MARIA SORENSON: My story of how I came to live in New Zealand

We are very lucky that the lovely Maria was happy to share her story with us! Moving from one side of the world to the other is by no means a small feat, and Maria's family battled against all odds to make it happen in the early 1960s. Read her story below.


I was born in the Netherlands on 19th of May 1946 at 2.45 pm, a Sunday afternoon in spring. My mother told me I was born to the sound of Church bells ringing fifteen minutes before the 3 O’clock afternoon church service. I like to think of it also as the announcement of my birth. At that time of the year the sun would have been streaming into my parents upstairs bedroom, the place where I was born.



My three older brothers and older sister were born during World War 2. All of my siblings, except my oldest brother Kees, were born at home as this was common practice in those days. Kees was born 8 days after the war broke out to the sound of sirens and bombs being dropped on Rotterdam. My older sister Lia was born by candle light during the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944. One younger sister and 2 more brothers were born after me. I rather liked being the fifth child in a family of eight, having older and younger siblings made me feel loved by all.


Our parents were Christians and so from an early age we were brought up to go to Sunday school and as we got older we attended church with them. Every day before our evening meal my father would pray the Lord’s Prayer, and when we finished our meal he read a portion of the Bible which was followed with this prayer:

Mensen lievend God, Uw naam zij gelooft en gedankt, dat Gij ons gevoed hebt met deze Uwe liefde gaven. Voed ook onze ziele met het Brood des Levens, en versterkt onze harte door Uw Genade

I don’t remember the rest, but only in later years learned the importance of “our souls being fed with the Bread of Life”. Jesus who said: “I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty” John 6:35. Although I loved the Bible stories I do not remember any personal applications related to my young life. I did have questions about God that I never asked, such as: Who is God? What is He like? I was not able to imagine an eternity having neither beginning nor end; and why God wanted to make human beings when all of us have spoiled God’s beautiful creation.


Many children’s story books written after the war were about the lives of children during the war. Books such as ‘The Diary of Ann Frank’ and, ‘The Hiding Place’ by Corrie Ten Boom. These stories and others involving Dutch people hiding Jewish families during the War were what gave me both an interest and a love for the people of Israel. A beautiful picture book about children in Indonesia created an interest in children of other cultures and this has led to a life-long interest in Missions.


It was sometime around 1954 that a farmer friend of my parents was immigrating with his family to Canada. My father went to see the family off in Rotterdam where they were to leave by ship for Canada. Oom Andries called from the ship to my father: “Hey Willem (my father) we might see you there one day” My father had never given it any thought, but it started him thinking. To Canada? No, it is much too cold there.


Having been employed as a cabinet maker for about 40 years and supervising about 60 people under him he loved the idea of starting his own business. In Holland that was not possible as he was required to have many certified qualifications and would need a large sum of money to start up. My mother, who was the youngest of 11 children, had a nephew who had immigrated to Australia and had a farm in Victoria. Their interest in the idea of immigrating was sparked, but where to?


My mother went to the immigration office in the city of The Hague where she was given the options. Mum did not like the idea of living in a country that had snakes. Canada was too cold, so their first choice was New Zealand. Someone had told my father that, in New Zealand you can start any business you want. There was only one obstacle!


The New Zealand immigration policies allowed only 2 children per couple or 4 children if one of the parents had higher qualifications. At that time our parents had 7 children, but they were not deterred. My mother’s youngest brother suggested that she could ask God for a ‘promise from His word’, the Bible. Mum had never thought that she could ask God for a specific promise for her from the Bible. She also knew that the country of New Zealand was not mentioned in the Bible. However, with hope in her heart, and in her words, she said: “I trembled as I knelt by my bed asking God for a promise”. She opened her Bible in Genesis, not knowing how far she would need to read to find a promise. In Chapter 20 verse 15 she saw the promise she needed. It was King Abimelech’s offer to Abraham: “My land is before you, live wherever you like”. (NIV) or, “where it pleases you”. This was significant because New Zealand was the country they were pleased to settle. This was the assurance Mum needed. Her faith was the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. She knew that it would come to pass. She had this text framed as the reminder that it was God who would bring it to pass.


It was just as well that our parents had this promise because for the next 6 years each application with the ministry of Emigration was returned with a rejection and the fact that the policies had not changed. Toward the end of those years Mum was told, “You are so stubborn. Why don’t you go to Canada or Australia? You can go there tomorrow”.


Well, it was on a Friday about the middle of July in 1961 that my father received a call at his work from the Emigration office. “Could Mr. and Mrs. van Klink and their children please travel to The Hague on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Johnson, the New Zealand ambassador? We all wondered what that might mean. My father and my three oldest brothers were already in employment, but had to take the day off from work. I still wonder what reason they gave their employers for their absence.


To travel to The Hague from Vlaardingen we needed to take a train to Rotterdam, and then a train to The Hague. Very few people knew of my parents’ intent on immigrating to New Zealand. What were we to do? The street we lived on was a typical street where all the houses are joined together. If all ten of us would leave the house together at 8.am in our Sunday best clothes everyone in the street would soon be asking questions. It was decided that my father and three oldest brothers would leave about 6.30 am and wait for us at the station. The rest of us would follow at different intervals and join them to travel on the next train to The Hague. We took a tram to the Emigration office where we were met and ushered into a very small Interview room where we met Mr. Johnson, the ambassador.


Imagine Mr. Johnson seated behind a small desk, our parents seated before him and all eight of us in a semicircle behind them. I think we had an interpreter present, but my brother Kees, then 21 years old had been to England twice and had tried to teach us a bit of English. My sister Lia also had learned English at school, but Kees managed to explain the questions we were asked as necessary. Mr. Johnson first asked my parents questions as to why they only wanted to come to New Zealand and asked my brothers about their employment. He then asked my 5 year old brother Leo how old he was, but Leo had only learned the answer to, “What is your name?” so he confidently said: “My name is Leo”. Kees corrected Leo, but then when I was asked: “How old are you”? Well, I understood the question, but with confidence I gave the wrong answer: “I am fifty”, Kees being a bit embarrassed, must have felt he had not taught us well enough. “NO, you are not fifty. You are fifteen” Mr. Johnson smiled, realizing we all had tried to do our best. I was standing behind my father, but he, being embarrassed on my behalf pointed back to me and said “This is my industrious daughter”. I had no idea what ‘industrious’ meant. I felt that my father was proud of me when he said that, but then Mr. Johnson stood up, and at that moment I thought maybe my father had said something wrong, but he shook my parents’ hands with the words, “I’ll see you in New Zealand”. We all understood those words! But how could that be? We all wondered.


We were told that Mr. Johnson was due to retire that Friday and return to his home in Christchurch, New Zealand. A week earlier he had called in to the Emigration office to see if there was anything he needed to attend to. He was given my parents ’very thick folder’ with 6 years’ worth of applications and rejections with the words, “These stubborn people won’t take NO for an answer. We’ve told them they can go to Australia or Canada”. Mr. Johnson could quickly see that the reason for the rejections was the number of children in the family. It was those particular regulations that would not allow us to come. But Mr. Johnson had a very different perspective. “It is those kinds of people we want in New Zealand”. That is when my father received the call for us to meet with him in The Hague on the following Tuesday. And he was obviously impressed that with the little amount of English my father had learned he could describe me as ‘industrious’. It was much later that I learned the meaning of my father’s words.



We were told that the next ship to New Zealand was due to leave from Rotterdam three months later on 19 October. There was much to be done, but we were told not to tell anyone until six weeks later when we would receive the official word from New Zealand. How could this be? I believe in the words of Proverbs 21 v 1, The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will”. Mr. Johnson was not able to change the Emigration regulations to fit our family, but as a king, or as one in authority he was willing to make it possible by personally sponsoring our family and taking responsibility for finding us a house to rent, jobs for my father and three older brothers and schools to enroll us younger ones.


During the following six weeks we needed to get our Passport photos taken; full physical examinations and vaccinations, all without letting on to anyone about this adventure. I managed to get a holiday job (it was the beginning of the summer holidays) working for a painter/decorator, and his wife the chemist who’s shops were next to each other and their living apartment above the two shops. After my vaccination for smallpox my leg was rather sore. It was a mystery for my employer, the chemist why I would not let her see the reason why I was hobbling about. When at last I was allowed to tell her the reason, she was delighted and happy for us as a family. This was not the case for some people who criticized my parents for taking us to a country where ‘people still run around in grass skirts’. That is how ignorant they were. My mother’s brothers and sisters were very happy for us and our Oom Leen especially since he was the one who had encouraged my mother to trust God to bring to pass the promise He gave according to Genesis 20:15.



The morning of our departure, Mum so was full of thankfulness to God that she wanted to read a Psalm. She opened her Bible in the middle where she knew the Psalms were. She then went to get her reading glasses and when she came back and read Psalm 139 she knew God’s blessing was on us all the way. The whole Psalm speaks of God’s omniscience, but verses 9 and 10 were relevant and appropriate for that day. It read: “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there thy hand shall lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me”. The ‘uttermost parts of the sea’ for us was New Zealand, and there the LORD has led us and kept us. This has been our testimony since 1961.


During the 58 years I have lived in New Zealand I have seen and experienced God’s work in my life. Many times he used people in authority to make possible those things which were humanly speaking impossible or outside of the norm. “With God all things are possible” To God be the glory!



Do you have a story that you would like to share? Whether it is of your past, present, or future, we would love to hear it! Email us at info@zenders.nz or phone us on 07 595 0640.

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