Saved from death, brought to life

Peter Overliese
Peter Overliese (centre) and his wife Adele with their children and grandchildren in Perth in 2017.
Peter Overliese
Peter Overliese and his wife Adele in Perth in 2017.

In 1949, Peter Overliese and his family escaped war-torn Amsterdam and emigrated to Australia for a fresh start.

"As a 12 year old, I was really excited about the great adventure ahead," Peter recalls. "I was keen to taste new things and attend exciting new schools and learn to speak English."

When Peter became an adult, he was determined to seek his fortune overseas in his own style. He travelled extensively and worked and lived in Europe, Africa and Australia.

However, Peter's earlier recollections from his growing-up years were not as pleasant.

He was born in Holland, 1938, one year before the Second World War began.

"My earliest memories and crystal clear experiences are those of a war child of that era, and of those dreadful first years of my life," Peter begins. "I was only seven years old when the Allies liberated Holland."

Peter shares that occupied Amsterdam was "a dreadful place" with no electricity, no gas, no coal for heating, a chronic shortage of food and only a central, coupon, German-controlled food system.

"My family was a 'Christian values' family," Peter shares. "But we never went to church. I grew up without any knowledge of Jesus in my life."

Later the family doctor warned Peter's mother, telling her to take Peter to the "Boeren" – the rural farmers – as he would not survive without better nourishment.

At this point, the family decided to escape Amsterdam and walk north in the country to find food in the rural communities. Being illegal refugees without travel permits, it took them six days and nights to arrive at their planned destination, which was a local Dutch church in Vlachtwedde Den Harpel.

"They were wonderful people," Peter remembers with a smile. "They found us billets, work for Mum and Dad, and did much more. These loving, caring Christian people saved our lives until the war ended."

In 1945, the war was coming to an end and many miracles were happening. Early one evening, everyone was outside watching the searchlights, fire and bombing sounds coming from the Allies at a great distance.

"Suddenly a blazing British Lancaster bomber came straight for us!" Peter exclaims. "It was at treetop height with four propeller motors screaming and aflame from end to end. I remember the terror of the situation."

It would have crashed into their farm but lifted up and over at the last second.

"We blessed that wonderful pilot in control for missing us that night. Later we learned there was NO pilot or crew aboard ... they all bailed out safely and spent the rest of the war as POWs."

Four years later, they arrived on a WW2 migrant ship in Melbourne, Australia.

However, "it never occurred to our family to give thanks to the Lord," Peter states sadly. "We simply accepted our good fortune as coincidence."

Many years later, after Peter had grown up and finished his travels, he settled in South Africa where he married his wife.

"Over the years, we met many wonderful Christian friends in Africa and were involved with much church activity as a young family," he says. "We have wonderful memories of the era right up to the 80s when we moved back to Australia.

"I would come along to church regularly as a moral support gesture, but was bored by it all," he admits. "I never took part in prayer or accepted the Lord. I honestly believed my success in life was due to my own perceived cleverness and good fortune. I didn't need God."

In 2000, Peter joined a new church in Perth.

church in Vlachtwedde
The church in Vlachtwedde where Peter, his sisters and their parents found Jesus during WWII.

"I remember after a service, I went up to the pastor and asked him how I could make sense out of my life," Peter explains. "It was a life full of good things, good health, financial success, and wanting for nothing.

"I told the pastor, 'I don't understand why I need this 'God-thing' in my life'. He smiled at me and said, 'Let's ask God and say the sinner's prayer.'

"I immediately balked at this idea, thinking, 'Oh no, not that silly kiddie prayer.'

"I didn't want to hurt his feelings, though, so we stood aside in church and said the words with feeling, together.

"That was the moment when all of my doubts and reservations about the existence of God were swept away for good. It was the most wonderful experience of my life!"

Looking back, Peter realises how the hand and protection of the Lord were on him all his life, and how God loved and kept him from harm ever since he was a small child in Holland.

"God has blessed me with a wonderful marriage of almost 49 years now, two fine children and two beautiful grandchildren," Peter says. "I attend a wonderful church filled with loving, devoted Christians and I thank and praise God every day for His love and guidance in my life.

"It is with peace in my heart that I thank Him every day for His Grace [undeserved love] to me, a sinner."

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