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Elizabeth Dirks was born in sixteenth-century Holland. Her mother died of the plague when Elizabeth was only a few months old. Her grandmother was sick, and her father was unable to care for her, so as a child she was taken to Tienge, a convent near Leer in East Friesland, Germany, where she was trained as a nun. Around 1531, at the age of twelve, she was profoundly impressed when she heard that a heretic had been burned for repudiating the sacraments. She managed to get a Bible, and as she secretly read it she became more and more doubtful of the doctrines of the Catholic Church. After this was discovered, she later fled disguised as a milkmaid, joined the Anabaptist brotherhood, and eventually escaped to Leeuwarden in West Friesland, Netherlands, where she lived in the home of an Anabaptist woman by the name of Hadewyck and had contact with the Anabaptist leader Menno Simons.
On January 15, 1549, the two women were arrested. Hadewyck escaped, but Elisabeth was cross-examined and gave a moving testimony of her faith, undergoing terrible torture with both thumb screws and shin screws and sentenced to death by drowning on either March or May 27. Did she recant or betray the names of the brethren? A song was written on her death and is found in the Ausbund, No. 13. It is included in an appendix to this book. She is also said to have composed a song, but this has as yet not been identified. While Elizabeth Dirks was a real person, The Deacon is not so much a biography as it historical fiction based on her life and death. There are a couple of references to drinking alcoholic beverages, a common practice in that day and time, and not everyone will agree with all the religious practices mentioned, such as Elizabeth’s being appointed a deacon in the church. However, the main lesson is that Elizabeth questioned the meaning of life until she found satisfaction and joy in a personal relationship with Christ which eventually led to her martyrdom. It is a very moving account.