Johannes van der Steur departed on 10 September, 1892, aged 27, with the old steamer “Conrad”, to Netherlands-Indies – exactly 8 days after he was inducted as a missionary in the church on the Parklaan Haarlem. He headed for the colonials, because he knew that letters only where not enough for them (as they took months to get there), but that they needed a friend in the East.
His first work was taking care of a simple soldiers’ home in Magelang, an unprecedented luxury. There were five battalions of soldiers, a school and depot battalion of 4 companies situated here. He did this all by himself and without any social security or money. It was a simple bamboo house, but the soldiers liked coming there.
In 1893 – Johannes was 28 years old – a drunk colonial came to him at the house and told him that a sergeant had died and that he left a native woman with four children behind. If he really was that “damn” devout, he had to show it. To which Johannes answered: “Get sober and take me there.”
The woman and her children were taken into the bamboo house the next day. It had a snowball effect: within two months there were 14 of these orphaned children. In addition to that, the soldiers came to like helping with the chores around the house. One day, one of the children asked what they had to call their foster father. “You must decide for yourselves.”, answered Johannes, and the boy replied, “We’ll call you Pa, because then we have a dad again.” So he became Pa van der Steur, up until now, many years after his death.
For Pa’s children this must have been a miracle: a white gentleman, who did not drive by in a carriage and who was not a drunken soldier. But a white man who was a real father and with whom they sat together at the table, with whom they could talk in their own ‘strange’ language, who gave them clothes and shoes, and taught them how to read and write. They were not people from the kampung anymore, they really had a real Pa. This is also the reason that many former Steurs (children from the orphanage) remain thankful throughout their entire lives; because of Pa they got the chance to be PERSON.
By 1903 Pa had 350 children to take care of. However, he became ill and had to leave to the Netherlands. It was his only leave in 55 years. He used his entire vacation time to generate interest for his children, and he tried to get the money he needed so urgently. Queen Mother Emma, known for her social compassion, Pa was allowed to talk to her for one and a half hours. Feeling better he went there. He got money from the Queen and her people: 20,000 guilders! Before his sick-leave was over, Pa went back to Java. He was able to buy an old police barracks for soldiers for a mild price, including a large area. He called his home “Orange-Nassau Foundation”.
In 1907 he married Anna Maria Zwager. It was a proxy marriage. Perhaps his marriage proposal was the most wonderful known in history, “Anne, would you like to be the mother to my children?”. This is how Ma van der Steur made her entry into the house. She was in charge of the girls’ division. Until her death on April 30, 1936, due to her loving care and selfless labor, she was a great blessing for many, even for Pa.
Pa van der Steur committed his whole life to the education of his children – he educated a total of more than 7,000 abandoned and orphaned children into useful members of society. His influence on the children, whom he had fed and raised as his own flesh and blood, was quite large. For them he would always be “Pa” – their father. For these thousands of children his work meant a turning point in their lives.
On 15 February 1944 Pa was interned by the Japanese. Even during his internment years, Pa was a blessing to many. He survived the prison camp and was then taken home by the Steurs, home in Magelang. He died there on 16 September, 1945, at the age of 80, among his pupils.
“Will you continue my work if I’m no longer there? God will always help you. You should remember my work, not my name and person,” were his last words.
In the turbulent period that came to Indonesia after that, the former Steur, who’d taken over charge, decided it was safer to move the orphanage from Magelang to Batavia (now Jakarta). In the first years of Indonesian independence the home wasn’t doing well. The name was changed to “Yayasan Pa van der Steur.” In March 1957 Bram Bernard (himself a former Steur) took charge of directing the Yayasan (definition: foundation). With Pa’s desire on his mind: “Do not remember my name, but my work,” Bram continued the work together with his wife Tine (also a pupil of the orphanage) – often under a lot of pressure and facing difficult circumstances.
In 1970 the plan to expand Pa’s work was formed. In 1973, the “thinking” was turned into action by purchasing a piece of land with a total of 2 acres in Pondok Gede (now Pondok Melati), about 15 km east of Jakarta. They continued to realize the construction program step by step, the following years. The Boys Home was made, followed by the kitchen, the girl’s home and the schools.
The work of Pa van der Steur has not ended with his passing. The work is like a phoenix risen from its ashes … Johannes van der Steur has passed away, but his work – built from charity – is still continued!