In The Course of His Life - Joris
de Bres 1998
An earnest young student with horn rimmed glasses sat behind the
registration desk at the annual conference of the Dutch Missionary
Societies. It was August 1936, and the venue was a large conference
centre, surrounded by fields of heather in the middle of a woodland.
Nearby was the Veluwe, a popular scenic area in the province of
An unlikely threesome came up to the desk. The middle aged man
was short, roundish and almost completely bald. The woman at his
side towered head and shoulders above him. Her carefully groomed,
red wavy hair, her dress and her jewelry combined with her stature
to convey an impressive and somewhat daunting elegance. Behind them
stood a slight, fair haired young woman in her late teens, with
the same gentle blue eyes as the man, and just a little taller.
The woman introduced them as Mr and Mrs Boon and their daughter
Leni, on furlough after five years of missionary work in Surinam.
Mr Boon and his daughter were quiet and self-effacing, but his wife
was fulsome, somewhat pious, determined to enjoy her status as a
missionary on active service.
The student welcomed them, wrote down their details, issued them
with the conference programme and gave them the keys to their rooms.
Most of his attention was focused on the young woman. He was flirtatious
by nature, and sensed a response to the charm beamed from his twinkling
eyes and to his eyebrows raised in sympathy as Mrs Boon organised
them. He resolved to look out for her when his registration duties
The trio weren’t hard to find. Mrs Boon stood out like a
beacon to guide him. He was not alone in finding them an unlikely
threesome. A few enquiries had revealed that the combination of
their name (Dutch for bean) and their appearance had evoked the
description of “broad bean, runner bean and French bean”.
Thus began a courtship, and within two months the couple were engaged.
Mr and Mrs Boon returned to Surinam in October, and Leni enrolled
for a Diploma in Home Science. She was going to need it. After she
married her eager young theology student four years later, she was
to run a home that ultimately encompassed eight children through
the trials of war, emigration, and constant changes of location.
For Dirk Boon, leaving his daughter behind to return to Surinam
was a terrible wrench. She was his only daughter, a precious and
precarious testament to his brief and tragic first marriage, a symbol
of his own fragility. She was his success story against the odds,
his own and only flesh and blood, the one person he could relate
to with absolute ease.
The clue to his story is engraved on a headstone in “God’s
Acre”, as the Moravians first called their cemeteries, in
the tranquil grounds of the Moravian Brethren Community Headquarters
in Zeist. “No 1382”, it reads at the top, “Dirk
Boon, born at Schoonhoven, 21.12.1888, fell asleep at Utrecht 21.8.1974,
redeemed through Jesus.”
No 1382. The number given to a brother of the Moravian Community,
which leads to a record held within the walls of the imposing eighteenth
century complex nearby. It was a Moravian tradition for brothers
and sisters of the community to write their own curriculum vitae
in their twilight years, not a CV as we know it, but more literally
the course of their life. My brother (his grandson) retrieved the
curriculum vitae of No 1382 when he visited Zeist in 1997. It is
undated, but was written when Dirk Boon was over 80 years old, in
a retirement home in Utrecht. Looking back over his eventful life,
he comes back to his experiences of childhood, and the things that
produced his anger, his faith, his anxieties and his pleasures:
My parents were married for seven years and had seven children.
I was the middle one. The others died as babies. My mother died
when I was three and a half years old.
After my mother’s death, for reasons of my health and welfare,
I was taken to live with friends of my parents who owned a farm
in Polsbroek. I was lovingly cared for by them.
My parents and my foster parents both belonged to a very orthodox
sect. The leader was a woman who claimed to be the Holy Ghost, and
the sect members believed her. They had to give themselves to her
totally. Everything they owned was God’s, and therefore also
hers as the third person in the divine Trinity. There was no going
to the doctor if you were ill, no vaccination, no attendance at
public school (children had to be privately tutored at home), no
insurance, not even for fire, sickness and burial. Every cent you
could save had to be given to the woman. Toys and picture books
were forbidden, for they were craven images forbidden by God’s
law. All members had to make great financial sacrifices. I remember
my father had to pay forty guilders a week. That was about eighty
years ago. Today that would be over 200 guilders a week. On top
of that he had to supply her with wine and cognac. My father was
a wholesaler of household goods.
I remember when I was three and a half years old, I was given a
rocking horse by an aunt who didn’t belong to the sect. I
loved it. When my father came home and saw the rocking horse he
was upset, got a saw and cut its head off. That was because the
rocking horse was a craven image! I have never forgotten what he
did, and I was angry. I threw the rest of the rocking horse into
Sundays were terrible. The shutters were closed so that you couldn’t
see the world outside. You were only allowed to read the Bible,
and no other books. It was just the same in Polsbroek. The good
thing was that you had to walk to the meeting, which was a pleasant
distraction. But then you had to endure a two and a half hour service,
which wasn’t the best.
From my sixth year I received private tuition. The religious meetings
were held in Polsbroek, Venendaal and Brandwijk. In Polsbroek the
service was held on the farm. We sang psalms, and the singing was
accompanied by dancing, or more precisely “jumping for spiritual
Marriage was forbidden, because the bridegroom would soon be coming
to fetch his bride, for this woman was not only the Holy Ghost,
but also the Bride of the Lamb. As a result one could say that the
young people succumbed to all manner of temptations.
The woman was Zwarte Jannetje (Black Jenny). The 1890’s were
a time of social ferment in the Netherlands as in the rest of Europe.
The franchise had been extended in 1889 under pressure from the
growing trade union movement and socialist groups, battles raged
over secular versus religious education, and over the social and
industrial conditions of workers. The Dutch throne was occupied
by a Regent, because Princess Wilhelmina was still too young to
succeed her father, King Willem III, who had died in 1890. In such
times of religious and political uncertainty, religious cults tended
to thrive, appealing to those like the farmers and small businessmen
who felt most threatened by the momentum of change. “The shutters
were closed so that you couldn’t see the world outside.”
Zwarte Jannetje’s apocalypse never came, however, and the
cult dissolved after her untimely death.
As war drew closer in Europe and nations embarked on a programme
to increase their military strength, the Netherlands remained neutral,
while providing the venue for peace conferences in Den Haag (The
Hague) in 1899 and 1907. As a young man in his twenties, Dirk Boon
lived in a country that was surrounded by war, but which, unlike
its near neighbour Belgium, escaped becoming a battlefield. He was
to marry and have his only daughter in the middle of the First World
When I was twenty eight years old, I came into contact with an
orphan girl who lived in the home of the Ketel family in Utrecht,
and we got married. At the time I was working in my father’s
business. A year later, our little daughter was born. My current
wife looked after my sick wife and baby for a period, and baby Leni
was often with her in Utrecht too. All too soon my wife died. We
had been married for less than two years, and Leni was a weak baby.
In later years I studied theology while I continued my ordinary
work, and I was invited to teach religious education at the teachers’
college in Schoonhoven. That was an incentive for me to study hard.
After being a widower for three years, I married Miss J.C. Ketel
of Utrecht, who faithfully helped at the Sunday School of which
I was in charge. She also ran a Bible Class and a sewing circle.
I was often in Utrecht, and on Sundays I often preached in the Schoonhoven
“All too soon my wife died”. He doesn’t even
mention her name, and the formality with which he names his second
wife is the difference between love and gratitude. The omission
reflects a hard learned sensitivity to the inevitable jealousy that
the difference in the relationships aroused. Although the two women
had been friends, the second Mrs Boon could not hide her emotions
when Leni and her husband named their first daughter after the original
Mrs Boon. She was deeply upset and found it difficult to relate
to the child. It came on top of the anxiety Dirk Boon had felt about
the birth, recalling the death of all his siblings and his first
wife. He was relieved when the decision was made for the birth to
take place in a hospital, a relatively unusual occurrence at the
time. Now, it was difficult to share his joy. One of the most precious
moments of his life had to be a guarded, a private experience.
Kitty Zilversmit, who, as a young Jewish woman, took shelter with
the Boons in Amsterdam during the Second World War, tells the story
of Dirk Boon’s two marriages in her book, Yours Always, A
Holocaust Love Story. Finna Bartha van den Heuvel was the orphan
girl who had been taken in by the Ketel family. She had inherited
her family home, which had come to the attention of Dirk Boon. He
cycled all the way from Schoonhoven to Utrecht to make enquiries
about it. He invited her to bike back with him to have a look at
it, and Mrs Ketel gave her approval provided her daughter (the Miss
J.C. Ketel he was also to marry) accompanied them. And so all three
got to know each other, and many more bike rides followed. He used
to argue with Miss Ketel, but they all enjoyed the rides, and Dirk
and Finna fell in love and married. By the time their baby daughter
was born, Finna was already sickening with tuberculosis, and the
baby was small and weak and suffered from severe dermatitis. Miss
Ketel nursed them both till Finna died, and then nursed the baby
through to health. “Without his wife, and responsible for
a baby, Mr Boon felt like a lost soul, he said. He told me how Co
(Miss Ketel) artfully swaddled the baby in very soft cloth and constantly
changed her. Miraculously, Leni began regaining strength and outgrew
her skin problem after struggling for months. In the end she fully
recovered and he felt that Co had been like a mother to her. She
seemed the logical person for him to marry. So they married three
years later and Co Ketel became Mrs Boon. I was so taken by Mr Boon’s
story, and felt so sorry for him. It didn’t seem fair that
such a wonderful human being had been deprived, at such a young
age, of sharing his life with the person he loved most.”
The second Mrs Boon described the experience in her own curriculum
vitae: “After a year and a half the baby was born and Finna
appeared to be seriously ill with TB. When, after six weeks, the
nurse had to leave, Finna wrote to my parents asking them if I could
come and look after her baby. My father thought the task was too
difficult, and would only agree on condition that help was also
found for Finna. Thus Leni came into my care. A baby of four pounds
who cried day and night and didn’t want to drink anything
at all. My eldest sister, who had two little children, came over
for a day to teach me how to look after a baby. When she saw the
baby, she was shocked and said ‘I don’t even dare to
touch this little child, it’s so weak.’ Every morning,
when I had bathed the baby, I took her to Finna, who wouldn’t
risk kissing her for fear of infecting her. There was also an old
aunt of Dirk’s who lived with his father. She cooked wonderful
meals and helped out in many ways. Once, when Finna felt so weak
that she felt the end was near, she took the child in her arms and
gave her back to me with the words ‘ On Dirk’s behalf,
I give you my child. Will you care for her as if she were your own?’
And so Leni became my child. A fretful, crying baby who everyone
thought would not live for much longer. Meanwhile Leni often came
to my other house in Utrecht. Finna got steadily weaker and died
on 10 January 1918, when the baby was about seven months old. Finna
committed everything to God and left her fate in His hands. Her
beloved husband and her baby were also given over to Him. The baby
was often in Utrecht with me, rested in the garden and became less
fretful and healthier. When she learned to walk, she tip-toed rather
than walked, and she did that right through her childhood. On 24
February 1921 Dirk Boon and I were married in Utrecht.”
When the sewing circle decided to work for lepers we came into
contact with the Moravian Brethren community in Zeist and their
work in Surinam. After a time Brother Steinberg came and asked if
we would like to go there ourselves. As a result, we left for Surinam
in June 1930.
After his childhood memories of oppressive religious cultism, the
Moravian Brotherhood had an obvious attraction. Its motto was “In
essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love”.
It had its roots in the Czech movement led by Jan Hus, who was martyred
in 1415 for refusing to give up his belief that people should have
the right to hear the gospel in their own language and that the
laity should receive both the bread and the wine of communion. After
the Hussite Wars prompted by his stand, his followers established
a community on the Bohemian border. There, in 1467, fifty years
before the Protestant Reformation, they founded their own ministry
known as the Unity of Brethren or Unitas Fratrum. They spread into
neighbouring Bohemia and Moravia. They were persecuted and went
underground during the Thirty Years War and eventually found refuge
in Saxony. They established a village called Herrnhut under the
patronage of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf. Herrnhut became the
headquarters for a missionary movement into Denmark, Holland, Switzerland,
Sweden and America. “Moravians” became the popular name
for the movement because many of its members were descended from
the refugees from Moravia.
The Moravians (or Herrnhutters) espoused a simple faith, based
on the Bible, and actively promoted missionary activity (both preaching
and the welfare of slaves and indigenous peoples) in the New World
of America, the Caribbean and South East Asia. While they founded
parishes in the mission fields, at home many Moravians were simply
members of other Protestant churches. They were best known for their
annual selection of daily Bible texts. My grandfather sent us a
copy every year, and we also had a traditional many-pointed Moravian
Christmas Star, made of stiff paper segments which were reassembled
each Christmas and put around a light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
The Boons embarked for their new life at Rotterdam and sailed via
Our destination was Saron and we were put in charge of the parish
and the Saron Children’s Home, which had about 100 children.
Because of this work I was later also given the parishes of Helena
Christina, Lebanon Weg, Moengo, Albina and Lange Tabbetje. Twice
a year I also had to travel into the jungle for six weeks for missionary
work and the celebration of the sacraments. I had the privilege
of establishing a new parish in the jungle, where on one Sunday
twenty nine converts became Christians and were baptised. In 1937,
I suffered work exhaustion and was declared unfit for further service.
That was a difficult time.
For economy reasons we had trained Surinamese staff at Saron. We
had bought a hundred hectares of land and were thus able to make
the Saron Children’s Home self-sufficient, with no need for
further outside help. What we really missed was the help of the
Surinam, or Dutch Guyana, was where my mother spent her teenage
years. In our home we had photos on the wall of her dressed in traditional
Surinam costume. The country had a mixed population, predominantly
descendants of African slaves who had been brought to work the sugar
plantations, along with Creoles. Dutch trade had also brought Javanese,
Chinese, Indians and Europeans, and, mainly in the jungle, there
were the indigenous South American Indians. My mother was the only
European in her class at school.
The Boons spent the first five years in Surinam together as a family.
On one of his trips up river into the rainforest, Dirk Boon took
his wife and daughter. The journeys were difficult, made in a corjalen
or long canoe, having to traverse waterfalls, whirlpools and rapids.
Two local men experienced in navigating the river were always taken
along. The journeys could take up to six weeks, and Mrs. Boon would
stay behind to manage the children’s home. Dirk Boon’s
father came to stay with his only son and granddaughter for six
months in Surinam.
A highlight was a family trip to New York in 1934. They had wanted
to travel to Trinidad to visit friends, but discovered that it would
cost no more to travel all the way to New York and back on the cargo
boat that was to take them. So they called at many of the Windward
and Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, Trinidad, Barbados, Santa
Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, Guadeloupe, Antigua, stopping a day
or so at each, and then on to New York. A favourite photo of our
childhood was of the three of them standing on the top of the Empire
State Building. The Three Beans in the Big Apple.
There were also trips to Georgetown, in neighbouring British Guyana,
and into French Guyana, which lay on the other side of the River
Marowijne along which Dirk Boon did his pastoral visits in the rainforest.
It was notorious for its brutal penal colony on Devil’s Island.
Prisoners were subdued by solitary confinement in tiny cells and
subterranean cages. The celebrated Alfred Dreyfus, convicted of
treason against France in 1894 on forged evidence and later pardoned,
spent five years there. Prisoners were still being sent to French
Guyana in the 1930’s. After completing their sentence of incarceration,
they had to remain a further five years and eke out a living as
best they could, for example by catching and mounting tropical butterflies
for a pittance for collectors. Dirk Boon, as a Minister, was even
invited to attend an execution by guillotine, but politely declined.
After five years they returned to the Netherlands on leave. Leni
had completed her schooling and was to be enrolled in a tertiary
course. There were no further educational opportunities for her
in Surinam, so she would not be coming back with them. They spent
a few precious months together at the Moravian community in Zeist,
and celebrated her engagement there. When the time came to leave
in October, it was a hard parting from his only daughter.
As conditions in Hitler’s Germany worsened and conscription
was introduced, the source of German Moravian missionaries dried
up, and Dirk Boon’s workload increased further. He had been
chosen to do the river journeys because he was the only person who
didn’t get sea sick on the rough coastal trip from Paramaribo
to Albina. The two tribes on the different sides of the river spoke
different languages and had different customs. He visited their
settlements regularly and at a big ceremonial occasion he was admitted
as a member of their tribes. He was only the third European ever
to receive such an honour. As a “brother Indian” he
was asked to take a young boy from each tribe into his home for
their education. The boys could barely understand each other’s
languages, let alone Dutch or Surinamese, but the tribes’
insistence was such that Dirk Boon and his wife agreed. Their hammocks
were slung across the rafters in the attic, and the boys followed
Mrs Boon about everywhere, picking up Dutch and Surinamese from
her conversations with the staff and the children in the home.
He was to spend another two years in Surinam, but the weight of
his responsibilities, the effects of the dysentery he contracted,
and the fact that his daughter was now so far away led him down
into physical and mental exhaustion. He became depressed, a condition
that recurred through the rest of his life. “That was a difficult
In Zeist we were given waiting money until we were asked to take
charge of a Rest Home for the Elderly in the Netherlands Reformed
parish in Haarlem. Two years later we were invited to take charge
of a similar rest home in Amstelveen, near Schiphol. It was called
We were able to work with God’s blessing in both rest homes.
We were at “Vredeveld” from 1940 to 1947, and thus experienced
the war years there. It was very difficult to find food for so many
people. We were responsible for about a hundred elderly people plus
the staff and some people in hiding. Fortunately, because we were
Hernhutter (and therefore belonged to a German community), we were
allowed to keep our bikes, and could go out to beg food from the
farmers. The farmers gave generously. One of the people in hiding
used to listen to the English radio, so we were able to keep up
to date with what was happening. The reports were stenciled and
passed on to others. We also had Jewish people in hiding with us,
both staff and residents.
Vredeveld means “field of peace”, and in the midst
of the war Dirk Boon did recover his peace of mind and was able
to share it with others. He provided shelter for four young Jewish
women, four elderly Jewish residents, as well as a Dutch student
and two Dutch families that were in hiding from the Nazis. One of
the families was his own daughter and her husband Pieter, with three
little girls aged one to four years, after a tip off from the Dutch
Resistance that Pieter was about to be arrested. They hid there
for seven months, until the liberation. Leni was pregnant with her
He was able to care for his ailing father at Vredeveld in his final
months of life. Just before his father died, Leni had had her first
daughter, and they had all been together to mark the start of a
Kitty Zilversmit has told the story of Vredeveld in her book. It
was an imposing building, with two storeys and an attic floor, set
back from the road, with a wrought iron fence, concrete paths leading
through the front lawn and decorative trees. The attic had been
altered to provide carefully concealed hiding places into which
the illegal boarders could retreat at the first sign of German visitors.
In the midst of all this, she paints a picture of Dirk Boon, happy
in his work and the company of his daughter and granddaughters.
“Mr Boon often stood in front of Vredeveld making small talk
with the passers by. He would even occasionally talk with German
soldiers. The Boons had put a little round table and two chairs
in the hallway near the front door. They also had an easel in the
entrance hall with a blackboard which read: ‘It is forbidden
to bring illegal (meaning anti-German) literature into this building’.
Sometimes Mr Boon would even invite a German soldier inside for
a cup of tea. Jopie, who always kept watch in her little office
located in the middle of the hall, would get the tea and serve the
guest. While the soldier had his tea, Mr Boon would pace back and
forth proudly in the downstairs hall, hands clasped behind his back,
a spring in his step and a smile on his face. I could just imagine
what he was thinking: ‘If you only knew what was going on
under this roof!’”
He didn’t live to receive the honour that was bestowed on
him in 1978. It coincided with the visit of his daughter to Holland
after a twenty six year absence in New Zealand. She and her husband
were able to accompany Mrs. Boon to the Israeli Embassy to receive
a medal and a certificate of honour:
This is to certify that during its session of October 20, 1977
the Commission to commemorate the Righteous of the Nations of the
Institute of the Yad Vashem has decided, on the basis of testimony
received by it, to render homage to JACOBA C. BOON KETEL and DIRK
BOON, who, at the risk of their lives, have saved Jews from their
persecutors during the years of the Holocaust in Europe, and to
award them the Medal of the Righteous of the Nations and to authorize
the planting of a tree in their name in the Avenue of the Righteous
of Nations on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. (Made in Jerusalem,
June 5, 1978.)
In 1947 I was called to serve in a parish in the Protestant Church
in West Indonesia. I accepted the call for a three year term. It
was dangerous in Indonesia. Shootings were a regular occurrence
in Sukabumi, and in our second parish, “Depok”, we were
robbed of all our belongings (namely all our clothes etc. and all
our money) by intruders. All we had left were the pyjamas we were
wearing. I was tied to the bedstead until they needed me to open
a money box with two revolvers pointed at me. Despite fearing the
worst, we were not killed, and we thanked God for keeping us safe.
At half past two in the morning they ran out of the house. We didn’t
hear anything, but the robbers must have, which is why they took
This was the story we loved to hear as children, and our grandmother
told it with all the drama she could muster. My grandfather usually
sat quietly and looked embarrassed by it. It was a turbulent time
in Indonesia. The war in South East Asia had strengthened the Indonesian
independence movement, and the Japanese, while engaging in imperialism
themselves, fostered the anti-Dutch sentiment. People of Dutch nationality
had been interned in Japanese prisoner of war camps. After the war,
the battle for independence intensified under the leadership of
Sukarno. Robbery of Dutch homes must have been a common experience.
When the Boons left for Indonesia in 1947, they were expecting
to be followed by their daughter. She and her husband had planned
to go before the war broke out, and after the war they had been
called by the Indonesian church to work in Malang. They were active
supporters of independence, but circumstances were against them.
The Government was discouraging families from going to Indonesia,
her husband would have had to go alone, and she would have to follow
by boat later with her children. Leni had given birth to her fifth
child in April 1947, and the prospect of her husband being in troubled
Indonesia and her remaining behind with a newborn baby and four
other young children, and then undertaking a long sea journey on
her own with them, was just too much for her. Her doctor insisted
that the whole project should be dropped. Already in Indonesia,
Dirk Boon had to face the prospect of prolonged separation from
his only daughter once again.
In 1950 all Dutch people had to leave Indonesia. There were many
thousands of us. When we returned in 1950, my first job was to relieve
for Rev Groenewegen in the Netherlands Reformed Church in Utrecht.
Then I was asked to act as chaplain to the people repatriated from
Indonesia, who had been put up in hotels and boarding houses. First
I was based in Apeldoorn, then in Rotterdam.
My wife worked hand in hand with me as a social worker with the
repatriated. We loved the job. Many thousands had had to leave everything
behind. They were not allowed to sell their homes or other belongings
or take anything with them. These people, including many who had
never been in Holland but had to leave because they were of Dutch
nationality, needed help and advice on everything.
For the Boons, the return to the Netherlands was a homecoming,
and a reunion with family. But for many of the quarter of a million
people who arrived involuntarily from the Dutch colonies it was
a nightmare. The majority of the population had experienced together
the horrors of the Second World War, culminating in the Winter of
Starvation in 1944-45, and although the newcomers had lived their
own horrors in internment camps and under Japanese rule, they were
outsiders. They had to compete for housing that was already scarce,
and were regarded with suspicion. If they hadn’t been interned,
people wondered if they had collaborated with the Japanese. If they
had, their experience was foreign to the majority. They were just
seen as another unwelcome problem. The Boons understood both sides.
They knew first hand what life in the colonies had been like before
the war, they had been in Holland during the war, they knew the
tension of Indonesia after the war, and they had themselves been
repatriated and shared the passengers’ anxieties on the long
sea trip home.
In Apeldoorn, Dirk Boon was able to enjoy regular visits from his
daughter and her family, or take the trip himself to Eindhoven where
they lived. Where there had been four grandchildren, there were
now six, and a seventh was born in 1953. When they came to visit,
he would give them a shiny guilder each, unlock the big glass cabinet
with all the magical things he had collected in New York, Madeira,
Surinam, Indonesia and elsewhere on his travels. They would play
with the wooden snakes, made of painted and varnished segments wired
together, which if held by the tail slithered frighteningly like
the real thing. They would ask to hold the Indonesian wooden carvings,
look at the souvenir silver spoons, and count the different layers
of coloured sand from some exotic shore locked into a glass vial.
He would tell the story of each item, like the fish skeleton that
washed up each Easter on the shores of Surinam and bore a striking
resemblance to Christ on the Cross. He would shake it, and a bone
inside would rattle. The Surinamese said that was the dice the Roman
soldiers used when they cast lots for Jesus’ robe. At every
visit the ritual was repeated. He was a happy man.
But another parting lay ahead. In 1954, having despaired of getting
to Indonesia, his son in law accepted an invitation from the Presbyterian
Church of New Zealand to work in Wellington as a chaplain to Dutch
immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of Dutch people were turning their
backs on post-war Holland, attracted by the opportunities offered
by labour hungry economies like Canada, Australia, the United States
and New Zealand. Tens of thousands came to New Zealand alone. The
Presbyterian Church was the closest equivalent to the Dutch Reformed
Church to which many of the immigrants belonged, and they recognised
the need for special pastoral care. They hired four Dutch pastors
for this ministry.
Once again Dirk Boon stood in the departure hall at the Rotterdam
docks, but this time it was not him, but his daughter and precious
grandchildren who walked up the gangway and waved from the deck.
As the ship slowly pulled away all those other partings came back
to him, and he went home with a heavy heart. Each day of that six
week journey they would be further away, first retracing his own
Atlantic crossing to the Caribbean, then through the Panama Canal
to the very end of the earth.
Meanwhile, I had turned sixty five. Our children, that is to say
our daughter and son in law, Rev de Bres, had emigrated to New Zealand.
Rev de Bres had been invited to be a chaplain to the Dutch in New
Zealand for three years. When the three years were up, he was called
to be a Minister in the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, and
he accepted. They felt at home in New Zealand.
Because we only have one child and because of the good reports
we had heard, we decided to go to New Zealand. There I received
a call to work in vacant parishes. We were there for eleven and
a half years and served in five parishes.
There had been an aerogramme from Leni every week from the time
she arrived in New Zealand. Leaving Holland was nothing new to him,
and there was no doubt in his mind where he wanted to be. It was
more difficult for his wife. Her two spinster sisters and her brother
and his family were all in Holland. For Dirk to be with his family,
she would have to leave hers. But she also knew that in retirement,
away from his family, the depressions of earlier years would return.
In the end, they agreed, and once again it was down to the familiar
docks in Rotterdam and up the gangway to New Zealand.
It was a happy reunion on the wharf in Wellington. Leni and her
husband had bought a flat for them in Upper Hutt, just a few minutes
from the Presbyterian manse where they lived. The glass display
cabinet, the Indonesian wall hangings and carvings, the familiar
photographs and furniture were installed, and for the grandchildren
a little piece of their earlier childhood was restored. They could
hop on their bikes, up through the shopping centre, and drop in
on their grandparents after school. There would always be delicious
raspberry cordial and a Dutch butterscotch sweet from a special
tin to welcome them. The door would open, and Mrs Boon would say
“Goodbye”, which she thought meant hello. The price
was a big slobbery kiss on the cheek if they couldn’t get
past in time.
Dirk Boon managed to supplement his Dutch pension with a job as
an assistant in a Kodak shop in Wellington. He was accorded the
status of a Minister Emeritus by the Presbyterian Church, and in
due course the church offered him a position in Shannon. He was
back in the work he loved, and although he struggled with the language
for his sermons, he and Mrs Boon together managed the pastoral visits.
He was not destined to settle down, however. Just as he had regularly
moved in his own life, his family now wouldn’t stay in one
place. Leni and her family moved to Auckland in 1962, where her
husband took up a job with the Presbyterian Maori Synod. The Boons
moved to other perennially vacant parishes to be closer to them,
first in Kawerau, then in Mangaweka and finally in Ruawai. Just
after they moved to Auckland, Leni gave birth to her eighth child,
a son, and he was named after his two grandfathers. It was a happy
His daughter moved again, this time to Dunedin, and after another
period of separation the Boons moved to a Presbyterian retirement
home in Oamaru. Now there was no more work for either of them, and
Mrs Boon felt more strongly the separation from her own family.
In my seventy eighth year I suffered a major heart attack. When
I was strong enough to travel, we decided to go to Holland for three
months to visit the family. Alas, I became ill, and we decided to
stay in a rest home in Holland.
He had a gut feeling that he would not be coming back, and that
he would never see his daughter again. He couldn’t argue with
the logic that his wife also had a right to see her brother and
sisters again before they died, but the prospect did not excite
him. More than anything, he wanted to stay with his own family,
with no more partings. The feeling overcame him on the morning of
their departure, and he had to be sedated before he would leave.
In Holland, he became depressed at his enforced separation, exaggerated
by the happiness of his wife at being able to see her own brother
and sisters. He dreaded the family gatherings, a small, increasingly
taciturn man with his tall, talkative in laws. Even visits from
his eldest granddaughter and one of his grandsons, both in Europe
at the time, did little to cheer him. It was hard both to make the
effort to communicate when they visited, and not to feel the regret
and the sense of his isolation when they had gone.
At the end of my life I must thank God for his wonderful guidance
and help in times of need and for the great blessing that, through
the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, he has borne and forgiven all my
shortcomings, failures and sins.
Because I had not been ordained through the laying on of hands,
I asked if this could still be done. The Synod in Bad Boll resolved
to allow me to be ordained. This was a source of great joy to me.
On 3 October 1972 I was ordained by Bishop Brother Sieborger, in
the presence of a number of associates.
For all this I am very grateful.
The last three paragraphs were a later addition. Having reviewed
his life, he wanted to reaffirm his relationship with the Moravian
brotherhood, which spanned the time of his second marriage. It was
a church that provided the context of his relationship with his
wife, something in which they could both feel comfortable despite
their different personalities and the “logic” rather
than the “love” which was the start of their lifetime
together. It was a bond that they could celebrate, and ordination
was its affirmation. With his flesh and blood irretrievably distant
at the other end of the world, it was his life of service that sustained
him, and he celebrated it in a ceremony that, through the laying
on of hands, joined him to his other family stretching back in an
uninterrupted line to Jan Hus and his followers over 500 years before.
The first lines of his curriculum vitae were completed by another
hand. A small cross denoting his death, with the date and place,
21 August 1974, at Utrecht, and his burial, 24 August 1974, at Zeist.
He had returned home to the Herrnhutters, and left the story of
his life there. Twenty four years later, it was retrieved by his
youngest grandson, who had been given his name, whose early childhood
he had shared in Auckland and Dunedin, and who had come to visit
his grave with his wife and baby daughter, from his own new home,
From Co Boon-Ketel, August 1981:
“Many thanks to you all for your sympathy shown after the
death of my dear husband. It has comforted and strengthened me.
It is a great loss for all who knew him when he was in the prime
of his life - a genuine, moving and really blessed life for all
who knew him, and what he has meant to them is beyond words. Until
his 78th year he worked like a young minister. After four serious
heart attacks in New Zealand we went to Holland for a holiday, hoping
to return to New Zealand. Despite the good medical care provided
by my brother, nothing could cure him of his depression. He was
too tired. Only Psalm 42 helped him occasionally, and I had to sing
him that Psalm often, for he said ‘My soul longs for God’.
And now we have the great comfort that God, in His endless goodness,
made His light shine just before his death. He sat up in his bed,
folded his hands and said ‘Listen, with right he shall thy
people judge, thy poor with uprightness. The lofty mountains shall
bring forth unto the people peace, likewise the little hills the
same shall do by righteousness.’ I replied ‘Amen’.
He also said softly ‘Amen, Hallelujah’. Shortly afterwards
God called him to Himself. How great a comfort that he is now with
As a hart longs
for flowing streams
so longs my soul
for thee, O God
My soul is cast down within me,
therefore I remember thee
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of thy cataracts;
all thy waves and thy billows
have gone over me.
Why are you cast down, O my soul
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.
From Psalm 42
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