In 1949, 7-year-old Ceus (SAY-us) Westerhoff found himself in a new land. That was the year his father, Henk, a dairy farmer, moved the family from the Netherlands to Canada for what he prayed would be “greater opportunity.”
The Westerhoffs settled near Toronto. Because their Reformed faith was of utmost importance to them, one of the first things they did was start a church (Immanuel CRC in Brampton, Ontario). When the congregation could afford to erect its own building, 16-year-old Ceus helped his dad sink the footings. The closely knit immigrants’ deeply grounded faith also spurred them to establish a Christian school, then a high school.
This pattern was repeated many times in the United States and Canada by the immigrant communities who gradually established the Christian Reformed Church across North America.
Young Ceus found church to be a serious matter: two in-depth sermons a week plus doctrine and Bible study in catechism. “Our young people’s group was basically a Bible study,” says Ceus. “You wrote essays; you discussed the very deep theological questions.” He smiles: “But there were coffee breaks,” during which Ceus got to know Nelly, his future wife.
Ceus started his work career as a high school science teacher, then he was lured by dairy farming. Time, much prayer, and a leap of faith in 1984 set him on the path to raising flowers instead of cows. He bought a greenhouse business on property that hugs Lake Ontario.
His agricultural background (and chemistry degree) made him confident he could grow roses for the cut-flower trade. But “Nelly had some concern about us doing that.” He smiles again as he quotes her, “‘What do you know about the greenhouse business?’ she asked. I said matter-of-factly, ‘You water them, fertilize them, spray them. We’ll manage.’ Basically, I’m an optimist.”
As Ceus enlarged and computerized the nursery, he decided to grow gerberas (a large daisy-like flower in the sunflower family) instead of roses. For some time they had no competition in North America. “We did well,” he says in his modest manner. “We were able to raise our four children, all of whom went through the Christian education system,” including two to Christian colleges.
When their eldest son married, Ceus made him an equal partner in the business. Five years ago at age 60, Ceus retired, and son Kendrick now owns the still-expanding and successful Cedarway Floral Inc.
Ceus and Nelly are now members of Jubilee Fellowship CRC in St. Catharines. The CRC has been crucial to this family’s faith. “Through the preaching of the Word the CRC has instilled in me a deep trust in God, whatever the circumstances, and I’ve tried to pass on that idea of trust in God to my children,” Ceus says.
In Ceus and Nelly’s five “retired” years they have participated in 10 CRWRC work projects to build a church and rebuild storm- or fire-damaged homes in Guam, California, and four southern U.S. states.
Ceus says, “In the CRC we’ve been taught that whatever we possess are gifts for us to use. If you have the gift of leadership or being able to restore a home for someone in need, that is a direct application of what is taught and preached from the pulpit. Gifts are to be used. For what? For service.”
Service. It’s a lesson Ceus’s parents passed on to him and his siblings in a different era, on another continent. It’s a lesson Ceus and Nelly’s four children began learning a generation later in a brave new world. It’s a lesson those four children (and their own children) still see in their parents every day.