Friday, October 22, 2010

Spreading the Christian Faith

Although the mission is not technically a religious rite or ceremony, it was an important part of the church around 1900 and played an important part in the lives of some of my ancestors. Gerardus ten Broek, who was married with my great-grandmother’s sister Jannetje Wesselo, was a protestant missionary-teacher in Great-Sangir in the Dutch East Indies. The newly wedded couple went to the Dutch East-Indies in 1911 to spread the Christian faith. Unfortunately, Gerardus died from the Spanish Flu in 1918 at 33 years of age. Jannetje continued her husband’s work alone for some time until a new couple took over.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the lives of this couple, but when the topic of this COG came up I thought it was time to take a closer look at the history of Dutch missionaries in the Dutch East Indies. There are basically three periods when looking at this.


The VOC, the Dutch East Indies Company, had never really cared about spreading the Christian faith, only about profit. When they bankrupted in 1798, the Dutch East Indies and surrounding territories had few Christians. In fact, it was mostly Islamic. But when around 1800 freedom of faith became a right in the Dutch East Indies, the mission got a large impulse. Special societies for the promotion of the mission were started, but the government in Batavia was afraid of unrest and refused to give the missionaries access to overwhelmingly Islamic areas. This changed in 1850 when the government reluctantly allowed missionaries on Java.

The missionaries in this time period came overwhelmingly from the middle class. After a brief education, which usually didn’t prepare them in the least for the differences in culture, they were sent off with the instruction to report often by letter. Parts of these letters ended up in newsletters for their philanthropists, because the mission had to fund itself completely.

After a century of spreading the Christian faith the success was marginal. Small parts of the Dutch East Indies had been christened, but large parts were still overwhelmingly Islamic.


In 1901 the political climate in the Netherlands toward the Dutch East Indies changed. The new policy was to give something back to the colony in return for everything the Netherlands had taken from them with the occupation. The government gave great sums of money to set up hospitals and schools. It were often the missionaries who set up these hospitals and schools. This was very favorable for the mission, because it brought them into contact with the children and once they were converted to the Christian faith, the older people usually followed. At the same time, the Netherlands got a firmer grip on the more wild areas, like Netherlands New Guinea, making them safer and thus accessible to missionaries.

In this time period organization of the mission improved as well. In the Dutch East Indies the cooperation with the government improved greatly after a special mission consulate was opened. At the same time, the many organizations in the Netherlands started working together and a joint school for missionaries was opened in Oegstgeest. Research into languages, countries, and people had been done and the results were used to educated prospective missionaries. This caused the new missionaries to be far better informed about where they were going to be working.

From 1890 onwards, more and more unmarried women went to the Dutch East Indies as nurses, teachers or social workers. The male missionaries had to spend more and more time on administration, becoming managers instead of missionaries. The direct contact with the parish was done more and more by locals.


World War Two made an end to the mission. In 1940 the German missionaries that where in the Dutch East Indies were interned in camps by the Dutch. The Dutch missionaries followed them when the Japanese started their occupation of the Dutch East Indies in 1942. Proportionally a lot of missionaries died during the war because of the bad conditions and executions. After the war, the mission never really got started again. In fact, it slowly came to a complete stop. It was the end for European missionaries in this area of the world.


Throughout the many years of mission work, a lot of archives were made. A very big list of (almost) all archives that have anything to do the mission for the time period 1800-1960 can be found here. For my own research, this archive is very important, as it is the combined archive for all the missionary work done in the Dutch East Indies for the denomination Gerardus ten Broek was a missionary for. Also interesting is the Dutch book Zending en volksleven in Nederlands-Indië by H.T. Fischer, for those who read Dutch.


The little I know about Gerardus ten Broek fits completely into the image I’ve gotten from the mission in 1900-1942. He spoke Malaysian, a testimony to the improved education prospective missionaries got in the Netherlands. He opened a Dutch-Malaysian school, following the newly installed politics of the early 20th century. Whatever else I may discover about him and his wife, I am sure that the background I now have about the mission in the Dutch East Indies will help me place it in the right context.



  1. JM:
    I am relatively new in reading your blog and I have learned a lot from your postings. I have a question relating to Dutch surnames.

    My maternal family was from the Hamburg, Bremen are of Germany. I recently found the name of my great great grandmother, which is Anna Sophie Goetjem. My question is that a Dutch name? I have been puzzled with that for a few months and no one to ask until I found your blog.

    Thank you, Claudia Sperl

  2. Claudia,

    Goetjem is a rare or incorrect spelling. Goethem, or actually Van Goethem, occurs in the Netherlands, most notable in Zeeland, bordering on Belgium. It seems to be a Belgian name, occuring around Antwerpen.
    Goetjen, an alternative spelling of Götjen, is a German name. You may want to contact Roy Goetjen at Bruno van Goethem has a Dutch Van Goethem site at

    - Tamura

  3. Tamura:

    Thank you so very much with that information. I had been searching that name but came up with nothing. This will give me another ancestor to explore. Will let you know what I find.

    Thank you, Claudia

  4. Claudia:

    You got your answer before I even read your comment! I hope it helps. For future reference, I'll point you to two websites. You might know about them already, but in case you don't:

    A great site to look up the spread of surnames over the entire world. You can zoom in on certain areas.

    To find information about Dutch surnames. Goetjen has no hits on this site, but van Goethem does.

    Hope these sites will help you in the future.

  5. Fascinating information, J.M. Thanks so for posting it. My Southern Baptist relatives placed enormous emphasis on their missionaries' work in the Pacific island nations during the middle part of the 20th century. This adds another layer to my understanding of missionaries and their work.

  6. J.M. - I know very little about missionary work and knew nothing about Dutch missionary work. I always appreciate the international (at least to those of us in the states) aspect you bring to COG. I look forward to reading your posts and learning something new. Interesting and informative. Thank you!

  7. @Nolichucky Roots: thank you for your comment. The middle part of the 20th century saw an enormous bloom of missionary work (of all Christian denominations) in the Pacific and a lot of it was comparable across countries.

    @Cynthia: thank you for your comment. I always like reading the USA posts, because things work so different there.

  8. J.M.,

    Happy Blogiversary! I wish you many more to come. Keep up the great work :)

    Best Regards,