerging from the stairs victorious I ran the gauntlet toward the gate being hindered by principalities and powers. “You have not yet resisted unto blood by cross or suffered fire by stake,” I kept repeating to myself. Reaching the gate, I proclaimed my “second coming” and produced the Holy Grail paper ticket! With a Monty Python smirk the gate attendant lifted her left brow, the sinister one, and said, “Sorry ‘bout that”. Quickly, I was hustled on to a shuttle waiting just for me. In a motorcade of one I was rushed toward the waiting plane. I felt even Presidential as they applauded when I finally walked into the cabin.

The flight from London to Brussels was without incident and pleasant. It was a time to catch my breath, allow the circulation to regulate, and allow for a calming of the spleen. With no one in the seats around me, at least a tithe of my flight would be delightful. I gave pause and thanked the Lord. Clearing customs I found my taxi driver where I was told he would be. From Brussels it was a pleasant thirty-minute ride to Antwerp where I found myself warmly treated and welcomed by the staff at my hotel. Still trying to forget the nightmare of a trip across the watery part of the world, continuing to remind myself that I had not yet resisted unto blood or suffered fire by stake, I looked forward to a little rest and a shower to wash the trip away. Afterwards, I would be off steadfastly to the Tyndale Conference.

Let me say here that I am mindful there should be nothing more charming than an introductory chapter, nothing more delightful than the North American at the outset of his wandering with the Tyndale Society, nothing more powerful or inspiring than his splendid panoramic picture of Tyndale’s Antwerp and the learning through daily intercourse.[5] Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished![6]

This North American on his first trip to Europe found Antwerp to far exceed his wildest imaginations! I was transformed by experiences and interactions, and empowered with an awareness of the historic significance of Antwerp and why the LORD had placed Tyndale and others there. I was impressed with the scholarship of the conference and the new contributions to the field of study brought forth. The harmony and synergy was infectious and powerful, exponentially so.

I pondered how God with his control of history had the fall of Constantinople and its scholars fleeing across Europe with their knowledge and texts at the same time as the perfecting of the printing press allowed for the printing and distribution of that knowledge; how the New World opened trade routes and merchandising flourished; and how God made Antwerp unique as a centre for commerce, trade, economics, ideology, culture, linguistics, and printing. Antwerp was the perfect place for Tyndale to carry out his refinement of the New Testament and work on the Old Testament. Antwerp was the ideal place for spreading forth the Scripture in the common tongue that would set the mind free of the dark ages and reformation. The LORD does not stint!

I am grateful for the opportunity of being in Antwerp and bathing in the significance of it all! Participating in the Tyndale Conference, ‘Tyndale’s Testament’ exhibition, ceremonies, meals, tours, lectures, presentations, and personal fellowship was a “Noble Honour” of extreme proportions. I count those of us who attended uniquely blessed.

Being in Antwerp made me mindful and cognizant of much. I thought of the love and passion of Tyndale and of his endurance and commitment to his calling. A greater love has no man than to lay down his life for a friend. Tyndale laid his life down for all so we might have the Gospel and Its unfolding in our own hands and tongue. Centuries roll on, and all the evil writings of the world combined never catch the sails of God’s Holy Word, the Bible, and Tyndale’s work.

Tyndale turned his “Valley of Baca” into a place of springs where others are blessed and refreshed. In his valley he dug springs out of dry land, and true to His Word the LORD added His blessings covering the Tyndale pools with rain sent by God. Tyndale was a man in a “state of blessing” understanding the ways of God. No matter his circumstance he was content in the LORD. He understood that his “strength” was in the LORD; who empowered, who enabled, who gave strength beyond what he could mount up within himself, who provided that which cannot change, who gave capacity to go forth and endure that others might see.[7] One can only wonder why God allowed Tyndale to be captured, imprisoned and burned before seeing his task completed. However, the way of the LORD is to deliver us into eternity that He might put us on display that we might have angels as footstools.[8] In Antwerp I felt the vibrations, harmony, and perfect pitch of those who laboured centuries before that I might have the joy of God’s Holy Word in the common vernacular and in my hands. A power and glow radiated from those like Dr Guido Latré, who had laboured tirelessly for so long towards the success of the conference and exhibition. I cannot express adequately my sincere appreciation to all that had a hand in the conference.

I marvelled at Professor David Daniell, Chairman of the Tyndale Society, as he worked the attendees and Trustees, like a bee carefully pollinating each with his enthusiasm and wisdom. I am aware that one of the greatest gifts one can give is time, and I appreciate Dr Daniell and the attention given to us very much. I shall always treasure my Saturday evening dining experience shared with him. The two of us sat at an outdoor table enjoying the atmosphere of a perfect Antwerp evening. This was my first European private dining experience and it was very different from America. I noted right off that we were not being rushed as is typical in many American restaurants. We were allowed the opportunity to have an evening and truly enjoy the meal and fellowship. It was an experience I will never forget!

I was impressed with the cleanliness of Antwerp and that so much of the old city remained. Back home something is old after one hundred years and ancient by two hundred. In Antwerp the oldest building I saw was a castle dating from the 10th century. I delighted in walking down the same streets where Tyndale worked and printed.

My time spent in the Plantin-Moretus Museum was worth the trip. Having the opportunity to have the Museum privately restricted for conference attendees for an entire day was beyond belief. I was left speechless and I gave pause standing in reverence before “The” 1526 New Testament and Tyndale’s only surviving handwritten document, his prison letter.

The opening ceremony for ‘Tyndale’s Testament’ exhibition on Monday afternoon at the Cathedral of Our Lady was historic. Several events unfolded before a capacity crowd. Within the Cathedral, we enjoyed the Evensong and witnessed the Bishop of the Cathedral give up his seat to the Anglican Bishop of Europe while apologizing for the unjust murder of Tyndale. What a historic moment of such magnitude and significance!

Following the opening ceremony in the Cathedral, the City of Antwerp treated us to a reception in the Town Hall at Market Square. When I thought it could not get any better, the Tyndale Society was assembled at the steps of the Town Hall and, with a bagpiper leading the way, we strolled through the streets of old Antwerp to the Pelgrom Restaurant which is located in mediaeval cellars of the type used in Tyndale’s days to store goods for shipping. There we enjoyed a candlelight feast with delicious food and beverages punctuated by bagpipes, seasoned with conversation and fellowship. One could not escape the thought that some of Tyndale’s Bibles might have been prepared for cargo in the same cellars.

The last day of the conference we enjoyed an excursion to Leuven, Vilvoorde, Brussels, the Tyndale Museum, Tyndale Monument, and dined among the centuries of history and rich architecture. Splendid! One thing this North American Yank with his rich Southern heritage can say, King Antwerp’s Court was much more impressive than King Arthur’s Court. I have marked my calendar for all future Tyndale Conferences! You should, too!


[1]Herman Melville.
[2]William Tyndale.
[3]William Tyndale.
[4]William Tyndale.
[5]Samuel Clemens.
[6]William Shakespeare.
[7]Dr Gene Scott.
[8]Dr Gene Scott

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