On September 10th 1892, Johannes van der Steur left by steamship for the East Indies, exactly eight days after he had been initiated as a missionary in a small church on the Parklaan in Haarlem. He was on his way to the people in the colonies because he knew that letters, which only arrived months later, were not enough and that they needed a friend there in the east.
Pa van der Steur
His first job was setting up a simple military home in Magelang, a luxury that was unheard of. He did all of this without any money or form of social security. It was a simple bamboo house but the soldiers liked to gather there to play cards or for some socialising. Alcohol was not provided.
In 1893 – Johannes was 28 years old at the time – a drunk KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) soldier came by and told him about a deceased sergeant who left behind a native wife with four children. If he was so “damn” pious he had better show it. To which Johannes replied: “Sober up and take me there.”
A day later the women and her children were housed in the bamboo house. It caused a snowballing effect: Within two months fourteen of such orphaned children arrived. One of the children asked their adoptive father what to call him. “You should figure that out by yourselves,” Johannes told them and the boy answered: “Then we will call you Pa because then we will have a father again.” En like that he became Pa van der Steur even up to now, years after his death.
The chance to become 'human'
It must have been a miracle for Pa's children: A white man who wasn't looking conceited riding in a carriage or a drunken soldier as an object of contempt. But a white man who was a real father with whom they sat at the table together, with whom they could talk in their own language, who gave them clothing and shoes, and who taught them how to read and write. They were not 'kampongladakkers' anymore but really had a true 'Pa'. This is therefore also the reason that a lot of Steurtjes remained grateful for the rest of their lives. After all, because of Pa they were given the chance of a full human existence.
By 1903 Pa had already taken in 350 children. However, illness made him take up emergency leave in the Netherlands. It was his only leave in 55 years in the tropics. He used all of his time on leave to garner interest for the orphans and tried to raise the money he so desperately needed. Queen Mother Emma, known for her social compassion, allowed Pa a conversation lasting an hour and a half. Fully recovered he set out again. The Queen Mother and other prominent individuals gave him money: as much as 20,000 guilders! Before his sick leave was over Pa had already returned to Java. He was then able to buy for a decent price an old barracks for military police which included large grounds. He called the new home the 'Oranje-Nassau Gesticht'.
Moe van der Steur
In 1907 Pa married Anna Maria Zwager. He married her by proxy. His marriage proposal is perhaps the most wonderful one in our history: “Anna, do you want to be the mother of my children?” And like that Moe van der Steur made her entrance in the orphanage. She was in charge of the girls section, which after all was better entrusted to a woman. Until her death on the 30th of April 1936 she was a blessing for everyone, including Pa himself, because of her loving and selfless labour.
His whole life Pa van der Steur was committed to the care of his children. In total over 7000 abandoned and orphaned children were raised by him and given a real future in society. His influence on the children was great. To them he was and remains 'Pa' – their father. For these thousands of children his work meant a turning point in their lives.
Will you continue the work?
On February 15th 1944 Pa was interned by the Japanese. Even during his internment Pa was a blessing for many. He survived the internment camp and was taken back to the home in Magelang by Steurtjes. There he died on the 16th of September 1945 at the age of 80 surrounded by his pupils.
‘Will you continue the work when I am no longer there? God will keep helping you. Think of my work, not of my name and person,’ were his last words.
In the turbulent period that then commenced in Indonesia the old Steurtjes who had taken charge of the orphanage, decided to relocate from Magelang to Batavia (now Jakarta) because it was safer. In the first years of Indonesian independence the orphanage languished. The name was changed to 'Yayasan Pa van der Steur'. In March 1957 Bram Bernard, himself an old Steurtje, took charge of the yayasan (meaning: foundation). With Pa's wish in the back of his head: “Do not remember my name but my work”, Bram, together with his wife Tine (also a former pupil of the orphanage), continued the work, often under difficult circumstances.
In 1970 plans were made to expand Pa's work. In 1973 plans were turned into action by purchasing two hectares of land in Pondok Gede (now Pondok Melati), about fifteen kilometres east of Jakarta. In the following years they continued step by step to realise the building plans. Subsequently the boys home, the kitchen, the girls home and the schools were established.