July 2010 Lene's 90th Birthday pics finally on-line! More here Family News Page

May 2010 saw the publication of Oma Leni's own story - writing a book at the age of 93 is a huge achievement!  With the help of various members of the family and a cover designed by Nick Potter and Geoff Woodcock, the delightful 78 page book with appropriate photos was an immediate hit with all who have so far read it. here.Family News Page

Bartha has offered to look after the birthday greetings for Leni. more details here Family News Page

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  This is currently being worked on. Joris is supplying the hard copy and Simon is going to provide a digital copy from some software he has

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 Gelderland.

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 were over.

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 the canal.

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 joy”.

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 War.

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 area.

“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 Madeira.

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 older Sisters.

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 time”.

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 “Vredeveld”.

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 fourth child.

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 new generation.

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 flight.

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 time.

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.

D. Boon

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, in Australia.


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 the Lord.”
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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