Nancy Chapel (Nadia Chaplya; Nadija Tschaplja) was born on December 31, 1924 in a small hamlet in the northern part of the Ukraine. She lived in the Ukraine until she was 18 years old. As a child, she suffered much. Her life was full of hardship and horror. She experienced hunger, homelessness, and abuse.
The World War II Years
When Nancy was a teenager during World War II, the Nazis took her from her family and assigned her to work on the Gülker farm in Hardinghausen, near Uelsen in Grafschaft Bentheim. As a forced labor prisoner of war, she had to work hard alongside the Gülker family. The father had died, and the two sons were at war. There were at least four other children, some of them very young. Nancy shined shoes, cooked, weeded crops, and did other farm chores.
Her fear of authority ran deep. Once, she fell from a hay wagon. Johann Gülker, who was working with her, tried to help. She waved him off, yelling, “You want to kill me!”
But the Gülker family treated her well. Nancy talked to the children about the books they read and showed an interest in their school lessons. She joined the family for meals three times a day, with prayers offered and Scripture readings. During this time, Nancy became familiar with the Bible. She also learned to read and write in German.
Witnessing the family’s daily faith, and experiencing their love and acceptance, Nancy gradually felt the darkness inside her begin to lift. Maybe God was good, after all. Nancy later said, “My heart had to be emptied of all those things, and I had to be taught again. I am thankful the Lord taught me those things.”
After The War
Soon after the war, Nancy tried to return to the Ukraine on a train of former war prisoners. She missed the train and returned to the Gülker farm. The Gülkers offered to let her stay on their farm in Hardinghausen. She accepted. Nancy then attended church and went to catechism classes with the Gülker children. Later, she learned that former prisoners of war were being treated as traitors back home and that it wasn’t safe for her to return to her homeland.
Nancy made her profession of faith on Pentecost in 1949, along with Johann Gülker. Later, she said that the Holy Spirit worked in her heart to make this possible. Nancy also once said that she didn’t want to become a Christian but had to become one.
Nancy Chapel Emigrates To The U.S.
Although the Gülker family cherished her, God led her to the U.S.A. She had little education, didn’t know any English, and had no money or relatives here, but she was determined to work hard and get an education in order to serve God by helping other people. She made many friends and supporters who helped her along the way.
Two of these supporters were John Nyboer and his wife, Anna Eding. John had immigrated to America in 1924. In 1948, John returned to Germany to visit relatives. The kind Pastor Lankamp asked John to sponsor Nancy Chapel to come to America.
The next year, Nancy was kindly received by the Nyboer family in Hamilton, Michigan. Maybe, there would be an opportunity for further education for Nancy; she had always wanted to be a teacher.
By 1959, Nancy had graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Teacher’s Certificate. One of Nancy’s favorite songs was “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.”
There were also other pre–WWII immigrants in Holland, Michigan who wanted to befriend Nancy. That included my parents.
I first met Nancy in October of 1952, when I had just arrived from Germany at the age of 10. Nancy was 28 at this time and a student at the Pine Rest Christian Hospital, studying psychiatric nursing. She often came to visit us, and she quickly became like an older sister to me. She drew me out and showed an interest in my life. She gave me Christian books and always remembered my birthday with cards and encouraging notes.
When she stayed overnight, I shared my room and bed with her. I loved having her come, but I never slept much because she pulled all the blankets around her while she slept. She would read a devotion to me and would pray aloud with me. This made a profound influence on me, and she became my role model.
In those years, Nancy always seemed happy and full of energy. She always seemed to have so many friends. This continued while she was at the Reformed Bible Institute and later Calvin College. When she went to Nigeria later, I wrote her many letters, and she returned the favor. My parents were her family back home, so there was always a lot of contact.
Here are a few words that come to mind to describe Nancy: fun loving, social, many friends, independent, able to relate to all ages, reader, knitter, blueberry picker, coffee drinker, Bible study leader, Crossroads lesson mentor, gift bearer, card sender, and letter writer. Nancy was blessed with a rich life. Now she is in God’s eternal riches.
Nancy Chapel (Nadia Chaplya) passed away on September 14, 2018 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was buried in Blain Cemetery in Cutlerville, Michigan.
To learn more about Nancy’s service in Nigeria, read “Resonate Global Mission Celebrates The Life And Service of Nancy Chapel” on the Christian Reformed Church’s website.
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