Church History
The Dutch Potato Project
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The Dutch Potato Project

Photographs [ca. 1947-1949]

Members and missionaries in the Netherlands preparing their 1947 potato harvest for shipment to Germany

After World War II, Saints in the Netherlands faced the difficult challenge of rebuilding their lives. German occupation had damaged infrastructure, and food was scarce in some regions. Many branches of the Church were deeply divided, as some members had cooperated with German occupiers and others had resisted. In 1947 mission president Cornelius Zappey and other local Church leaders organized a welfare project to address food shortages and to restore goodwill among Church members.

The Dutch Saints acquired seed potatoes and planted them in patches of dormant land. Praying for the Lord’s blessing, they cultivated the crop, and by the end of summer they were anticipating an ample harvest.

While the crop matured, Walter Stover, president of the East German Mission, visited Zappey and told him of the plight of the Saints in Germany. The war had been devastating on all Germans, who now faced the approaching winter without sufficient food supplies. Zappey resolved to donate the potatoes to the German Saints but was unsure if the Dutch Saints could be persuaded to give their crop to their former enemies.

Initially, members were shocked. “We couldn’t believe it,” recalled Truus Allert. “How can they tell us that we had planted potatoes for them [the Germans]?” President Zappey and his counselor Pieter Vlam visited the branches and urged them to remember that the German Saints were their brothers and sisters. Though many were reluctant at first, the Dutch Saints prepared the harvested potatoes for shipment to Germany.

At the border, an official tried to prevent Zappey from leaving the country with such a large shipment of food. After Zappey told him the story of the Saints’ sacrifice, the official relented, and the potatoes were delivered to the Saints in Germany. “We were shown so much kindness and so much love,” remembered Ruth Wittwer, a recipient. “It gave me hope for a better future.”

In 1948, as reconstruction continued in both countries, the Dutch Saints offered a second potato harvest to their German brothers and sisters and added a large shipment of pickled herring, a Dutch staple. These acts of kindness helped Saints in both the Netherlands and Germany to recover from the effects of war and to restore unity and trust among European Saints.