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James Calvin Schaap
C. Kuipers, Mission Novelist
In the hot summer of 1978, I pocketed Cornelius (Casey) Kuipers' Roaring Waters (1937) from a medical mission on the Mississippi delta and then completely forgot about it. My assignment was to cull unread books from the mission's library. That Roaring Waters hadn't moved from its shelf suggested that a 40-year-old Christian novel by a Dutch Reformed missionary to a New Mexico pueblo was not of great interest to local folks. Neither did I want to toss it, however. I thought it might be interesting. I took it home.
Almost 40 years later, when I was culling my own shelves, I picked that novel up, started into it, and was taken immediately by a writer who I then discovered wrote three novels actually—not just one—from the depths of the Great Depression, "mission novels," he called them, novels all but lost.
I know something about writing novels, having written a few myself. I know the joy and the heartbreak of writing, and I know the dedication required to create something that may find its terminus in a burning barrel. I know the time and effort and concentration required to imagine one's way into and out of the fictional dream.
My expectations for this old and largely unread novel weren't high. It was not going to be literature, because it most certainly had an agenda; it was written to support the Zuni mission—less literature than, in the mid-1930s, creative marketing.
I loved it. I really did. I'm not cheerleading, nor trying to sell books whose time has come and gone; but in certain wonderful ways, the three novels of C. Kuipers seemed profoundly fascinating for what they reveal about the writer. I loved reading them, not because of their art, their plots, or their design; but because I couldn't help but feel the conflict in the novelist's own soul as he tried his hand at writing fiction.
When Casey Kuipers was still a boy in Orange City, Iowa, his father took him to the Mission Fest, held every ...