>"Fathfulness Under Fire": The Story of Guido de Bres (Interview & Book Review)

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Just in time for Reformation Day, Reformed Heritage Books presented Faithfulness Under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres, a children’s book written by William Boekestein and illustrated by Evan Hughes (see review below).

In 1561 Guido de Bres wrote the Belgic Confession. The name was derived from the document’s origin in the southern part of the Netherlands, which later became Belgium. The Reformed Churches of the Netherlands suffered cruelly under persecution, and de Bres wrote the Confession in an attempt to stem persecution by proving that Reformed believers were law-abiding citizens and biblical Christians. In 1567, only six years after writing the Confession, Guide de Bres was hanged as a martyr. His life was lost, but his work endures.

Rev. Bill Boekestein is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA (URCNA). His friend and colleague, Mr. Evan Hughes, is a graphic designer and a member of Grace Reformed Episcopal Church of Scranton, PA (Reformed Episcopal Church). I interviewed both men via email about their newly released collaborative project.

Glenda Mathes (GM): Rev. Boekestein, how long have you been the pastor at Covenant and what other books have you written?

Bill Boekestein (BB): I began pastoring Covenant Reformed Church in the summer of 2008. Prior to that I had lived most of my life in West Michigan with only one year in California. Last year our church published a study guide I wrote on the book of Jonah called Life Lessons from a Calloused Christian. It’s available through Reformed Fellowship. Evan designed a great cover for that book as well!

GM: Evan, what other books or works have you illustrated?

Evan Hughes (EH): This is the first children’s book that I have done. I recently did artwork for a couple book covers including a book by Bill titled Life Lessons from a Calloused Christian and another book being published by RHB titled Word, Water, and Spirit by J.V. Fesko. I got my start doing illustration that mostly revolved around artwork for skateboards, snowboards, t-shirts, posters and album artwork for bands. I have always wanted to do work more geared toward book covers and editorials, but when I started I was involved in skateboarding and snowboarding so I just took the jobs that came my way. So I’m in a transition right now with where I am taking my work and I am happy with the new direction. Illustrating this book was a great experience and it definitely whetted my appetite to seek more work in the area of children’s publishing.

GM: How did the two of you meet?

BB: In the spring of 2009, I was looking for someone to design a flyer for a conference I was organizing on John Calvin. A mutual friend suggested I give Evan a call. He and his family came over for dinner one night and our families clicked instantly. (Our 3 year-old daughter Eva is presently considering whether or not she wants to marry Evan’s 4 year-old son Jacob.) Instead of simply designing the flyers for this one conference Evan became the design man for Life Reformation, a collaborative effort to bring reformational thought to our area. Evan has also begun providing custom illustrations for a free monthly discipleship article our church sends out entitled Proclamation.

EH: I think Bill sums it up pretty nicely. It’s awesome to see God’s providence in how we met. I think Bill was shipping a bunch of reformed books at his local post office and my best friend Mike is the clerk there. Mike is also a bi-vocational pastor so when he saw the stack of books he knew he had to introduce himself. You know what they say, you can tell a lot about a guy by what kind of books he ships (okay, I’m the only one that says that). Mike then introduced me to Bill. It’s great when you can meet somebody new and you get along so well. From the day we met Bill put me to work and since then he always has some new idea or project he is working on that he needs artwork for.

GM: What led to the idea for this collaborative effort?

BB: After I had written an early draft of the story, I asked Evan if he would be interested in illustrating it. At the time I didn’t have a publisher, but we thought it would be a fun project to work on together, regardless. Evan and I both love Reformed church history and we both have young children so I think we were pretty interested in working on the book. I love Evan’s style. I find it both serious and imaginative at the same time. (And he’s the only artist I know so he was the natural choice.) Although we were willing to attempt to self-publish the book we were thrilled to have it picked up by Reformation Heritage Books.

GM: How did you work together on this project? Was it first written, broken up into page-length sections, and then illustrated?

BB: Yes, I wrote the story based on approximately fifteen scenes which became fifteen full-page spreads (one spread was eliminated prior to printing). Next Evan and I got together and brainstormed ideas for images, taking notes on each of the spreads. Evan then took these ideas and made rough sketches on each of the spreads. This version of the book was sent to the publisher for review. Throughout the process many of our original ideas survived to the end, although there were many modifications. For example, the last scene of the book originally had Guido climbing a hangman’s ladder with a noose around his neck (yes, this may the first book intended for young children that ends with a hanging!). The image seemed a little too graphic so we ended up moving the noose to the hangman’s hand as he’s approaching the ladder. Another graphic scene that we modified is when an effigy of Guido’s body is burned by an angry mob. The first version of the effigy looked too life-like. After we settled on the images my work was basically done and Evan took over.

GM: Evan, what media or process did you use for the illustrations and how long did it take to do all of them?

EH: The media I used is a mixture of traditional hand drawn ink drawings with the color done digitally. The approach I took was very similar to the process that a traditional cartoonist or comic book artist would use. I did it in four stages. After Bill and I discussed our ideas for each spread, I did a very rough storyboard for each spread of the book. For some of the pages, I gave more than one option if we had multiple ideas for a particular page. We sent the roughs to the publisher to get their feedback and approval.

Once the roughs were approved, I did a final pencil drawing of each spread they picked. At this point, I began filling in all the details so that everybody could start to get a better idea of exactly what the final image would look like. During this stage, the exact composition is solidified, the facial features are decided on, the clothing choices made and other details materialize. Again these were then sent for approval.

The next stage, the inking stage, was my favorite part. I inked each page by hand with a brush over top of my pencil drawings. I then scanned these into my computer and cleaned them up a bit and added some texture and detail.

The inks were approved and from there I colored them digitally using Photoshop and a graphics tablet. I work a full-time job doing graphic design, so the whole process from start to finish took me about six months to complete, doing them in my spare time.

GM: Rev. Boekestein, what is the intended age group for this book and how do you envision this book will be used?

BB: We intended this book to be read to pretty young audiences, probably somewhere in the range of 2-10. We geared the language toward young children and modified some of the images so they wouldn’t be too scary. That said, some of the themes of the book might seem to be too mature for young children. I address that concern in a note to parents on the last page:

The life of Guido De Bres is not exactly a pleasant read. The story is sad, and, in our age of tolerance, at times it is uncomfortable. Yet we believe his story is important because it really happened. In fact, it happened a lot! In other words, De Bres was not all that extraordinary. He was one of countless Christians who spent their lives in devotion to the Lord and in commitment to His Word.

We should say a few things about the graphic details and references to historical religious conflict in this book. First, the reader should know that every reasonable attempt has been made to avoid gratuitous, unsavory detail. It would be impossible, however, to tell the story of De Bres apart from the theme of suffering. We have also tried carefully to avoid unnecessarily inflammatory religious rhetoric. However, the fact remains that right up to the present, strongly held convictions will produce conflict. Even young children experience this.

Second, we don’t believe it is necessary to shield even young children from the ugliness of life as long as we also provide a context in which this life can be lived victoriously. Guido de Bres thrived in tragedy because he was hoping in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel (or good news) of Jesus is this: because of His perfect life and sacrificial death, those who repent of their sins and trust in Him have God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal life (John 3:16). As this promise is realized in our lives, we too will approach life with the same hope that De Bres had. We will be equipped and motivated to spend our lives for God’s glory as we look to an eternal reward of grace.

This is the value we see in teaching our children about Guido de Bres—not to glorify him, but to be drawn by his example to live to the glory of God.

I would love to see this book used, not only to introduce children to the God that Guido served, but also to introduce this exciting character from church history into their minds and lives at a young age. For my children, books are not simply something to be read and then set aside. They live out the books they read. My wife and I are constantly hearing our four-year-old son say to his sister things like, “Eva, you be Lady de Winter and I’ll be Dartagnon” as they play out a scene from The Three Musketeers. Or, “I’ll be Henry and you be Bessie” as they reenact a chapter from Elizabeth Prentiss’ Henry and Bessie. In a similar way, I would love to have a young generation of kids wanting to “be Guido.” I believe that connecting a life to the Belgic Confession will serve our churches well as children become introduced to Reformed theology.

The above article appeared in the October 27/November 3 issue of Christian Renewal on pages 10-12.

© Glenda Mathes, 2010

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Faithfulness Under Fire: The Story of Guido de Bres
by William Boekestein, illustrated by Evan Hughes

Reformation Heritage Books; hardcover; 32 pages; © 2010

$7.50 from http://www.heritagebooks.org

Reviewed by Glenda Mathes

As parents approach the end of October, they face the perennial question of how to handle society’s pressure to participate in Halloween. For many reasons, my husband and I decided early in our children’s lives that it would be far better to focus on Reformation Day rather than Halloween.

Parents looking for ways to focus on the Reformation during this time of year will appreciate the newly released book from Reformation Heritage Books about Guido de Bres, written by William Boekestein and illustrated by Evan Hughes.

In simple language and engaging pictures, the book tells the story of Guido de Bres and his suffering for the sake of the gospel. The book is careful to avoid gratuitous descriptions or illustrations, but it does not shy away from the truth of this martyr’s life.

Illustrations cover each two-page spread with blocks of text over a portion of one page. Guido’s story within the context of Reformation history is related in easy to understand terms. Although young children can comprehend the story, parents also may learn interesting facts about the life and work of Guido de Bres.

Boekestein describes how Guido left his father’s glass painting trade to become a minister preaching the truths of the Reformed faith. He relates details about Guido’s training, his marriage, his persecution, and his writings—including his most famous work, The Belgic Confession.

This book is appropriate to be read to and by young readers with parental supervision to ensure that children do not dwell on sad details, but that they instead focus on how Guido victoriously lived and died for Christ.

Parents may also want to explain that the cover illustration represents more than the final incident in the life of Guido de Bres. The cover shows him climbing a ladder surrounded by a fire. He did climb a ladder before his death by hanging, but the author explains that the fire represents an earlier incident in his life when all his household goods were burned.

© Glenda Mathes, 2010

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