Pieter Gerardus Damsteegt was born in The Netherlands of Pieter and Anna Damsteegt. His father was an official of the Dutch railroad system and went underground when he participated in the National Railway Strike against the German occupational forces in 1944 during World War II. At that time the country experienced a severe famine when many families were reduced to eating tulip bulbs to survive. His family was able to escape to an uncle's home in the countryside to enjoy the bounties they were happy to share. After the war, Gerard's father functioned as vice president of the department of social services of Rotterdam.
When Gerard was 9 years of age, a sister, Ansje was born to his delighted parents. The little girl was a saint from the start. Whereas Gerard was at times into mischief, his sister was always good.
His father's passion was climbing the alps. Holland is naturally flat, so often he would spend the first two weeks of his vacation climbing in France, Austria, or Switzerland, and the last two with his family at some resort. When Gerard was 10 years old, a telegram brought the awful news to his mother that her husband was killed, when he fell down a ravine in the mountains near Scharnitz, Austria. Life was never to be the same for the Damsteegt family.
Gerard had great freedom in following his educational interest. So he opted for the practical path that led to a career in aeronautical engineering. His family had never been that religious, but his Dad had taken him to Christmas and Easter services while he was alive. Gerard was an avid reader of history, philosophy, and various religions; especially works on existentialism.
Unfortunately, his younger sister, Ansje, died from asthma when Gerard was 20 years old. Now only he and his mother remained.
At the age of about 16 he came across a book on Bible prophecy that was to eventually change the whole course of his life. The book was Our Day in the Light of Prophecy, by W.A. Spicer. Focusing on prophecies about the Second Advent such as those of Daniel and Revelation, the book explained world history in the light of these prophecies. Fascinating! As the history unfolded and defined the various doctrinal changes that have come into the church, among them the change of Sabbath to Sunday, Gerard was quite interested.
After graduating as an aeronautical engineer, he was drafted into the Dutch Air Force. Essentially a pacifist by nature, he was greatly repulsed by the movies of killing he was forced to watch--how to best inflict a mortal wound, etc. As part of the training, he was obliged to attend meetings organized by either the Protestant or Catholic chaplains. Catholics usually sponsored a dance with girls; Protestants, group discussions. He attended both but was more attracted to the discussion groups.
One day he had to attend a panel discussion on the topic, "How Should Christians Keep Sunday?" Gerard listened attentively. The Protestant chaplain moderated and explained his views. Toward the end of the service Gerard took the microphone and said, for the sake of argument, "Actually, on Sunday Christians can do whatever they want because the Bible never tells you to keep Sunday. It teaches that Saturday, the seventh day, is the Sabbath that Christians are supposed to keep holy!"
He began explaining as much as he could remember of that Spicer book he had read a few years earlier--how that, throughout the Old Testament, God's people kept the seventh day. Jesus Himself kept the Sabbath throughout His life and even in death, He rested in the tomb on the Sabbath. The apostles kept the Sabbath through the rest of the Biblical times. It was after the death of the apostles that pagan influences began infiltrating the church especially under the influence of the Roman emperor Constantine. In the 4th Century A.D., the dominant church began to promote Sunday over the Sabbath.
Now as Gerard stood before the Air Force personnel, he remembered all he had read on this subject years before. Most of the fellows thoroughly enjoyed the remarks because he was up-starting the chaplain, who, was by this time, noticeably uncomfortable. When given the microphone at last, the chaplain's only comment was, "Much of what Damsteegt has said is true, but we really don't have any more time to discuss this aspect." Immediately the meeting was closed.
There were some fellows who did not join the back-slapping, however. They approached him and strongly expressed, "Damsteegt, you always have so much to say about how Christians should act, but you don't live that way. Now, either you shut up or start living up to what you talk about." Later, reflecting, Gerard had to admit they had a point. From this time on, he began studying Christianity in earnest. He enrolled in a Bible correspondence course and studied diligently, presently giving himself completely to the Lord Jesus Christ.
With his change of views, his present ambitions in life began to seem pretty shallow. He now longed to share Jesus with others and decided to become a missionary. After a discharge from the military, he went back to school, obtaining his B.A. (Newbold College, England, 1967); M.Div. (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI, 1969); Dr. Theol. (Free University, Amsterdam, 1977); and M.P.H. (Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, 1978). His published dissertation was called Toward the Theology of Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. This was also published under the title Foundations of the Seventh-day Adventist Message and Mission (Eerdmans, 1977).
During the course of his studies and wanderings here and there, he met Laurel Nelson, the daughter of medical missionaries to Thailand, who was taking her M.Div. at Andrews. They married and pastored in the USA before eventually going to Thailand as missionaries. He functioned as head of the chaplaincy and health education departments of Bangkok Adventist Hospital as well as the senior pastor of the hospital church. Later they moved to Korea to do full time evangelism, where they established the Far Eastern Division Soul Winning Institute.
When Gerard returned to the USA in 1985 he became primary author of a definitive book on Seventh-day Adventist doctrine, Seventh-day Adventists Believe... Later, he was invited to teach at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University in the church history department in the area of Adventist studies. He still continues to lecture in the Church History Department.
The Damsteegts have two children, Joelle and Pieter.